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Practical, Effective Self-Help Strategies for Mild Anxiety

     

Many people experience distressing and troubling symptoms of anxiety, yet do not meet the full criteria for anxiety disorder. More than 25 percent of college students had experienced overwhelming anxiety in the past two weeks, according to a recent survey from the American College Health Association. These feelings of anxiety can often persist and cause distress and problems functioning.

Researchers from La Trobe University and The University of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, wanted to identify self-help strategies for mild anxiety that individuals could use without professional assistance. They wanted to identify strategies that would be helpful for most people and practical to use.

The researchers used a rigorous process with two panels of experts to rate self-help strategies and arrive at consensus. One panel of experts was made up of 51 mental health clinicians and researchers from six countries, including the U.S. The researchers/clinicians were well-established and anxiety was a focus of their research or practice. The other panel included 32 consumer advocates. They were individuals with a history of anxiety and who were involved in an advocacy or publicly visible role working with others with anxiety.

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Participants rated a series of more than 300 possible strategies for their likely helpfulness in reducing anxiety and the feasibility of implementing them. They focused on generalized anxiety and social anxiety and did not look at strategies for anxiety related to panic attacks or specific phobias.

The strategies below are among those identified as both helpful and feasible by both the mental health professionals and the consumer advocates.

Cognitive change/Analytic strategies

  • If a worry comes into your head, ask yourself whether it is a problem you can actually solve.
  • When feeling anxious, ask yourself whether your thoughts right now are helping your anxiety or not.
  • Generate some helpful thoughts, and say them to yourself in anxious situations (e.g., “other people have managed with my problems, so I can too”, “I’ll never be perfect, just like everyone else”, “this is difficult, but I got through it before”).
  • Identify the specific situations or triggers that are making you stressed or anxious and keep a record of your anxiety levels.
  • Understand the typical ways you react and behave when you become anxious.

Coping techniques/Interpersonal strategies

  • Carry a list of things that may help if you become frightened or anxious (e.g., strategies, alternative thoughts).
  • Seek support from friends and family.
  • Talk about problems and feelings with a trusted person who will listen and understand.

Lifestyle/Reducing Tension

  • Spend time in contact with nature/more time outdoors.
  • Have regular leisure time (e.g., pursuing a hobby).
  • Eat regular meals.
  • Relieve times of high anxiety by exercise or physical activity.
  • Use a self-help book based on cognitive behavior therapy principles.

These strategies could help people address early signs of anxiety and potentially help prevent symptoms from developing into anxiety disorder. For more information, see the brochure, What Can I do to Help Myself with Anxiety?, developed by LaTrobe University based on the results of the research.

References

  • Morgan AJ, Chittleborough P, Jorm AF. Self-help strategies for sub-threshold anxiety: A Delphi consensus study to find messages suitable for population-wide promotion. J Affect Disord. 2016 Jul 19;206:68-76.
  • American College Health Association, National College Health Assessment, 2015. www.acha-ncha.org/reports_acha-nchaiic.html

     

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