How to Calm Your Anxious Thoughts

Sophie Tremblay
Written by Sophie Tremblay / In collaboration with Annie Ferland /

Have you ever experienced this?

You’re in bed, ready to sleep, when you suddenly feel stressed, tense, and afraid. You want to distract yourself to calm down but worry about getting enough rest, so you’re left feeling trapped.

Or you’re invited to dinner with friends, and although you want to go, you’re not excited. Something inside you is telling you to stay home instead.

These are just a few examples of what it’s like to live with anxiety.

It’s a normal feeling that we all experience at some point in our lives, and manifests differently for everyone.

Regardless of how they show up, these thoughts can be hard to deal with.

But did you know anxiety can communicate what your body needs and when? Or that there are strategies to calm overwhelming anxiety?

Whether you’re curious about what anxiety is or need practical tips to manage your anxious thoughts, this article can help answer:

What is Anxiety & How Does It Work?

Anxiety is a normal emotional state that can help anticipate threats and prepare a reaction. While stress is a response to a direct and immediate threat, anxiety is triggered by apprehension about the potential consequences or risks that may arise in a given situation.

So, if you feel anxious but don’t know why or can’t pinpoint a direct cause, it might be because your body is preparing itself for something that it registers as dangerous, regardless of what that might be.

Physical manifestations of anxiety can include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweaty palms
  • Feeling like you can’t breathe properly

It’s as if your body is on high alert, ready to face danger even when there’s no immediate threat.

When it comes to your thoughts and emotions, anxiety can appear as:

  • Finding it hard to concentrate or relax
  • Being consumed by negative thoughts (like, “I’m not good enough”, or “something terrible is about to happen”)
  • Overthinking or imagining worst-case scenarios

All of these thoughts can make you feel overwhelmed, scared and even panicky.

Why is Stopping Anxious Thoughts so Hard?

If you’re already in an anxious state, whether it’s feeling anxious about a situation or the throes of a panic attack, you're likely feeling a loss of control. Your body is sounding alarms, which releases stress hormones, and it’s not easy to shut them off because your body is chemically primed for action.

Anxious thoughts can also become automatic and habitual over time. Just as you can learn to ride a bike through practice, your brain can also learn patterns of thinking. If you repeatedly think anxious thoughts, your brain becomes wired to continue producing those same thoughts, like a well-worn path in your mind.

In addition, anxiety can trigger self-doubt and a tendency to question the validity of your thoughts, pulling you further into your anxious thought patterns.

So how can you interrupt the cycle of automatic anxious thoughts?

3 Ways to Calm Anxious Thoughts Right Now

Feeling anxious is a normal part of life, and most people face it at some point. Instead of trying to immediately stop anxious thoughts, try approaching them with understanding and compassion. The best techniques to calm anxious thoughts quickly include:

  • Focusing on your breathing
  • Taking a mindful walk
  • Writing in a journal

While it’s important to seek professional advice, especially in cases of prolonged or recurring anxiety, there are many calming techniques that can help bring relief in the moment or that you can keep in mind for the next time you feel destabilized by your anxiety.

These exercises are based on mindfulness, which has demonstrated numerous benefits for mental health, helping many people reduce the levels of stress and anxiety they experience.

That being said, the best tips to help you manage anxious thoughts are those that work for you, so feel free to try as many as you want and stick to the ones that make a real difference in how you feel.

1
Focus on Your Breathing:

Practicing deep and controlled breathing sends signals to the brain, helping it relax and refocus on something other than anxiety. Here's a breathing exercise you can try:

  • Sit or lie down comfortably.
  • Close your eyes, or focus on a still, distant and soothing object.
  • Take a deep breath in through your nose, counting to five in your head.
  • Hold your breath for five seconds, keeping your body relaxed.
  • Exhale gently through your nostrils, counting to five in your head again.
  • Repeat this deep breathing sequence (inhale for five seconds, hold for five seconds, exhale for five seconds) for a few more cycles, allowing yourself to find a calming and natural rhythm.

Eventually, you may realize that your mind has started to wander. Try to notice this without self-reproach and gently bring your attention back to your breathing. Stop after a few minutes, or whenever you feel you’ve had enough.

2
Take a Mindful Walk:

This gentle method for calming anxiety involves paying special attention to the present moment, your emotions, and your thoughts without being critical. Walk at your own pace and allow yourself to fully experience the present moment. Focus on accepting your emotions rather than trying to change them.

  • Dress appropriately for the weather
  • Walk in your neighbourhood or nature
  • Pay attention to your surroundings
  • Be open to thoughts and sensations that arise

3
Write in a Journal:

Another great way to calm anxious thoughts in the moment is to shift your focus to something else. Grab your favourite journal or a piece of paper and take a moment to describe:

  • Your surroundings (what you see around you)
  • Your bodily sensations (how you feel physically)
  • Other sensory experiences (things you can hear, touch, smell, taste)

Connecting with your senses through writing can help ground you in the present moment. Allow your thoughts to flow freely without fear of judgment.

If anxiety significantly impacts your daily life or causes panic attacks, it’s best to seek help from a professional. They will be able to help you by diagnosing the cause of your anxiety, offering treatment options, prescribing medications, and ultimately, giving you advice based on what you’re going through.

One of the best courses of action for accessing this type of help is to consult a medical health professional.

Otherwise, you could explore options for finding a professional.

How to Manage Anxiety in the Long-Term

After trying a few calming techniques, you may find ones that help you manage waves of anxiety. But, you might still want these to occur less frequently or intensely. While changing the way you approach and think about your anxiety won’t make it magically disappear, it can help make it more tolerable.

Turn Anxiety into your Ally

Trying to avoid feeling anxious is completely normal. The tension, discomfort, and sense of danger that come with anxiety can be unsettling, even paralyzing. However, anxiety serves as an alarm signal in your body, indicating something important is happening.

While what triggers anxiety differs for everyone, self-management strategies and professional support can help you learn to tolerate anxiety and understand the message it's sending you.

Do you become more anxious when you exceed your limits, disagree with someone, or encounter situations that remind you of difficult memories?

Understanding your triggers can help you navigate feelings of helplessness and regain control over your anxiety. Try to see it as an ally helping you understand and address your needs.

Integrate Moments for Self-Care Into Your Routine

While strategies for managing anxiety can be helpful, it's also important to take care of yourself at various times throughout the day and through various means. You won't be able to apply every single method in one day but try exploring a few to find what works best for you.

Start by identifying the times in your day when you feel more anxious, and include activities in your routine that help you feel better during those moments. This could be a mindfulness exercise, like the ones described above, or a physical activity that you enjoy or want to try.

Having self-compassion (adopting a compassionate attitude towards oneself) is linked to numerous mental health benefits. So, remember to be kind to yourself, especially during these tougher times.

Moving Forward With Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal part of life. It’s not something you can just avoid.

But when you learn to manage it, find ways to calm it… That’s when you can start to feel better.

And if the techniques illustrated above are not enough? If anxiety constantly impacts your daily life? It might be time to consult a professional.

Remember that the option is always there, regardless of what you decide right now. Mental health experts are there to help when the challenges you're facing become overwhelming.

Need help finding a mental health professional?

Jade can help you find a professional

And so can the websites of professional associations! They often have useful directories.

A competent specialist in the treatment of anxiety is a valuable resource to have in your toolbox.

About the author

Sophie Tremblay
Sophie Tremblay
Content Specialist, B.A.

Sophie excels as a French and English content specialist and project coordinator for Optania. With a Bachelor of Arts and a double major in French and English literature, her linguistic expertise brings rigour and excellence to the content produced by the team.

Her experience in coordinating content writing, conducting specialized demonstrations and training, and supporting customer service operations demonstrates her continued commitment. Her passion for language and creating quality content is a constant source of motivation in her work.

See all Sophie Tremblay's posts

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