5 minute read
Anxiety and panic attacks can be debilitating when we have a challenge ahead of us so I want to share 5 simple techniques we can all use immediately, when we feel anxious.
These tips can be used in between professional therapy sessions with an Anxiety Specialist, who will help identify and eliminate the root cause of anxiety.
So What Is Anxiety?
It is the fear, worry, overwhelm or nervousness of a perceived threat or danger.
The sole purpose of anxiety is to keep us safe, however our brains can not tell the difference between danger and stress. This is why we may get anxious when we have a test coming up, or we feel overwhelmed by our “to-do” list.
So anxiety is a normal, natural emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. However some people go on to develop an anxiety disorder when the feeling is intense, lasts longer than usual and interferes with everyday life.
When we feel threatened and anxious, our brains release chemicals to prepare for us to escape the perceived danger. We can calm ourselves back down by using the following techniques to send signals to our brain that we are safe.
Deep Breathing Techniques
Deep breathing has been shown to reduce anxiety and help us feel calm and relaxed by sending signals to our brain that we are safe. There are many different techniques we can use, and I demonstrate more of them here.
To begin, try and find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. You can close your eyes if you wish and take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, counting to four, hold your breath for the count of four, and then breathe out through your mouth for the count of four. Repeat the cycle of triangular breathing for several minutes until you feel calmer.
Some people find it helpful to place their hand on their tummy as this encourages deeper breathing.
Visualisation involves using our imagination to create a calming image in our minds. It work because our brains don’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined, so the same feel good hormones are released as if we are having that experience in real life.
Everyone can visualise, we do it all the time. For example, if you decide you want a take away tonight, we can often see, smell and taste the meal way before it turns up!
To practice a calming visualisation, ideally, find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
Close your eyes and imagine your favourite calming place, it may be a beach, a meadow or a forest, or your favourite holiday location. It can be somewhere real or made up, it is wherever feels calming for you. Imagine you are standing there, surrounded by the peacefulness of nature.
Now picture how it looks and try and engage all your senses. What can you see in this image, what can you hear and smell, can you feel the sun or the wind on your face? Notice the colours all around you, and the vastness of the sky. Can you hear the sound of the waves, or the leaves fluttering in the breeze? Take a deep breath in and imagine you are breathing in the clean fresh air in your favourite place.
Stay with this vision for several minutes until you feel calmer.
Take a few more deep breaths, and when you feel ready, slowly open your eyes.
Notice how you feel now.
Muscle Relaxation Exercises
Progressive muscle relaxation techniques work because they release the physical tension we feel in our bodies when we are anxious. This tension builds up as part of our natural fight or flight response to danger.
The exercise involves tensing or squeezing different muscle groups as we take a deep breath in, and then releasing and relaxing them as we slowly breathe out. If you feel more tension in a specific part of your body, then you can repeat the exercise several times in this particular area.
To practice muscle relaxation, find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. You can do this sitting with your feet on the floor, or lying down. You may wish to close your eyes.
Start by taking a long deep breath in and out, and on the next breath in, tense the muscles in your toes by squeezing them tight, and then relax your toes with your outbreath.
Move on to your calf muscles and squeeze and tense them on the inbreath, notice the tension, and then release with the outbreath.
In time with your breathing, tighten the muscles in your thighs, and then release.
Squeeze your bottom as you breathe in, and then relax the muscles and feel yourself sink into the seat or bed beneath you as you breathe out again.
Pull in your tummy muscles and hold them tight on the in breath, release and soften as you let out a big sigh.
Tense your arm muscles and squeeze your hands into fists. As you breathe out, relax and let the tension go.
As you breathe in, raise your shoulders up to your ears, and allow them to slowly drop as you breathe out.
Bring your attention to your facial muscles, around your eyes and jaw, and scrunch your face up on the in breath, and relax on the outbreath.
Lastly tense your entire body, feel the tension, and then release on a big long sigh. Relax and let go.
Notice how you feel now.
Gratitude and Journalling
Practicing gratitude reduces stress and anxiety, and instead promotes more positive emotions.
To practice gratitude, think about something or someone you are grateful for. It could be as simple as a hot cup of tea, a conversation with a friend, a good book or a cuddle with a pet.
Focus on this feeling of gratefulness and let it wash over you for several minutes. You can repeat this with as many things as you want, until you feel calmer.
Journalling involves writing down our thoughts and feelings. This can help to get them out of our head and onto paper. Writing stimulates the part of our brain that shuts down when we feel anxious, our frontal lobe, thus activating this area sends signals to our brain that we are calm again.
Having a good laugh is a great technique for reducing anxiety and encouraging relaxation.
Phone an upbeat friend who makes you laugh, watch a hilarious film or read a comical book.
Laughter releases the happy hormone, endorphins, which are our natural mood booster.
Even forcing a smile or a laugh will help you to reduce anxiety and relax and your brain will not know it is forced!
Seek Professional Help
I hope you have found these techniques helpful. While they provide temporary relief from anxiety, it is important to seek professional help if anxiety is impacting daily life.
An Anxiety Specialist can prescribe a personalised treatment plan and help you develop coping strategies that are focused around your individual needs.
Taking care of your mental health is an essential part of your overall well-being.
Other Resources You May Be Interested In:
If anxiety is something you or your loved ones struggle with regularly, then please get in touch to discuss how I can help you overcome the underlying cause of your anxiety. You can book a FREE 45 minute discovery call here