anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting approximately 18% of the adult population. People with anxiety struggle to find ways to cope with this debilitating illness, which is still misunderstood and trivialized by many. In this article, some suggestions for ways to combat anxiety symptoms are outlined.

Social engagement with the right kinds of people

Strong bonds with people who are supportive are crucial to battling anxiety.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that people with a solid, compassionate “team” behind them are more successful in maintaining psychological stability. On a biological level, communicating with those who make us feel valued and loved releases the hormones serotonin and oxytocin, which are “good feeling” hormones. And through socializing, the functioning of the prefrontal cortex of the brain is strengthened. This is the part of the brain that regulates our emotions and decision-making skills. So, we can literally change the chemistry of our brains and our ability to fight against anxious tendencies by spending time with good people.

It’s important that we’re spending time around those who influence us for good, though—not just those who influence us period.

Moods and habits are contagious between two or more people, and we can easily be affected negatively if we’re spending too much time around those who aren’t going to help us improve our lives.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment, instead of looking back with regret or forward with fear.

This practice takes some time to develop and has to be something that you’re consciously working on because it’s human nature to mentally veer away from our current predicament. By practicing mindfulness regularly, we can improve the brain functions that help us to avoid overreacting in stressful situations. It doesn’t change the stressful situations we encounter, but it changes how we react to those stressors.

Recognize who’s in control

Believing that we have no control over what happens to us is one of the biggest, most harmful causes of Stress-related anxiety. Of course, we can attempt to find ways to expand the control we have over certain aspects of our lives, but that might not be an option for some of our biggest stressors (family, work, school, etc.). One thing we do have control over is how we handle the stressful situations in our lives. Like mindfulness, this will take some conscious practice, but reminding ourselves of the control we have over our reactions to stress can help to ease the anxiety we feel. The human mind is a powerful thing!

One way we can take control is by learning to say no.

Many people who are “people pleasers” fight feelings of being overwhelmed by all the tasks required of them on any given day. Is there anything in your life that others have asked you to do, that you could stop doing? Do you really need to bring another plate of cookies to that bake sale, or be the one to make the flyer for this week’s staff meeting? Start saying no to the things that can add up and create more anxiety for you.

Create a vision board

Most anxiety is founded in the uncertainty of what lies ahead. Teenagers and young adults struggle with the stress of not knowing whether their career path will pan out, or with not having a career path at all.

Sometimes we need to set our goals in a physical, visible form to help ground us. Create a vision board that makes you excited for your future. Look at it regularly to remind yourself of what is possible.

Play and laugh

Allowing yourself time to goof around is vital! Get outside of your head by focusing on something easy like play. Whether that’s taking a dog for a walk, swinging at a park, or playing with a toddler, play can be a huge help. Play usually involves laughter, which is an immensely powerful weapon against stress and anxiety. Laughter brings more oxygen into your body and relieves tension because you’re relaxing your muscles, just to name a few physical side effects. Studies have even shown that laughter can, over time, improve your immune system.

Even if you’re just watching a funny cat video online, finding ways to bring more laughter into your life can really lower anxiety!

Help others

Another way to take your mind off of your own problems and benefit your community is to help others. Whether that’s volunteering at an animal shelter, working with a church group, or just doing a small kind thing for a stranger, seeing the battles that others are fighting can help put our own into perspective and actually make them feel smaller.