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By Lauren Hofer

Dear Lauren, I get really stressed and anxious the days before a major test and it can feel paralyzing. How can I deal with those overwhelming fears and emotions?

Chances are that at some time you’ve felt anxiety, whether you know it or not. Persistent worry and fear that never helps you get anywhere (except maybe to a panic attack) can be both exhausting and debilitating.

The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry.

If you are struggling with anxiety, here are some practical tools that can help:

When in doubt, talk it out.

You could bottle it up inside and try to hide your anxiety from everyone, but talking things out brings another brain into the picture — one that isn’t addled by your own spinning thoughts. Say what makes you anxious out loud, even if it’s just to one person you trust.

Get a diary.

While journaling might seem like a cliche thing that middle schoolers do, it’s actually a kind of self-therapy. Sit down and write through what makes you anxious on paper and pen. Author Dr. Barbara Markway wrote for Psychology Today and said, “There’s no better way to learn about your thought processes than to write them down.”

Just dance.

Dancing relieves stress. Studies, like one dating all the way back to 1984 by University of London’s Andre Leste and John Rust, have shown that dancing can help mitigate the effects of anxiety. And yes, you could just go for a jog, but there’s something about getting down with your bad self to the latest T-Swift dance anthem.

Don’t eat your heart out.

Anxiety might give you the desire to consume everything in sight, but try to avoid giving in to those desires. Some foods and beverages, like alcohol and caffeine, can even increase feelings of anxiety. So instead of living on a steady diet of coffee and donuts, munch on some almonds and dark chocolate and drink plenty of water.

Find something that helps you focus and forget.

Slow down and find a place where your mind is free from the continual onslaught of anxious thoughts. Play an instrument, paint a picture or go on a hike. Do whatever it is that demands your full attention, fuels your inward self and brings you a sense of peace.

It’s also important to know that sometimes the anxiety can get to be too much for us to handle without professional help. Contact CSUF’s Counseling and Psychological services at (657) 278-3040.

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