It is no secret that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., but given that we are in the throes of an international pandemic, a sense of heightened discomfort is widespread. Thankfully, there are ways to manage anxiety in isolation, and many of them are free. So whether you're looking to incorporate better mental health habits into your daily routine, or simply want something more constructive than trawling Instagram, there are plenty of digital options at your fingertips.
For anyone for whom anxiety is a new experience, it's important to note that it can manifest in a number of ways, often beyond just racing thoughts. "There are physical health manifestations, as well as headaches, insomnia, low energy, and digestive issues," explains Jennifer George of the meditation app, Headspace. "Anxiety often presents as a sense of unease that you can't trace to anything in particular," explains Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Chloe Carmichael, PhD, to The Zoe Report. "We have a tendency to push overwhelming topics to the backs of our minds, which feels even more poignant currently. The solution lies in finding a method for tapping into those worries, that works for you."
How To Manage Anxiety: Use Strategy
One way to help untangle that complex web? "Mind mapping is a great tool that anyone can try at home," says Dr. Carmichael, who even has a free tutorial on her site. Essentially, you write out your consuming thought process, starting with the front-of-mind topic, then continuing to draw spokes out to the secondary concerns and so on, until you get to the bottom of why the central topic is causing you distress. The goal is to disarm the central topic into categories you can address and tackle, thus reducing your overall anxiety.
How To Manage Anxiety: Use Music
Based in neuroscience, the Brain.fm app customizes a 15-minute playlist to help you achieve your desired outcome — sleep, relaxation, even focus — using music. (You can get into the neuron weeds here.) Enjoy five free sessions to try it out before committing to the $6.99/month subscription. (Some lively, nostalgic music could also prove useful, as Spotify has shown a significant increase in throwback playlists featuring tunes from the '50s to the early '00s.)
How To Manage Anxiety: Use Mindfulness
Meditation practices are hugely helpful at mitigating anxiety because they encourage you to focus on staying present. "Meditation has been shown to actually reduce the size of the amygdala, an area called the fight or flight center, which is responsible for fear and anxiety," says George. The Headspace app offers free and upgradeable options for those at any level, and provides guided meditations as short as 5 minutes long. It's ideal if you're looking to learn meditation tools as well as enjoy guided segments to target everything from the pursuit of happiness or focus to the reduction of stress. Calm, another guided meditation app, offers physical stretching activities, calming visuals and music, and relaxation techniques for helping you sleep and decompress.
How To Manage Anxiety: Use Massage
For anyone who responds best to physical interventions, massage — specifically acupressure — is a great option to try in addition to an exercise regimen. The Acupressure: Heal Yourself app, which costs $1.99, helps tackle physical manifestations of anxiety, like indigestion or muscle tension. Utilizing Chinese medicine pressure points and fingertip massage (which is safe to try at home), the app provides a visual guide to the areas to massage according to where your anxiety symptoms are manifesting.
How To Manage Anxiety: Use Data
Need hard data to feel calm? Worry Watch, available for $3.99, encourages the user to record, revisit, and analyze feelings of anxiety with the support of customized dashboards and statistics. The act of noting a fear, revisiting it after the fact, and assessing whether the emotion was ultimately justified, is a thoughtful way of retraining your responses.
How To Manage Anxiety: Seek Coaching
Sometimes you need a coach in your corner, particularly if you're isolated alone. Talk Space asks you to complete a questionnaire and select a payment plan, then matches you with a licensed therapist in your area. It costs $49-$79/week depending on the therapist you select, and enables you to message, video chat or call your therapist.
Not looking for one-on-one human interaction? Dare is a therapy app that focuses on managing insomnia and anxiety by encouraging experiencing the symptoms rather than avoiding them. The coaching component comes in the form of audio segments that you can select to talk you through times when your symptoms are peaking.
How To Manage Anxiety: Try Games
If you prefer not to delve into the depths of your psyche and want a little support veiled as entertainment, try a more game-centric approach. Happify, based in positive psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy, uses daily quizzes and activities to teach you positive habits while also providing a distraction from stress and increasing your sense of happiness.
The What's Up app provides a blend of uplifting quotes, grounding activities, and a journal where you rate emotions on a scale of intensity to help you keep perspective. It also draws upon results-based cognitive behavioral and acceptance-commitment therapies.
Super Better helps you reframe daily struggles as resilience-building 'quests'. By retraining your responses to negative events, it helps keep you focused on larger, more important goals that will bring you happiness.
If you or someone you know is experiencing extreme distress, please call the SAMSHA Distress Helpline 1-800-985-5990 or consult with a medical professional.