How to Get Rid of Anxiety: Separating the Good from the Bad

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Anxiety is keeping us alive right now, yet we often want to know how to get rid of it. It’s not as much of a conundrum as you might think. The key is separating the good anxiety from the bad anxiety. You need the kind that keeps you alive and functioning, but you can reduce the rest.

There are many research-backed methods of reducing the prevalence of anxiety in your life. Nonetheless, this is sometimes different than “getting rid of it.”

Developing a Realistic Attitude About Dealing with Anxiety

When people want to “get rid of anxiety,” they often ascribe different meanings to the phrase, such as:

  1. Reducing anxiety symptoms to the point where it is not a significant burden
  2. Learning to better cope with anxiety
  3. Stopping themselves from feeling anxiety
  4. Completely eliminating their sources of anxiety

The first half of the above solutions are viable; the second half is not. In this sense anxiety is not something to “get rid of.”

The Types of Anxiety You Should Accept Rather Than Get Rid Of (The Good)

Anxiety might always be with you, and that’s OK. Having it is normal and healthy. It’s part of our evolutionary make up, a leftover instinct from when our ancestors were at the mercy of wild animals that could kill them in an instant.

“Anxiety keeps us alive,” said Daryl Cioffi, a therapist and professor of neuropsychology. “It’s what stops us from crossing the street without looking or walking down a dark street and not looking at our surroundings.”

Besides aiding us in staying physically intact, anxiety is a practical emotion that helps us be responsible. If you have a deadline for work, you might experience a little anxiety about missing it. It will motivate you to get the work done on time. Or maybe you have kids and worry about their safety. This is simply part of being a responsible parent.

Anxiety is also useful in helping us determine what psychological issues we need to address. Think of how physical pain tells us which areas of our body need attention and care. Anxiety is similar.

“If fear and anxiety are like physical pain, then their natural purpose must be to call your attention to the deeper emotional and mental wounds that cause them,” said anxiety expert Dr. Friedemann Schaub, Ph.D.

The Types of Anxiety You Should Get Rid Of/Reduce

Once anxiety becomes intense to the point of making you suffer and inhibiting the fullness of your life, it’s no longer useful. Here are some examples of what this type of anxiety can do to you:

  • Constantly feeling restless or on edge despite there being no apparent cause
  • Becoming lost in a rabbit hole of worry
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty concentrating and clearing the mind
  • Muscle tension
  • Irritability
  • Becoming easily fatigued
  • Panic attacks
  • Social isolation

Rather than focusing on rational issues such as childcare and deadlines, these types of anxieties often cause people to ruminate on a series of irrational fears, including:

  • Fear of imminent death or bodily harm
  • Sudden fear of embarrassment or illness
  • Worries about everything in your life being wrong
  • Constantly imagining worst-case scenario situations, asking a chain of “What if (insert negative outcome)?” questions

How to Get Rid Of/Reduce This Bad Anxiety

Here are some research-backed methods you can use to reduce or get rid of the negative aspects of anxiety in your life:

Psychotherapy: Changing Your Thinking to Reduce Anxiety

There is clinical evidence for some forms of psychotherapy being able to reduce burdensome symptoms of anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [CBT] has been particularly effective because it spends a lot of time targeting the negative beliefs that tend to cause anxiety. Therapy catalyzes cognitive changes that cause the brain to restructure so it can’t produce as much anxiety as before.

If you want an option that might be more convenient and cost-effective for you than traditional therapy, try online therapy. It can be effective in treating anxiety, according to a study of online, text-based therapy.

Below are some examples of cognitive strategies your therapist might work with you on to reduce anxiety. You can try these on your own, too.

  • Exploring, analyzing and challenging the irrational and negative beliefs behind the anxiety
  • Gradually replacing these beliefs with reasonable and positive ones
  • Exploring the experiences that caused the development of these beliefs
  • Assigning tasks you can try outside of therapy to gradually reduce anxiety and improve coping skills

Note: Many therapists incorporate or recommend the below techniques as part of their work. They can also teach clients how to use them effectively.

Mindfulness

Both as part of therapy and separately, mindfulness can improve symptoms of anxiety. It works by helping clients be in the moment rather than allowing their anxious thoughts to control them.

Deep Breathing and Meditation

When you suffer from an anxiety attack, you might think, “I need to calm down.” Mindful breathing and meditation can help you do that and lower your stress, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Exercise

Exercise reduces anxiety, according to a wealth of research. It does this by lowering the reactivity of the nervous system and other parts of the body that process anxiety.

Diet

Having a healthy and balanced diet can help you cope with anxiety. Here is a quick summary of a balanced diet that could help make you less anxious:

  • Eating a breakfast with protein
  • Eating foods with complex carbohydrates, including whole grains
  • Limiting sugary foods and drinks
  • Limiting or completely cutting caffeine
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Limiting or completely cutting alcohol
  • Eating healthy, balanced meals

Medication

A psychiatrist can prescribe medication that might help you mitigate anxiety. Medication is an effective short-term strategy for taking the edge off of severe, crippling anxiety, but it doesn’t provide the long-term benefits of the aforementioned solutions. It also carries the risk of becoming dependent on a certain drug and experiencing withdrawal when attempting to get off it. There are side effects, including nausea and vomiting. Many people try to avoid these side effects and risks by trying therapy first.

You Don’t Need to Do It Alone

Once you better understand anxiety and can separate the good from the bad, you’ll be able to take steps toward getting rid of the bad anxiety. Remember, you don’t need to be alone in this process. Licensed therapists can help you lift the burden and live a less anxious life.

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Published by

Joseph Rauch

Staff Writer at Talkspace