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Managing Anxiety: Effective Techniques & Strategies

by Christine Morrison, LMHC

Anxiety is a natural response to stress, uncertainty, or perceived threats. While it can be helpful in certain situations, excessive or chronic anxiety can become debilitating and interfere with daily life. In this blog post, I will share some effective exercises and approaches to help you deal with anxiety and take control of your mental health.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a well-established therapeutic approach that focuses on identifying and modifying negative thoughts and behaviors that contribute to anxiety.1 CBT techniques include cognitive restructuring, exposure therapy, and mindfulness-based exercises.

Cognitive Restructuring: This involves identifying and challenging irrational thoughts that fuel anxiety. You can practice this by recording your anxious thoughts, examining the evidence for and against them, and replacing them with more balanced, realistic thoughts.2

Exposure Therapy: Gradual exposure to anxiety-provoking situations can help desensitize you to the triggers and reduce anxiety.3 Begin by creating a hierarchy of feared situations, and gradually expose yourself to them, starting with the least anxiety-provoking and progressing to the most challenging. Practice relaxation techniques during exposure to help manage your anxiety levels.

Mindfulness-Based Exercises: Incorporating mindfulness practices like meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can help you focus on the present moment and reduce anxiety symptoms.4 Try setting aside time each day to practice these techniques.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that emphasizes psychological flexibility and acceptance of uncomfortable emotions.5 Techniques in ACT include defusion, acceptance, and value-based action.

Defusion: This involves recognizing and detaching from unhelpful thoughts, rather than trying to eliminate or control them. Practice observing your thoughts without judgment, and remind yourself that thoughts are not facts.

Acceptance: Embrace your anxiety as a normal human experience and allow yourself to feel it without attempting to suppress or avoid it. This can help reduce the intensity of anxiety over time.

Value-Based Action: Identify your core values and engage in activities that align with them, despite the presence of anxiety. This can help create a sense of meaning and purpose, making it easier to cope with anxiety.

Physical Activity

Regular exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms and improve overall mental health.6 Engaging in physical activities like walking, jogging, yoga, or swimming can help release endorphins, which act as natural mood elevators. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.

Sleep Hygiene

Poor sleep can contribute to increased anxiety levels.7 Establishing good sleep hygiene habits, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and ensuring a comfortable sleep environment, can help improve sleep quality and reduce anxiety.

Social Support

Connecting with others can help alleviate anxiety by providing emotional support, practical assistance, and a sense of belonging.8 Reach out to friends, family, or support groups to share your experiences and seek advice. Curio's virtual clinic can also connect you with trained professionals who can provide guidance and support.

Grounding Techniques for Anxiety

Grounding techniques are exercises that may help you refocus on the present moment to distract yourself from anxious feelings. You can use grounding techniques to help create space from distressing feelings in nearly any situation.

Here are some useful grounding techniques:

5-4-3-2-1 Technique

Using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique, you will purposefully take in the details of your surroundings using each of your senses. Strive to notice small details that your mind would usually tune out, such as distant sounds, or the texture of an ordinary object.

  • What are 5 things you can see? Look for small details such as a pattern on the ceiling, the way light reflects off a surface, or an object you never noticed.
  • What are 4 things you can feel? Notice the sensation of clothing on your body, the sun on your skin, or the feeling of the chair you are sitting in. Pick up an object and examine its weight, texture, and other physical qualities.
  • What are 3 things you can hear? Pay special attention to the sounds your mind has tuned out, such as a ticking clock, distant traffic, or trees blowing in the wind.
  • What are 2 things you can smell? Try to notice smells in the air around you, like an air freshener or freshly mowed grass. You may also look around for something that has a scent, such as a flower or an unlit candle.
  • What is 1 thing you can taste? Carry gum, candy, or small snacks for this step. Pop one in your mouth and focus your attention closely on the flavors.

Categories Technique

Choose at least three of the categories below and name as many items as you can in each one. Spend a few minutes on each category to come up with as many items as possible.

  • Movies
  • Countries
  • Books
  • Cereals
  • Sports
  • Teams
  • Colors
  • Cars
  • Fruits & Vegetables
  • Animals
  • Cities
  • TV Shows
  • Famous People

For a variation on this activity, try naming items in a category alphabetically. For example, for the fruits & vegetables category, say “apple, banana, carrot,” and so on.

Body Awareness

The body awareness technique will bring you into the here-and-now by directing your focus to sensations in the body. Pay special attention to the physical sensations created by each step.

  1. Take 5 long, deep breaths through your nose, and exhale through puckered lips.
  2. Place both feet flat on the floor. Wiggle your toes. Curl and uncurl your toes several times. Spend a moment noticing the sensations in your feet.
  3. Stomp your feet on the ground several times. Pay attention to the sensations in your feet and legs as you make contact with the ground.
  4. Clench your hands into fists, then release the tension. Repeat this 10 times.
  5. Press your palms together. Press them harder and hold this pose for 15 seconds. Pay attention to the feeling of tension in your hands and arms.
  6. Rub your palms together briskly. Notice and sound and the feeling of warmth.
  7. Reach your hands over your head like you’re trying to reach the sky. Stretch like this for 5seconds. Bring your arms down and let them relax at your sides.
  8. Take 5 more deep breaths and notice the feeling of calm in your body.

Mental Exercises

Use mental exercises to take your mind off uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. They are discreet and easy to use at nearly any time or place. Experiment to see which work best for you.

  • Name all the objects you see.
  • Describe the steps in performing an activity you know how to do well. For example, how to shoot a basketball, prepare your favorite meal, or tie a knot.
  • Count backwards from 100 by 7.
  • Pick up an object and describe it in detail. Describe its color, texture, size, weight, scent, and any other qualities you notice.
  • Spell your full name, and the names of three other people, backwards.
  • Name all your family members, their ages, and one of their favorite activities.
  • Read something backwards, letter-by-letter. Practice for at least a few minutes.
  • Think of an object and “draw” it in your mind, or in the air with your finger. Try drawing your home, a vehicle, or an animal.

Managing Anxious Thoughts by Understanding Cognitive Distortions

Anxious thoughts are often rooted in something called cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are basically tricks our mind plays on us. Originally, this type of thinking was necessary for our survival. We had to act quickly and extremely in order to survive. But now in days our brain still responds to everyday threats as if it was a big life threatening threat which is less helpful. The first step to manage these anxious thoughts is to notice if you are using any cognitive distortions. Have a look at the list below, each time you recognize your mind using one of these cognitive distortions, name it. Say something like, “I am using black and white thinking.”

Check out these cognitive distortions and make note next time you find yourself using one:

  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: Thinking in absolutes such as “always”, or “every”.
  • Overgeneralization: Making broad interpretations from a single or few events.
  • Focusing on the negatives while filtering out the positives: Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right.
  • Mind Reading: Interpreting the thoughts and beliefs of others without adequate evidence.
  • Catastrophizing: Seeing only the worst possible outcomes of a situation.
  • Emotional Reasoning: The assumption that emotions reflect the way things really are.
  • Should” Statements: The belief that things should be a certain way.
  • Personalization: The belief that you are responsible for events outside of your own control.
  • Magnification and Minimization: Exaggerating or minimizing the importance of events. You might believe your own achievements are unimportant, or that your mistakes are excessively important.9

Challenge your negative thoughts by asking yourself:

  • Do I have evidence that this thought is true, or not true?
  • Is there a more positive, realistic way of looking at the situation?
  • How likely is it that what I’m scared of will actually happen? What are some more likely outcomes?
  • Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me and how will it hurt me?
  • What would I say to a friend who had this worry?

Additionally, you may try saying the following statements to yourself:

  • This is temporary.
  • Everything is going to be okay.
  • One day at a time. One hour at a time. One minute at a time.
  • Just because I feel anxious at this moment doesn’t mean in reality things are worse than the moment before.

Managing anxiety effectively requires persistence, patience, and practice. By incorporating these techniques and strategies into your daily life, you can take control of your anxiety and improve your overall well-being. Curio offers a variety of resources to help you navigate your mental health journey, including coaching, psychotherapy, medication management, and other evidence-based treatments.

_ _ _


  1. Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012b). The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36(5), 427–440. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-012-9476-1
  2. Beck, A. T., & Haigh, E. a. P. (2014). Advances in Cognitive Theory and Therapy: The Generic Cognitive Model. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 10(1), 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032813-153734
  3. Craske, M. G., Treanor, M., Conway, C. M., Zbozinek, T. D., & Vervliet, B. (2014). Maximizing exposure therapy: An inhibitory learning approach. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 58, 10–23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2014.04.006
  4. Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., Marques, L., Metcalf, C. A., Morris, L., Robinaugh, D. J., Worthington, J. J., Pollack, M. H., & Simon, N. M. (2013). Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74(08), 786–792. https://doi.org/10.4088/jcp.12m08083
  5. Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (2011b). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Second Edition: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change. Guilford Press.
  6. Stonerock, G. L., Hoffman, B. M., Smith, P., & Blumenthal, J. A. (2015). Exercise as Treatment for Anxiety: Systematic Review and Analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 49(4), 542–556. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-014-9685-9
  7. Babson, K. A., Feldner, M. T., & Badour, C. L. (2010). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Sleep Disorders. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 33(3), 629–640. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2010.04.011
  8. Kawachi, I., & Berkman, L. F. (2001). Social Ties and Mental Health. Journal of Urban Health-Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 78(3), 458–467. https://doi.org/10.1093/jurban/78.3.458
  9. Yurica CL, DiTomasso RA. Cognitive Distortions. Encyclopedia of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Published online 2023:117-122. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/0-306-48581-8_36

Cover photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

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