Quick and Easy Ways to Manage Stress and Anxiety Between Therapy Appointments

By Megan Dormin, LPC

Your mental health is as important as your physical health. And just as there are many ways to maintain a healthy body, there are several ways to cultivate a healthy mind. From time to time, you might enlist the help of a psychotherapist for help navigating trauma, grief, depression, stress, anxiety or a variety of other mental health issues.  

A therapist can help you gain a deeper understanding of your mental health triggers and provide insights that can be a catalyst for personal growth. But therapy can take time. And in between sessions, life happens.  

What can you do when feelings of stress and anxiety show up on a day you don’t have a therapy appointment scheduled?

First, try to approach stress and anxiety from a preventative stance. Practice good mental hygiene: stick with a consistent, structured routine; eat nutritious foods; incorporate some type of movement, whether through exercise, dance or yoga; meditate or do some deep breathing; make sure you’re getting quality sleep.

These self-care habits can prevent feelings of stress and anxiety from becoming overwhelming. Still, stress and anxiety are bound to show up from time to time. You might experience them as racing thoughts, a quickened heartbeat or uneven breathing.

Fortunately, there are many in-the-moment tools and strategies you can use to help you feel a bit more in control. Following are a few you might want to try. See which works best for you!

Progressive Muscle Relaxation: It might feel extremely difficult to sit or recline in an anxious state, but if possible, conducting a quick muscle relaxation activity can be extremely beneficial.

  • Begin by sitting in a chair comfortably with your feet planted firmly on the floor, concentrating on your body and breathing for a few moments.

  • Then working from the top of your head, begin squeezing and relaxing your muscles, beginning with your forehead, jaw, down your neck, arms, abdomen, etc. let any distracting thoughts pass without too much focus. This can help relax some of the tension that comes with stress and anxiety and can be meditative.

4-7-8 Breathing: 4-7-8 breathing is a relaxation technique designed to provide the body with more oxygen and is said to have a tranquilizing effect. While it may seem simple, the rhythm of breathing and concentration on breath is very calming and works to calm your body physically as well as psychologically. To perform this exercise:

  • Sit comfortably closing your eyes, start by inhaling through your nose as you count to four in your head.

  • Next, hold that breath for 7 counts (it is ok to begin at a lower number and work up to 7 if this feels too difficult)

  • Finally, exhale for 8 counts.

Grounding Activity: Often when we are in an escalated anxious state, it can feel like we are disconnected from the world around us and even feel an uncomfortable sense of derealization. A great way to combat this is by using a 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique.

  • This involves listing five things you hear, then four things you see, then three things you can touch from where you’re sitting, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

  • Another way to ground is by holding something cold like a piece of ice in your hand and focusing on the sensation, or biting into something sour like a lemon.  

Mindfulness Apps: In our technology-driven world there have also been advances in apps, websites, and more related to mental health. Some of the following, linked below, are great to check out and have interesting things to offer as well.

For KIDS: Teaching kids about emotional regulation and relaxation can be important building blocks for their future. Kids that can self-soothe effectively are able to face challenges and step outside their comfort zone, enhancing their ability to learn. Some techniques that parents can introduce to kids include:

  • Hot chocolate breath: When a child is feeling overwhelmed and upset, a great way to teach deep breathing is having the child imagine they are holding a mug of hot chocolate up to their face, they should breathe in through their nose deeply “smelling” the hot chocolate and then blow out through their mouth “cooling off” the imaginary hot chocolate in their hands. This creates an easy way for kids to remember deep breathing and can make self-regulating fun!

Related: The Delicate Balance: Helping Your Teen Cope with Stress

Despite your best efforts to keep stress and anxiety under control, life often takes unexpected twists and turns that can trigger an anxious response—a response that can feel very different from one person to the next.

Working with a therapist to develop coping skills can be very effective over the long run. And for those unexpected situations that crop up between sessions, see which of these in-the-moment anxiety-relief techniques can help you power through them. Because you’re a unique individual, some of these strategies will work better for you than others. Try out different tools and techniques. Give yourself grace as you determine which tools and strategies are most effective for you.

Important note: If you are in crisis and feeling unwell to the point of emergency, call 911 or seek immediate medical assistance from a hospital or healthcare provider.

Other resources that can provide assistance in urgent matters include:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

If you’re thinking about running away from home:

LGBTQ+Youth: Trevor Helpline 1-866-488-7386 or visit www.thetrevorproject.org


You don’t have to go this alone.

*In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to offer telemental health sessions.*

If you’re interested in learning more about psychotherapy for adults, teens or children, psychoanalysis, or parenting support, please contact us by submitting this form, or by phone at 847-729-3034. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.




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