Overcoming anxiety may require experimentation with different coping strategies. Seek a mental health professional if nothing seems to help. If you need inspiration or support, join the AIA Vitality community and access plenty of tools and resources, rewards and discounts to help you on your mental health journey.
The World Health Organization reports that in 2020, the first year of COVID-19, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25 per cent. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Some of us experience feelings of anxiety when faced with challenging events. This natural response has steered us away from worry or danger. However, overcoming anxiety is a personal journey filled with trial and error.
Thankfully, there are several ways to win the battle. Three people living with anxiety shared how they learned to manage their mental symptoms and stop worrying.
Overcoming anxiety one kilometre at a time
Any physical activity, from running to dancing, improves mental wellness. (Credit: Shutterstock)
James Wee has always lived with anxiety and suffered bouts of depression as a teenager.
"I've always been an anxious child, " shares James, now 30. "I was a high-achieving and extroverted kid, so it was easy to pretend that everything was fine, at least on the surface."
At age 21, James started cognitive behavioural therapy after a major anxiety attack. His therapist also suggested he take up an activity that he could do on his own, and that would get him outside.
Evidence has shown that physical activity may help prevent or treat anxiety. A 2020 study from the book Physical Exercise for Human Health suggests brief periods of exercise can significantly help relieve feelings of uneasiness, thanks to a combination of psychological and biological factors.
James, who advocates a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race approach to overcome anxiety, chose running. He built his confidence slowly, planning short runs close to home and in the early hours of the day "to avoid crowds".
Today, James is a personal trainer for endurance running. "Change doesn't happen overnight, but it eventually happens if you persist and give yourself time. Things can get better."
Journaling through anxiety
Journaling allows you to process emotions and clarify thoughts, acting as a soothing balm for your mind and body. (Credit: Shutterstock)
"I've always struggled with feelings of loneliness and isolation, " says Sarah Taylor, 45, diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder at 18.
As an only child, Sarah felt she had no one to talk to about her worries until she discovered her safe space – journaling.
"I could unload my troubled mind without feeling ashamed or judged for how I felt. Journaling gave me the freedom to fully express myself."
Journal writing is a powerful and accessible self-care practice that helps you work through inner thoughts and difficult emotions. For example, starting or ending the day with a gratitude list can help relieve anxiety and stress.
Writing for 15 minutes three times a week may help increase feelings of wellbeing and reduce symptoms of depression in about one month, a 2018 study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health suggests.
If you want to take it up a notch, list two or three things you are grateful for in every journaling session.
Breathing through anxiety
Self-care can be as simple as taking mindful breaths, especially during anxious moments. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Emma David, 55, has learned to relax with the help of yoga and breathing exercises, especially when she feels her anxiety rising.
"As a single parent of two, I was consumed with worries. Yoga and meditation taught me to quiet my mind on and off the mat."
Relaxation techniques help release tension throughout the body and calm the restless mind. An analysis of 65 trials with young people in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems shows that yoga, mindful meditation and deep breathing can reduce anxiety.
While in her 30s, Emma started practising Surya Namaskar, or Sun Salutation, and experimenting with meditation techniques. She followed step-by-step instructions she found in magazines and quickly fell in love with both disciplines. They have helped her reconnect with herself, ease her anxiety and feel empowered.
Emma performs relaxation techniques for at least 10 to 20 minutes as part of her daily routine.
World Health Organization. 2022. The COVID-19 pandemic triggers a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. [online] [Accessed on 26 August 2022]
Physical Exercise for Human Health. 2020. Exercise and Anxiety. [online] [Accessed on 26 August 2022]
Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2021. Physical Activity Is Associated with Lower Long-Term Incidence of Anxiety in a Population-Based, Large-Scale Study. [online] [Accessed on 26 August 2022]
American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2019. Physical Activity and Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. [online] [Accessed on 26 August 2022]
JMIR Mental Health. 2018. Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients with Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial. [online] [Accessed on 26 August 2022]
FMCH. Family Medicine and Community Health. 2022. Efficacy of journaling in the management of mental illness: a systematic review and meta-analysis [online] [Accessed on 26 August 2022]
Journal of Happiness Studies. 2020. Gratitude Interventions: Effective Self-help? A Meta-analysis of the Impact on Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety. [online] [Accessed on 26 August 2022]
International Journal of Mental Health Systems.2022.Effectiveness of relaxation techniques 'as an active ingredient of psychological interventions to reduce distress, anxiety and depression in adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. [online] [Accessed on 26 August 2022]
This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.