Reducing anxiety - are you doing it right?

Over the years I’ve tried dozens of strategies to reduce anxiety and, shocking though it may seem, some of them actually work.

You’re probably familiar with the standard recommendations: exercise, meditate, practice gratitude, improve your diet, re-commit to a budget, challenge negative core beliefs and try lavender. Certainly, they all work, to varying degrees (my favorites are: exercise, meditation and as little sugar as my diet will allow!).

But I’ve recently come across three noteworthy strategies that (and I’m guessing here) few of us employ. Check these out.

1. A Noteworthy List

Reportedly, neuroscience has discovered a magical list of songs (see accompanying list), one of which is said to reduce anxiety by up to 65 percent (one must wonder, how do you measure something like that?). The study comes from the UK’s MindLab International, in work led by Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson. Writing for, writer Melanie Curtin explains: “According to [Lewis-Hodgson], the top song produced a greater state of relaxation than any other music tested to date.”

The song is called “Weightless,” by Marconi Union (“65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates”) and, was created “in collaboration with sound therapists.” Curtin notes: “Its carefully arranged harmonies, rhythms, and bass lines help slow a listener’s heart rate, reduce blood pressure and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.”

Curtin’s advice: “In this age of constant bombardment, the science is clear: if you want your mind and body to last, you’ve got to prioritize giving them a rest. Music is an easy way to take some of the pressure off of all the pings, dings, apps, tags, texts, emails, appointments, meetings, and deadlines that can easily spike your stress level and leave you feeling drained and anxious.”

Curtin, bless her heart, has created a playlist, available on Spotify, of the 10 most relaxing songs (see sidebar). I plan to try them out tonight!

2. Avoid Avoidance

Julia Samton, M.D., in an article for, asks: “What is the number one way humans behave when they are anxious? The answer is simple, we avoid what is making us anxious.” Unfortunately, she says, “this natural instinct could make us feel worse.”

Samton acknowledges that, in certain situations, avoidance can work (think spiders, snakes and dark streets). “However,” she explains, “when you fear objectively safe situations, avoidance can actually worsen your anxiety. For example, if you experience social anxiety or irrational phobias such as fear of heights, avoiding what scares you can exacerbate our timidity.”

For example, if anxiety leads you to turn down a social invitation, says Samton, “the next time an invitation comes along, are you more or less likely to attend?…The correct answer, of course, is less likely. Avoidance worked once, why not use it a second time?…How do you stop this vicious cycle? You got it, by attending a party and facing your fear.”

3. Acceptance

It sounds a touch trite, but learning to accept your anxiety (instead of judging it) might just be the most powerful weapon you possess. PsyBlog author Jeremy Dean cites a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which finds that “accepting negative emotions is the best way to deal with them in the long-run.”

The study concludes: “The tendency to accept versus judge one’s mental experiences represents a fundamental individual difference that should have key implications for downstream outcomes.”

Dean notes: “Psychologists are still not sure exactly why acceptance is so powerful,” then quotes study author Dr. Iris Mauss: “Maybe if you have an accepting attitude toward negative emotions, you’re not giving them as much attention. And perhaps, if you’re constantly judging your emotions, the negativity can pile up.”

Added Dr. Brett Ford, another study author, according to Dean: “It turns out that how we approach our own negative emotional reactions is really important for our overall well-being. People who accept these emotions without judging or trying to change them are able to cope with their stress more successfully.”

The 10 most relaxing songs?*
1. “Weightless,” by Marconi Union
2. “Electra,” by Airstream
3. “Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix),” by DJ Shah
4. “Watermark,” by Enya
5. “Strawberry Swing,” by Coldplay
6. “Please Don’t Go,” by Barcelona
7. “Pure Shores,” by All Saints
8. “Someone Like You,” by Adele
9. “Canzonetta Sull’aria,” by Mozart
10. “We Can Fly,” by Rue du Soleil (Café Del Mar)
*courtesy of writer Melanie Curtin

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