For millions of people, anxiety is a persistent problem that prevents them from living their best life. With the help of online therapy, effective management strategies, and lifestyle changes, you can greatly reduce the anxiety you experience – but can you eliminate it for good?
The role of anxiety
First, consider whether you’d truly want to eliminate anxiety from your life. We tend to think of anxiety as a uniquely negative experience. We associate anxiety with intense fear or distress, and we feel it in some of our most dangerous and uncomfortable situations. Understanding this, anxiety must be exclusively a bad thing, right?
The truth is more complex. Anxiety, like all human emotions, has positive (and arguably necessary) effects. When we feel anxiety, we experience discomfort and dissonance that motivate us to take action. In the face of danger, we become more alert, more excited, and better capable of fighting or fleeing the threat.
In the face of an uncomfortable situation, anxiety helps us become more aware of our situation so we can process it more thoroughly – and the discomfort of anxiety motivates us to get out of the uncomfortable situation as quickly as possible.
If we didn’t have anxiety at all, we wouldn’t be able to recognize uncomfortable or dangerous situations. We may also find life less stimulating or less exciting. In other words, even if you had the magic power to eliminate anxiety in your life, you wouldn’t want to do it.
When anxiety is unhealthy
A little bit of anxiety is perfectly healthy and perfectly normal. So when does anxiety cross the line?
There are a few possible ways to answer this question. First, you can look at the frequency of your anxiety. How often do you feel anxious? Do you experience anxiety episodes with such frequency that you find it hard to accomplish normal feats like working a full shift or having normal interactions with friends and family members?
Second, you can look at the intensity of your anxiety. When you feel anxiety, is it a vaguely uncomfortable tingle – or is it a crippling and overwhelming fear? Have you ever had an anxiety attack, and if so, how much has it affected you?
Third, you can look at the sources and appropriateness of your anxiety. If you were recently in a car crash and you have slightly more anxiety than usual when you enter a vehicle, your anxiety is perfectly appropriate. If you feel too anxious to go to the grocery store, despite no identifiable threat or risk in doing so, it’s best to seek help.
The truth: you can never fully eliminate anxiety
Here’s the sad truth: we can’t get rid of anxiety completely. There is no magic pill or immediate strategy that could get rid of this feeling entirely for you. While we do have some anxiety medications that can relieve the worst effects of anxiety, you’re always going to feel at least some anxiety in at least some situations.
The solution: manage anxiety effectively
Because you can never eliminate anxiety, and because you’d never want to anyway, the best solution for inappropriate, high-frequency, or high-severity anxiety is a combination of management strategies designed to help you feel less anxious in each moment.
- Regular therapy. Everything starts with regular therapy sessions, and thanks to the availability of online therapy, it’s easier than ever to get started. Your therapist can work with you to help you better understand your anxiety, identify the sources of your anxiety, minimize those sources, and contextualize your feelings. Your therapist may also be able to prescribe or recommend certain medications (for extreme anxiety) or offer specific management strategies tailored to your needs.
- Mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is one of the best and most common anxiety management strategies since it’s simple to repeat. All you have to do is focus on the present moment, gradually guiding yourself away from thoughts about the past or future. It’s an easy process to understand, but a difficult one to master, so be patient with yourself if you’re not successful right away.
- Counting and refocus strategies. Deep breathing, counting to 10, and other exercises designed to “refocus” your attention can help you avoid dwelling on whatever is making you anxious.
- Exposure therapy. If you have severe anxiety related to a specific place or situation, a professional therapist can help you overcome that anxiety with the help of gradual-introduction exposure therapy and supplementary sessions.
If you incorporate these anxiety management strategies into your life and use them regularly, you’ll gradually feel more control over even your most anxious episodes. It may take some practice and some patience, but eventually, you’ll feel more confident and better capable of living the life you want.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.