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Understanding Self-care and Self Help Techniques for Anxiety

A lot of people with anxiety choose not to get assistance, especially in the beginning. There is a whole range of reasons for this including the perceived stigmas associated with mental disorders, illnesses, and professional treatment. However, just as you would carefully choose any other type of treatment, you need to be discerning about the self-help you decide on.

There is an amazing number of books available covering topics such as self-esteem, stress, anxiety, depression, assertiveness, how to be happier and the list goes on… Keep in mind that all books (and everything else including this website) are another person's view. It is up to you to test out the theories and research to see just how well they apply to your particular circumstances.

Having an anxiety disorder can lead a person to feel extremely helpless as they get caught up in frustration and confusion about what's happening to them and why. In desperation, people will try lots of different techniques with varying results.

Sometimes this is due to the technique itself, or the amount of time and effort the person is prepared to invest in following it through. Other times it's because the person has not identified the real cause of their anxiety and therefore is trying to apply an inappropriate technique. It may also be that they have overestimated the benefits of a particular technique.

As far as practical skills go, commit a reasonable amount of time to their learning and practice. If they don't work, make a mental note of why so you can learn something from the experience.

The difficulty with self-help is that you don't have anyone to bounce your questions off. You don't have anyone to say to you, "I know you think that, but maybe you should look at it another way…" Self-help by its very nature is subjective and often you can't see the forest for the trees. It is difficult to see on your own that a particular way of thinking is flawed. Most people will try self-help first but will become frustrated or feel blocked from achieving the results they're looking for.

It is important to recognize if or when you need to call on the experts. This can be crucial in preventing the development of a full-blown anxiety disorder.

Here are 7 Self-care and Self Help Techniques to help you ease the symptoms of anxiety yourself.


Sometimes the causes for increased anxiety can be very basic. It's quite ironic that while people with an anxiety disorder are so attuned to all their bodily sensations, they can at the same time be completely disconnected from the cause of those sensations. For example, most people will experience light-headedness, nausea, or headache if a meal is missed.

Sometimes people with an anxiety disorder, especially if these symptoms have been experienced previously as part of their disorder; will interpret the symptoms of not eating as anxiety, rather than the body's distress due to hunger.

Likewise, the symptoms of a fuzzy head and loss of concentration can be misinterpreted as anxiety, when repeated late nights or insufficient sleep could be the culprit.

Exercise is well-documented as a means of relieving stress and contributing to a feeling of well-being.

Paying attention to diet and daily habits can also point to any food allergies, addictions, and patterns of behavior which result in negative outcomes.

  Read more here on → Foods for Anxiety

Meditation and other relaxation techniques

Meditation as a relaxation technique can produce some benefits. However, on its own it's not enough to bring about recovery from an anxiety disorder. The reason meditation produces a relaxation response is that for 20 minutes or so, the meditator has interrupted the normal, habituated thought process; the one which had produced anxiety on a daily basis.

The problem is: once the person gets up from the meditative position, they enter into the same habituated thought patterns and soon the anxiety returns and the benefits of meditation are lost.

However meditation, when practiced as a means of self-awareness, can teach us much about ourselves. It shows us our difficulties in letting go; our need to be in control and our expectations and perfectionist attitudes. It shows us our resistance to giving time to ourselves and our fear of new experiences and change.

If you fail to notice all the things meditation can show you because you were only wanting to feel relaxed, then you will miss so much of what meditation is all about. But if you meditate to cultivate awareness of who you are, then you begin to notice how pre-conceived ideas/beliefs stop you from achieving freedom. If you take what you learn in meditation and endeavor to link it to your every-day life experience, then you begin to understand many of the causes for your anxiety.

Meditation is most useful when combined with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or psychotherapy.

And there are several other relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), etc. which are also effective in managing anxiety.

Support groups

Support groups for mental health (anxiety) are groups of individuals who come together to support one another and share their experiences related to mental health challenges (anxiety).

In many instances, a support group will be formed and run by a person or people with personal experience of the topic. They may also elicit the guidance of a worker in the mental health sector, such as a social worker or, even a psychologist.

Support groups can play a positive role in the process of recovery from an anxiety disorder. Some of the benefits are:
  • an opportunity to meet new people
  • a chance to talk with others about a common experience
  • education
  • sharing information
  • gaining self-confidence
  • encourage the individual to take responsibility for their recover
  • a non-judgmental environment 
Support groups are most beneficial when members understand the role of anxiety, its management, and the practice of skills. In this way, a group will become a positive force in recovery, rather than simply being a group for emotional support.

Self-help books

There are so many books out there, but you really need to be discerning. Be wary of a book that professes to hold all the answers, especially those of the self-improvement variety. While a particular book will often contain some very useful tips and ways of perceiving things differently, keep in mind - what worked for the author may not necessarily achieve the same outcome for you.

Another important point to acknowledge is that unless the book specifically states as much, the author was not battling with an anxiety disorder at the same time as working on his/her self-improvement.

Having an anxiety disorder does complicate the issue and can even cause the anxiety to become worse as you strive to change habits and behaviors. Instead, choose a book specifically for people with an anxiety disorder as any good book will also cover self-esteem issues. Not only is low self-esteem a result of an anxiety disorder, but it's also often the precursor.

Positive thinking

This technique is familiar to everyone. It's the most common advice we receive and the first we try ourselves when we start to think negatively. Why...? Because it can work when dealing with 'low-grade' anxiety.

Low-grade anxiety is anything from 1 to 6 on the anxiety scale where 10 is a panic attack. With low-grade anxiety, you're more likely to believe the positive thoughts you create in order to combat negative ones. Up to 6 on the scale, it can be useful to reflect on the fact that there will always be someone worse off than you. You can convince yourself that the boss who yelled at you yesterday will probably be in a much better frame of mind today; that the party you spent months organizing will go off without a hitch.

The trouble with positive thinking is that as anxiety levels increase, it's harder to believe what you're saying to yourself. The more you don't believe it, the more frustrated/angry/anxious you become. Rather than being helpful, using the positive thinking technique once you're anxiety is in the upper ranges, can actually make you feel more anxious! However, it can play a useful role in a much broader approach involving the use of other cognitive techniques.

Dream work

Working with dreams can be fascinating. In a sense, dreams are a direct window into your subconscious in that they are not restricted by the rules employed by us in our waking state. Dreams can tell us how we really feel about things and express emotions we may feel too inhibited to express normally. Dreams can also indicate when we have reached a point of release from a certain issue, or show us how we're clinging on.

Providing we develop an understanding of our unique dream symbols, dreams can teach us many things about ourselves. Most people wanting to explore their dream imagery start by buying a few dream interpretation books. Keeping a dream journal is a good idea. Keep in mind though that your dream symbols are unique to you and may not necessarily have the same meaning as the interpretations you read, so use books only as a guide.

Even nightmares; rather than being a premonition of doom, can actually mark a significant psychological turning point when interpreted correctly!


Hypnosis or self-hypnosis is sometimes chosen because it appears to offer an 'easy' cure. The difficulty with hypnosis is that it focuses on the behavior, rather than the cause of the behavior. A patient may tell the hypnotist, 'I get anxious traveling on public transport'. As part of the therapy, the hypnotist will often teach the patient how to induce a hypnotic trance at home so the hypnotist's suggestions about feeling relaxed on buses, etc can be reinforced. A hypnotist may not recognize low self-esteem, vulnerability, the need to be in control, and similar issues.

Hypnosis and self-hypnosis can be very successful in receptive subjects provided the need is very specific e.g. wanting to give up smoking. However, anxiety is a very complex issue not defined by resulting behaviors. One may learn not to feel anxious on a bus, but if the underlying cause is not addressed, anxiety usually finds another outlet and soon the person is back to the therapist seeking a means to eliminate the fear of another situation.


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