Olivia Remes: What Are Simple Strategies To Cope with Anxiety Disorder?

Oct 11, 2019
Originally published on October 11, 2019 8:18 am

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode Erasing The Stigma.

About Olivia Remes' TED Talk

Researcher Olivia Remes says different levels of anxiety exist for everyone, but there are things we can do to help mitigate it. She explains simple anxiety coping strategies to practice daily.

About Olivia Remes

Olivia Remes is post doctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge, where she focuses on anxiety and depression.

She is currently conducting research on anxiety disorders and is using the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (EPIC) study, one of the largest European cohort studies that observes chronic diseases, mental health, and how people live their lives.

Her research has been featured by the BBC, Forbes magazine, and USA Today, and she has appeared on several radio shows and podcasts talking about anxiety and the impact that it can have on people's lives. Remes is also the creator and host of The Cambridge Talk Show, a weekly radio show focusing on mental health and lifestyle matters.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


So earlier, we heard from Jordan Raskopoulos. And, you know, she was describing her anxiety disorder. And it's not like she gets anxious over, like, a presentation - right? - or public speaking, but it's more like she's anxious to just leave the house to go to the grocery store, you know?

OLIVIA REMES: Exactly. There's a difference between normal anxiety, which all of us experience, and an anxiety disorder. And many times, people think that anxiety is just part of their personality.

RAZ: This is Olivia Remes. She researches anxiety at the University of Cambridge.

REMES: One in 14 people around the world have an anxiety disorder, so a lot of us are affected. And we need to increase the awareness because oftentimes, people wait at least 10 years before seeking help.

RAZ: And that's why Olivia's research focuses on a few really simple things - strategies we can use to help with anxiety. Here's more from Olivia Remes on the TED stage.


REMES: In our study at the University of Cambridge, we showed that women living in poor areas have a higher risk for anxiety than women living in richer areas. Now, these results didn't surprise us. But when we looked closer, we found that women living in poor areas, if they had a particular set of coping resources, they didn't have anxiety. Other studies showed that people who had faced extreme circumstances - who had faced adversity, been through wars and natural disasters - if they had coping resources, they remained healthy and free of mental disorders, while others facing the same hardships but without coping skills went on a downward spiral and developed mental disorders.

And before I dive into what they are, I'd like to point out - and I think this is so interesting - you can develop these coping resources or coping skills on your own through the things that you do. The way you cope has a direct impact on how much anxiety you're experiencing. And if you tweak the way you're coping, then you can lower your anxiety.


RAZ: Yeah. So what are they? What - like, what are coping strategies you suggest?

REMES: So there are several things. The first thing is the technique that I call do it badly. You know, so many times, we get an assignment or we have tasks to complete, and we feel overwhelmed. But just jump right in. Do it however, without worrying about how it's going to turn out. It makes it so much easier to begin something and to end something.

Another coping mechanism is to forgive yourself. People with anxiety can be very self-critical. Imagine if you had a friend who constantly pinpointed everything that you did wrong and everything that needed fixing in your life. If you have anxiety, chances are that you do this to yourself so many times that you don't even notice it anymore. So next time that you think you messed up or you want to start beating yourself up, forgive yourself.

And I have one more coping strategy. It's called the wait to worry strategy. Next time, when you get a worry, postpone it. Pick a worry time. So let's say you decide that every day at 4 o'clock - I'm going to worry every day at 4 o'clock for 10 minutes. And our thoughts actually decay if we don't feed them with energy. When we get to the worry time later on in the day, we see that whatever we were so worried about initially is not as bothersome anymore.

RAZ: I mean, this is super encouraging - right? - because, I mean, it suggests that people have more agency here, right?

REMES: Exactly. There are things that you can do on your own. You can take charge of your anxiety and lower it. It's about practicing some of these coping strategies on a daily basis or as much as you can. And this can have a significant impact on your mental health.

RAZ: That's Olivia Remes. She's a post-doctoral anxiety researcher at the University of Cambridge. You can see her full talk at ted.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.