Alexandra Davidson, Psy.D. | Resources

Resources for anxiety

I have collected a whole host of favorite resources over the years, including podcasts. articles, apps, online courses, and books, and am in the process of sharing them here. This page will be a work-in-progress, so check back frequently. There are many practices that you can begin using now that may be helpful in a fairly immediate way.

The resources below are organized around the following topics:

General resources — understanding anxiety and how to cope with it

  • Stepping Off the Path of Anxiety. Psychotherapist and meditation teacher Andrea Wachter speaks on the Happiness Lab podcast about a wealth of strategies to overcome the thoughts and sensations that make up anxiety.
  • That Anxiety You’re Feeling? It’s a Habit You Can Unlearn. Psychiatrist Judson Brewer is interviewed on the Ezra Klein podcast on unwinding the habit of anxious worry. He writes more about this approach in his post on the 10% Happier blog.
  • Emotions Are Data. So Listen to Them. Psychologist Susan David speaks on the Happiness Lab podcast about why many of us choose to ignore negative feelings or suppress them. She posits that uncomfortable emotions such as anger, guilt or loneliness are like the guiding beam of a lighthouse — they warn you of dangers ahead and help you navigate a meaningful life more effectively.
  • How We Misunderstand Anxiety and Miss Out on Its Benefits. Psychologist Tracy Dennis-Tiwary gives a more nuanced understanding of what anxiety is, and how we can relate with it in a way that helps rather than hinders us. See what you think of her rationale, and whether you can apply it to your own anxiety:
    1. Anxiety can be an ally. But like any ally, you need to negotiate ... The first principle is anxiety is information. Listen to it.
    2. The second principle is sometimes anxiety is not useful information. Let go of it and immerse yourself in the present again. Let go of that future tense.
    3. Then the third principle is, if you let it go for the moment but you’ve circled back and you’ve decided that there’s some useful information — about the world, things you care about, the future, hope — then hitch it to a sense of purpose.
  • Here are several of my favorite books that apply to anxiety across the board:

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Calming the nervous system — relaxation and breathing exercises

Learning to breathe in a way that interrupts the fight/flight response and activates the self-soothing or parasympathetic nervous system is an important tool for your toolbox. To note, the goal here is not necessarily to make anxiety go away, but to develop a new relationship with the sensations in the body and anxious thoughts in the mind. I often recommend practicing on a daily basis, even when you are not anxious — if learning to surf, you might practice standing on the surfboard on the beach and getting the feel of things there before heading out into the waves. The same idea here works well. 15 minutes daily will allow you to build a solid foundation, perhaps before bed in the evening or as a break in the middle of the day.
  • Breathe2Relax app. This is an app put out by the VA that teaches belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing. When we are anxious, oftentimes breathing is shallow and rapid through the chest, which actually worsens symptoms of anxiety in the body. This app teaches you how to take slower, deeper breaths from the belly or diaphragm region.
  • 4-square breathing. Also known as box breathing, this simple exercise asks you to breathe in for 4 seconds and imagine the side of a square being drawn. Then hold your breath for 4 seconds as you “see” the next side of the square being completed. Exhale for 4 seconds, watching the third side of the square being drawn. And, hold for 4 seconds, watching the full square take form. You can have your square be any color, texture, or size that you like. The visualization portion of the practice can give a busy, anxious mind something to do, while breathing in a slower, more intentional way can steady a revved up nervous system.
  • 5-finger breathing. This is a simple meditative breathing exercise you can practice anywhere. Basic instructions are as follows: hold one hand in front of you, fingers spread. Now, slowly trace the outside of your hand with the index finger on your other hand, breathing in when you trace up a finger, and out when you trace down. Move up and down all five fingers. When you’ve traced your whole hand, reverse direction and do it again.
  • Drop three. This is another exercise that can be used anywhere, anytime. The instructions are as follows:
    (1) Drop your jaw. Make sure your tongue falls to the bottom of your mouth. If your mouth is open a little, you’re doing it right. (2) Drop your shoulders. Let them loosen and fall. (3) Drop your stomach. Don’t hold it in tight; just let it go. Now notice how you feel. Has anything changed? The idea here is that instead of expending energy to keep your muscles tense, you will have this energy available to use in more helpful ways.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). This is a practice that will teach you how to notice when you are carrying anxiety and tension in the body, and how to let go of that tension progressively across your body. You can use this handout to practice on your own, or google "PMR" and find a recorded track that will take you through the exercise. For example, here is one you can try.
  • Other ideas. The best breathing exercise is the one that you will use! I created this worksheet with some other ideas you can try to slow down a revved up nervous system.

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  • Exercise and the brain. Exercise has consistently been linked to a reduction in anxiety symptoms and stress. This video, entitled Exercise and the Brain, provides a thorough and entertaining look at why developing a consistent exercise practice is so beneficial. Understanding how and why exercise is helpful for anxiety and stress in particular can also provide a big motivation boost.

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Mindfulness is a skill that can be helpful for many psychological struggles, but it is a superpower when it comes to anxiety. When anxious, we tend to reside anywhere but the present moment — typically time traveling to the future, preoccupied by worst case scenarios, or stuck in the past, overthinking and ruminating. If we can recognize when this is happening, this creates a choice point, and we can then decide whether the anxious chatter is just noise, something to set aside, or whether it is a signal that could use more problem solving or action. There are a number of excellent apps that will teach you how to bring more mindfulness to your life and build a practice — here are my favorites below:
  • Healthy Minds app. This app was developed by the neuroscientist Richard Davidson (no relation!) and is my number one recommendation, as it is a robust, evidence-based program designed to help you build a mindfulness practice and foster traits associated with wellbeing.
  • Russ Harris’s ACT Mindfully resources — meditations and podcasts. This site, offered by one of the giants in the field, provides a wonderful way to practice mindfulness and learn more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
  • Insight Timer app. This app used to be the largest repository of free meditations, unsure whether this is still true. You can meditate without instruction via their simple timer, or you can listen to meditations organized by content area. There are also a number of courses that come with the paid membership that seem excellent.
  • Calm app
  • Headspace app

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Individuals with anxiety often have a very robust inner critic who can tag along and issue harsh judgments at every step of the way. Self-compassion practices have been shown to reduce self-criticism and perfectionism, interrupt unhelpful thought patterns, and foster emotional resilience. Self-compassion is taught as a mindfulness practice, one that teaches us to shift into a warm, kind, and curious stance towards our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In a nutshell, it is the practice of treating ourselves as we might a dear friend.

Here are some of my favorite resources below, including podcasts, online meditations, virtual and in-person workshops, and self-compassion teachers. You can try a different practice every day if you like, or stick with one you like and practice that again and again.

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