When suffering with anxiety symptoms it is important to find effective ways to change your physiology through the use of relaxation techniques, developing your self-awareness and learning productive coping strategies. Here are a few anxiety management techniques that you may find useful. Choose the one’s that you find most beneficial and enjoyable as they are not one size fits all techniques.
Relaxation is the return of your system to equilibrium. When you are functioning at your best there is homeostasis (a state of equilibrium) between your bodily functions. So when your body is under stress it will try to find balance by producing feel good hormones called endorphins, these are opioid peptides that help to deal with pain and anxiety by relieving it and producing a sense of wellbeing.
BREATHE TO RELAX ~ deep breathing is the fastest way to activate your ‘rest and restore’ parasympathetic nervous system. Experiencing a deep breath into the abdomen is not only relaxing; it’s been scientifically proven to positively affect the heart, brain, digestive and immune system. Deep breathing alters your state of mind and helps your body to relax. Regularly engaging in 1-2 minutes of this deep breathing technique throughout the day will keep you calm.
Try these deep breathing techniques:
- Breathe deeply and slowly so that your inhalation and exhalation are the same duration.
- Count 1-2-3-4 in your mind while inhaling and 1-2-3-4 while exhaling. Gradually increasing the numbers as you deepen your breathing.
- Alternate nostril breathing can also help to slow and deepen your breathing. Using your thumb and ring fingers to gently open and close the nostrils, breath in 1 nostril and out the other. Repeat for 5 cycles and then change nostrils.
HOW TO AVOID PANIC ATTACKS ~ People who suffer panic attacks are usually very aware of their physical sensations and any changes that may occur such as hyperventilating, fluttering in the stomach, heart palpitations, sweating, etc. This awareness of any physical changes then heightens their anxiety, as they begin to worry about having a panic attack – what IF this happens or what IF that happens? The fear of having a panic attack as well as the fear of other people seeing them or judging them all serve to heighten their anxiety and this then triggers a panic attack which is frightening.
Mindfulness is being fully present in the moment you are living in and it is the antithesis of anxiety which is worrying about what was or what will be. One aspect of mindfulness is shifting awareness – choosing what to pay attention to by learning to direct your focus and attention to what is happening around you. By focusing your attention on what is happening around you, to your outer world instead of your inner world, you stop focusing attention on the physical sensations of panicking and you gain some sense of control over how you are experiencing life.
To practice mindfulness with shifting awareness you can:
- Close your eyes and follow your breath into your body as you inhale – noticing the coolness of the air, the pressure of airflow, how the movement feels through your nose, throat and down into your lungs and notice the pattern in reverse as you breathe out exhaling through the nose or mouth.
- Direct your awareness to all the sounds around you in your environment, paying attention to the location and intensity of each sound. Or shift your awareness to the smells in the environment around you, or to a sense of movement if you are in a place with other people nearby.
It is a good idea to practice the above so that you have a plan to ward off a panic attack when you feel one coming on. Mastering this technique will help you to stop fearing physical sensations that may then trigger a panic attack. You are also using the brain to control the brain which is crucial in anxiety management.
SPEAK or SING ~ One way to interrupt anxious cognitions is to choose to replace negative thoughts and this works very well when you plan to have something in advance, rather than feeling stuck when you are in the middle of ruminating. Compete with your negative thoughts by speaking out loud – reciting song lyrics, saying an affirmation or a poem can be very helpful. Singing is also very effective as it uses more parts of your brain and singing out loud uses even more and adds the dimension of hearing to your positive thought. Plan your songs or the recitation you want to use ahead of time based on what works best for your style and personality. Feel free to share what works well for you in the comments box below, in doing so you may find suggestions from others and create a selection that you can use.
- Affirmation: Stay Positive. Be positive. Think positive.
- Poem: I am not what happened to me. I am who I choose to become. ~ Carl Jung
- Song: Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself by Jess Glynne
PRACTICE MINDFULNESS ~ We spend a lot of time and energy fighting with our internal states. The expectation is that we should feel good most of the time, so we try to change our anger, get rid of our sadness and escape from our anxiety. Our way of dealing with unpleasant emotions is to get rid of them, change them, suppress them or ignore them. That is what we are taught to do and that is what most of us do most of the time and because of this we become afraid of feelings and try to avoid them. Carl Jung said that “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” When we try to control our feelings they get stronger and multiply. The best way to learn how to cope with difficult feelings is to practice allowing them to be there. Practice exploring them and being okay with them. You gradually build your ability to observe, notice and sit curiously with what is – without getting caught up in the stories that your mind is telling you. You are stepping out of the story and into the experience. You are experiencing the feeling as it is – a physical sensation. You are allowing your body the space and time to process stress. You are also building your ability to be with difficulty, challenges and discomfort and in this way you are able to break the cycle of pain.
BREATHE INTO YOUR BELLY ~ Mindfulness meditation has 2 aspects and the first is stopping and calming. Belly breathing is a simple and effective method for taking care of our strong emotions like fear or anger. These strong emotions can be like standing in the middle of a storm that feels dangerous and overwhelms us. We can ground ourselves by bringing our attention down to the abdomen and breathing mindfully. Focus on your navel, breathe in and breathe out and become aware of the rise and fall of your abdomen. Don’t think of anything; just breathe this way for 5-15 minutes and the storm will pass. The more you practice doing this, the more peace of mind you will experience, so that the next time a strong emotion arises, it becomes easier to belly breathe and you already know that you can survive it.
TAKE A BREAK ~ Take regular breaks from high-stimulation environments. Noisy school classrooms, working in an open plan office, commuting on busy streets, fluorescent lighting, shopping malls, etc. all impact on your levels of stress. Plan regular short breaks in the day to calm your mind and body and make time in-between activities to give your nervous system a chance to rejuvenate itself.
- Go outside even if it’s only for a few minutes to look at trees, gardens, the sky, etc.
- Have a picture of your favourite people/places/things handy and spend a few moments looking at it with love and appreciation
- Move away from your work station – walk up and down the stairs, go to the bathroom even if you don’t need it, have a drink of water
- Take a mental vacation – close your eyes and imagine your favourite place using all 5 of your senses to experience it fully
- Sit in a quiet space for a few minutes and breathe mindfully, read or meditate
- Listen to music that soothes you
SEEK SILENCE ~ Close your eyes and tune into your environment right now. What’s plugged in, switched on and making a noise? When you stop and listen to your life, you’ll notice that you are surrounded by noise all the time. Your body absorbs and processes sound which takes energy, so the absence of peace and quiet means that you are constantly processing sound, leaving you feeling tired and drained. Your body, brain and wellbeing need a rest from this on-going noise and activity. With peace and quiet, your thinking will slow down and your body, particularly your nervous system, shifts to a more balanced state that allows your fight-or-flight system to rest and relax. If you consciously turn down the noise and integrate some time for peace and quiet throughout the day, you will enjoy mental and emotional calm to reduce anxiety, free up your mind to enable you to make better decisions and choices and practice mindfulness.
Tips for intentionally seek out more quiet moments throughout your day:
- Occasionally enjoy a quiet house – run the dishwasher/washing machine when you go out.
- Drive or commute in silence without the radio/music.
- Find a quiet area at work or in your garden/home where you can sit for few quiet moments.
- Avoid falling asleep to the sound of the TV when you go to bed at night.
- Try to eat one meal a day alone in silence without any distractions.
- Manage technology – turn off all devices during certain hours instead of being available 24/7.
- Shop on-line in the peace and quiet of your home.