What to do when you feel anxious

What is anxiety?

It’s completely normal to worry when things get hectic and complicated. But if worries become overwhelming, you may feel that they’re running your life. If you spend an excessive amount of time feeling worried or nervous, or you have difficulty sleeping because of your anxiety, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. They may be symptoms of an anxiety problem or disorder.

Anxiety is a natural human reaction that involves mind and body. It serves an important basic survival function: Anxiety is an alarm system that is activated whenever a person perceives danger or threat.

Normal Anxiety

Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety from time to time. Anxiety can be described as a sense of uneasiness, nervousness, worry, fear, or dread of what’s about to happen or what might happen. While fear is the emotion we feel in the presence of threat, anxiety is a sense of anticipated danger, trouble, or threat.

Feelings of anxiety can be mild or intense (or anywhere in between), depending on the person and the situation. Mild anxiety can feel like a sense of uneasiness or nervousness. More intense anxiety can feel like fear, dread, or panic. Worrying and feelings of tension and stress are forms of anxiety. So are stage fright and the shyness that can come with meeting new people.

It’s natural for new, unfamiliar, or challenging situations to prompt feelings of anxiety or nervousness. Facing an important test, a big date, or a major class presentation can trigger normal anxiety. Although these situations don’t actually threaten a person’s safety, they can cause someone to feel “threatened” by potential embarrassment, worry about making a mistake, fitting in, stumbling over words, being accepted or rejected, or losing pride. Physical sensations — such as a pounding heart, sweaty hands, or a nervous stomach — can be part of normal anxiety, too.

Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that involve excessive amounts of anxiety, fear, nervousness, worry, or dread. Anxiety that is too constant or too intense can cause a person to feel preoccupied, distracted, tense, and always on alert.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions. They affect people of all ages — adults, children, and teens. There are many different types of anxiety disorders, with different symptoms. They all have one thing in common, though: Anxiety occurs too often, is too strong, is out of proportion to the present situation, and affects a person’s daily life and happiness.

Symptoms of an anxiety disorder can come on suddenly, or they can build gradually and linger until a person begins to realize that something is wrong. Sometimes anxiety creates a sense of doom and foreboding that seems to come out of nowhere. It’s common for those with an anxiety disorder to not know what’s causing the emotions, worries, and sensations they have.


Feelings you might have

  • On edge
  • Nervous
  • Panic
  • Stressed
  • Scared
  • Overwhelmed
  • Irritable/lack of patience
  • Uptight


How your body might feel

  • Breathing faster or feeling breathless
  • Stomach churning
  • Chest tight or painful
  • Heart racing/heart palpitations – meaning heartbeats that become noticeable
  • Sweating
  • Tense/sore muscles
  • Dizzy/faint
  • Trembling or tingling sensations
  • Difficulty concentrating


Thoughts you might have

  • “I’m going to die”
  • “I’m not safe”
  • “I can’t cope”
  • “Other people aren’t safe/they’re going to die”
  • “Something bad is going to happen”


Things you might do

  • Avoid doing things that make you anxious
  • Find it hard to relax
  • Snap at people easily
  • Avoid people or things you would normally enjoy
  • Talk very quickly

How can I manage my anxiety?

There are several things that can help when it comes to managing anxiety, but it’s also important to consider talking to a professional if your anxiety is affecting your daily life.

Call or Text 602-248-8336 between 3-9pm to talk to a trained peer counselor, or call 24/7 to talk to someone who can help.

Ways to Manage Anxiety

You can challenge your unhelpful thoughts by asking these questions. Work through the questions below, using the examples to give you ideas.


Example: I failed the test. 


  1. Is there any evidence against this thought?
    • Evidence against the example, “I failed the test”:
      • I studied for several hours.
      • I have never failed a test in the past. 
  2. Is there any evidence for this thought?
    1. Evidence for the example, “I failed the test”:
      • The subject material is difficult to understand.
      • I didn’t do well on the homework. 
  3. Can you identify any patterns of unhelpful thinking?
    • Examples of unhelpful thinking:
      • I’m catastrophizing—thinking of the worst things that can possibly happen.
      • I’m using emotional reasoning—I’m thinking that something bad must have happened because I feel anxious. 
  4. What would you say to a friend that was in the same situation?
    • Things to say to the example, “I failed the test”:
      • You studied so much. It will be okay!
      • You’ve done well on tests before—I’m sure you have on this one too. 
  5. Is there another way of looking at the situation?
    • Another way to look at the example, “I failed the test”:
      • I’m a straight-A student and have never had trouble with test taking before.
      • Ms. Smith says I can redo the test if I didn’t like my grade. 
  6. Is there a proactive solution to this unhelpful thought?
    • Proactive solution to the example, “I failed the test”:
      • There is nothing I can do at the moment to change the grade I will get on the test. If I do well, great. If I did in fact fail, I can talk to Mrs. Smith and see if she will let me retake it, or I will study for two additional hours before the next test.

  1. Decide a time in the day that’s worry time – this should last about 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. At other times, remind yourself that you have worry time put aside already and try not to think about your worries until then.
  3. Once your worry time arrives, start timing yourself, so it doesn’t go on for longer than 15 minutes.
  4. During worry time, let yourself worry – don’t even try to come up with solutions. Focus entirely on being worried.
  5. Stop as soon as your worry time is finished – or earlier, as you might run out of worries before the 15 minutes is up.

Doing something you enjoy will give you less time to spend worrying, and make you feel better overall.


  • Do some exercise, like going swimming or cycling
  • Spend time with a friend or family member
  • Read a book
  • Watch your favorite TV show
  • Go to the movies
  • Do something creative, like drawing or painting
  • Have a bath
  • Play a video game

Breathing exercises can help you feel calmer and reduce your anxiety.

The controlled breathing technique involves focusing on and slowing down your breathing. It’s particularly helpful if you feel dizzy or light-headed when you get anxious.

  1. Get into a comfortable position – you could lie on your bed, or sit on a comfortable chair.
  2. Try to breathe in a steady rhythm. Perhaps try to breathe in for three seconds, hold this breath for two seconds, and then breathe out for three seconds. It can be helpful to count as you do this – for example, “in, 1,2,3… out, 1,2,3”.
  3. Repeat the steady breathing for a few minutes.
  4. You should soon begin to feel more relaxed. If you were feeling dizzy then this should also get better after a few minutes.

Grounding is a good technique to fend off symptoms of anxiety and stress when they feel overwhelming.

Grounding involves trying to take your mind off of uncomfortable symptoms or thoughts.


Exercise 1:

You can use the 5,4,3,2,1 method to ground yourself.

Start by sitting in a comfortable place and taking a deep breath. Then try to focus on the following:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can feel
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste


Exercise 2

  • Sit or stand in a comfortable position
  • Imagine you have an empty balloon in your stomach
  • Try to inflate the balloon by breathing through your nose – breathe in while counting to 3
  • Now slowly deflate the balloon by breathing out through your mouth
  • Inflate and deflate the balloon a few times until you feel calmer

For Further Help:

Call or Text 602-248-8336 between 3-9pm to talk to a trained peer counselor, or call 24/7 to talk to someone who can help.

Anxiety and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on our lives. Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming, and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Public health actions, such as social distancing, are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but they can make us feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety.

Learning to cope with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and those around you become more resilient.

How to cope with COVID-19 anxiety

Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed, but hearing about the pandemic constantly can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple times a day and disconnecting from phone, tv, and computer screens for a while.

  • Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate
  • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get plenty of sleep

Make time to unwind — Try to do some other activities you enjoy.

Connect with friends, family, and peers — Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations — While social distancing measures are in place, try connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.

Remember, you aren’t alone in this.

Whenever you’re ready, teen peer counselors are here to listen and help. Call 24/7 or text 12-9pm weekdays/3-9pm weekends at 602-248-8336.