How to manage anxiety: A few basic tips

May is national Mental Health Awareness Month, and all month long, we’ll be publishing a special series of tips, ideas, new research, and fresh thoughts on how we can break down the stigma around treating mental illness and embrace a brighter, happier future. 

An estimated 40 million Americans live with an anxiety disorder. Yet, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, roughly one in three actually get the care they need. That’s far too few of us.

One reason why so few people with anxiety seek the care they need could be fear of the stigma associated with admitting that that anxiety is there, hovering in the background. Then, of course, there’s the idea that people who have mental disorders are at fault for their condition.

Indeed, experts across the board have refuted that idea. “Mental illness is not anyone’s fault, anymore than heart disease or diabetes is a person’s fault,” the National Alliance on Mental Illness writes on its website. “No one should have to feel ashamed of this condition any more than any other medical condition.”

On an everyday level, anxiety can affect us in a number of maladaptive ways, causing us undue stress and interfering with our daily lives. Retreat asked Dr. Scott Krakower, the assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in New York, for some easy tips we can all incorporate into our day to feel a bit better. Here’s what he suggests:

1. Deep breathing: Simply setting aside a few moments to practice taking in some deep breaths is a one recommendation Dr. Krakower has for resetting your mental state and releasing tension. WebMD weighs in with some helpful tips of their own, namely placing one hand on your stomach and another on your chest while breathing, to feel your deep breaths rising and subsiding.

2. Practice distraction skills: “Distraction skills” encompass anything that gets your mind off your current stressful situation. Dr. Krakower says these can include things as simple as watching television or playing a sport. Sometimes, you might feel too overwhelmed to think about engaging in an activity that helps you unplug for your current circumstances, but Dr. Krakower says that this can be the best time to do exactly that.

3. Make a furry friend: “Sometimes getting a pet helps people,” Dr. Krakower explains. Having an adorable companion available for round-the-clock hugs and snuggles can alleviate worry and remind you that you’re not alone, but of course, consider your unique life circumstances before rescuing or investing in dogs, cats, or other house pets.

Other helpful advice:

According to The Mighty, a lifestyle site geared toward people looking for encouragement from a community of users who have pushed through the struggles of mental or physical ailments or illnesses, there are a few other easy activities that can help manage anxiety.

Among them are reading, writing, limiting social media usage, and even “disconnecting from the world once a month,” says writer James Packer. “Turn off all electronics — notifications on your phone, the TV, the laptop, everything. Keep your phone on in case of emergencies but only worry about phone calls… Just one day is all you need. Take a break from everything, and just chill,” he says.