We all worry and get upset from time to time. It’s a normal part of life, right? But what happens when that anxiety takes over, and you can’t calm down? Being able to calm yourself in the moment is often easier said than done.
You can read all the anti-anxiety advice in the world, but none of it matters unless you take action. To feel more relaxed, to sleep soundly at night, and to put energy into what matters, you have to stop wasting time on tasks that don’t matter. In this article you will discover methods that can make your life more productive and Zen-like.
You’re probably familiar with some of these anxiety-busting strategies. But if you experience racing thoughts, tightening in your chest, and shortness of breath, you haven’t done all of them.
Prevention really is the key to dealing with anxiety so if you can commit to 20-30 minutes per day and tackle a few of the following anxiety busters below. The more you commit, the better you’ll feel.
What is anxiety & how does it present itself?
Anxiety is a fear that something wrong will happen in the future. It can cause you to irrationally fear imagined scenarios that may or may not ever happen. Anxiety can cause chest tightness, a racing heartbeat, sweating and more. Anxiety can show up in many different and unique ways.
We all have feelings of anxiety, worry and fear sometimes. These can be normal responses to certain situations. For example, you might worry about a job interview, or about paying a bill on time. These feelings can give you an awareness of risks and what you need to do in a difficult or dangerous situation. This reaction is known as ‘fight or flight’.
Your brain responds to a threat or danger by releasing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Even if the danger is not real, these hormones cause the physical symptoms of anxiety. Once the threatening situation has stopped, your body will usually return to normal.
But if you have experience severe anxiety these feelings of fear and danger can be ongoing and interrupt your daily routine long after the threat has gone. They can make you feel as though things are worse than they actually are. Everyone’s experience of anxiety is different. Not everyone who has an anxiety will experience the same symptoms.
Mental symptoms of anxiety
- Racing thoughts
- Uncontrollable over-thinking
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of dread or ‘impending doom’
- Heightened alertness
- Sleep problems
- Appetite changes
- Eating to escape situations
- Dissociation – Dissociation is where you feel seperate on not connected to your own body. Or like you are watching things happen around you, without feeling it.
Physical anxiety symptoms
- Heavy and or fast breathing
- Hot flushing and skin blushing
- Dry mouth
- Hair loss
- Rapid heartbeat
- Extreme tiredness or a lack of energy
- Dizziness and fainting
- Digestion issues like aches and nausea
Even with this extensive list of symptoms there still can be anomalies.
What causes anxiety?
No one really knows exactly what causes anxiety because anxiety is so unique to an individual.
Some factors can include:
Some people seem to be born more anxious than others. You may get anxiety through your genes.
This could be bad experiences such as the trauma of being abused or losing a loved one. It could also include big changes in life such as moving home, losing your job or pregnancy.
Caffeine in coffee, alcohol and other substances legal and illicit can make you feel anxious.
Sometimes a person will know what is causing the anxiety and still continue to involve themselves in the problem. When the problem goes, so does your anxiety.
15 ANXIETY BUSTERS
1. Start deep breathing
“Through deep breathing we become alchemists and that is really what we are” – Wim Hof; The Ice Man
If you’re not focused on how to calm your body through slow, intentional belly-breathing, you’re really missing out. Belly-breathing is free, you can do it anywhere and it’s easy! When you implement belly breathing, you start the day in a here-and-now state. Better yet, you’re not wasting time worrying about the future or reliving the past.
Here’s how to get started:
- Sit with your eyes closed and turn your attention to your breathing. Breathe naturally, preferably through the nostrils, without attempting to control your breath.
- Be aware of the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. Place one hand on your belly, and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of three. Exhale for a count of four. The hand on your belly should go in as you inhale, and move out as you exhale.
- Concentrate on your breath and forget everything else. Your mind will be very busy, and you may even feel that the meditation is making your mind busier, but the reality is you’re just becoming more aware of how busy your mind is.
- Resist the temptation to follow the different thoughts as they arise, and focus on the sensation of the breath. If you discover that your mind has wandered and is following your thoughts, immediately return it to the breath.
- Repeat this as many times as necessary until your mind settles on the breath. Don’t wait to begin belly-breathing. The sooner you make this a daily habit, the quicker you’ll feel relaxed.
Or, simply follow along with this guided breathing session
Calm is an inside job. Give yourself the gift of serenity and start the day with 10 minutes of solitude and positive energy. Think calm, measured, and open-minded, and your daily activities will correspond.
3. Stop wasting money
Financial stress is a leading cause for anxiety. Debt will keep you up at night and contribute to feelings of low self-worth and hopelessness. Take charge of your finances and stop spending on non-essentials. Track your daily expenses for a week or two and decide where you can cut back. Notice the items you accumulate mindlessly.
4. Declutter your living space
A cluttered environment is a projection of a cluttered mind. Do you ever wonder how much time is lost when you can’t find your car keys or wallet? Chances are you’ve got too much stuff clogging up your living space. Start small. Choose a drawer, a cabinet or a wardrobe. Categorise the stuff you don’t use and create 3 piles. 1. Items to throw away. 2. Items to donate. 3. Items to sell.
5. Wake up 15 minutes early
Most people with anxiety stress about time. Rushing around in the morning and yelling at everyone in the house, “Hurry up! We’re going to be late!” Go slowly, and set yourself up for a relaxed day ahead. If you start to worry about the to-do list, take a deep breath and think: There is enough time.
6. Follow the 3-3-3 rule
Look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body — your ankle, fingers, or arm. Whenever you feel your brain going 100 miles per hour, this mental trick can help centre your mind, bringing you back to the present moment.
7. Stand up straight
When we are anxious, we protect our upper body where our heart and lungs are located by hunching over. For an immediate physical antidote to this natural reaction, pull your shoulders back, stand or sit with your feet apart, and open your chest. This helps your body start to sense that it’s back in control.
8. Stay away from sugar
It may be tempting to reach for something sweet when you’re stressed, but that chocolate bar can do more harm than good, as research shows that eating too much sugar can worsen anxious feelings. Instead, drink a big glass of water, eat protein or healthy fats.
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9. Start writing
If you’re too anxious to talk about it, grab a journal and write out your thoughts. Don’t worry about complete sentences or punctuation — just write whatever comes up. Writing helps you get negative thoughts out of your head. You can literally start by writing “I’m anxious so I’ve decided to pick up my notepad and pencil and begin writing. It’s a Tuesday afternoon and I’m sitting on my bed.”
10. Fact check your thoughts
People with anxiety often fixate on worst-case scenarios. To combat these worries, think about how realistic they are. Say you’re nervous about a big presentation at work. Rather than think, “I’m going to bomb,” for example, say, “I’m nervous, but I’m prepared. Some things will go well, and some may not. Getting into a pattern of rethinking your fears helps train your brain to come up with a rational way to deal with your anxious thoughts.
Exercise is nature’s anti-anxiety remedy. Besides clearing the mind, firing up the endorphins, and helping you sleep soundly at night, researchers have found that individuals who exercise vigorously and regularly were 25 percent less likely to develop an anxiety disorder within five years.
12. Sniff your favourite essential oil
You can use any scent but a lot of people like peppermint and lavender.
Lavender oil has a lot of healing properties. It promotes a feeling of calm and supports deep, restful sleep. It can even help with headaches. To help reduce anxiety, keep a bottle of lavender oil at your desk or in purse if you have one. Breathe it in and/or massage it into your temples when you need a boost of peace. Bonus points for combining the sniffing with deep, even breaths.
13. Play the file it game
The “File It” technique works particularly well if you’re lying awake at night thinking of all the things you have to do or haven’t done, or if you’re rehashing something that happened during the day.
These are the steps for performing this exercise:
- Close your eyes and imagine a table with file folders and a file cabinet on it.
- Imagine yourself picking up each file and writing down the name of a thought that’s racing through your mind — for example, the fight you had with a loved one, the presentation you have to give tomorrow at work, or the fear you have of getting sick with COVID-19.
- Once the name is on the file, take a moment to acknowledge the thought and how important it is to you. Then, file it away.
- Repeat this process with every thought that pops into your head until you start to feel calmer or sleepy.
The idea with this exercise is that you’re taking a moment to name your triggers, examine them, and then consciously put them aside with a deadline to tackle them later. In other words, you’re validating your own feelings and making a plan to deal with them, one by one, when it’s a better time.
14. Take an cold shower
If you’re experiencing particularly intense anxiety, some psychiatrists have a relatively extreme and uncomfortable way to snap you back to reality: you can fill a large bowl with cold water, throw some ice cubes in, and dunk your face in the water for 30 seconds. Is it extreme? Yes. But it also works.
This technique triggers your mammalian dive reflex. It tricks your body into thinking you’re swimming, so your heart rate slows, and your body becomes calmer. If you don’t feel like doing something this extreme, you can achieve a similar calming effect by jumping in a cold shower or going swimming.
Another option that works, and that some dialectical behaviour therapists use, is to place your hand or foot in cold water for a minute or so. You could also hold an ice cube until it melts in your hand.
15. Accept that you’re anxious
Whether you inherited “anxiety genes” from your parents, or it’s your lifestyle, or both, accept your anxiety. It’s not about rolling over and giving up. Understand you have to work hard every day to bring calm to your environment. Remember there are always options in life, and worse fates exist than being anxious. After all, when push comes to shove, at the end of the (stressed-out) day, anxious people get the job done!
You got this
The key to making the actions above work is consistency. You’re the expert on your life. Choose the ones that work best for you, and give them a shot. For additional support to manage your anxiety so it doesn’t manage you, speak to an anxiety professional!