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9 Ways to Reduce Anxiety Right Here, Right Now
By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
When you’re feeling anxious, you might feel stuck and unsure of how to feel better. You might even do things that unwittingly fuel your anxiety. You might hyperfocus on the future, and get carried away by a slew of what-ifs.
What if I start to feel worse? What if they hate my presentation? What if she sees me sweating? What if I bomb the exam? What if I don’t get the house?
You might judge and bash yourself for your anxiety. You might believe your negative, worst-case scenario thoughts are indisputable facts.
Thankfully, there are many tools and techniques you can use to manage anxiety effectively. Below, experts shared healthy ways to cope with anxiety right here, right now.
- Take a deep breath.
“The first thing to do when you get anxious is to breathe,” said Tom Corboy, MFT, the founder and executive director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful anxiety-reducing technique because it activates the body’s relaxation response. It helps the body go from the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system to the relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system, said Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, a clinical psychologist.
She suggested this practice: “Try slowly inhaling to a count of 4, filling your belly first and then your chest, gently holding your breath to a count of 4, and slowly exhaling to a count of 4 and repeat several times.”
- Accept that you’re anxious.
Remember that “anxiety is just a feeling, like any other feeling,” said Deibler. By reminding yourself that anxiety is simply an emotional reaction, you can start to accept it, Corboy said.
Acceptance is critical because trying to wrangle or eliminate anxiety often worsens it. It just perpetuates the idea that your anxiety is intolerable, he said.
But accepting your anxiety doesn’t mean liking it or resigning yourself to a miserable existence.
“It just means you would benefit by accepting reality as it is – and
inthat moment, reality includes anxiety. The bottom line is that the feeling of anxiety is less than ideal, but it is not intolerable.”
- Realize that your brain is playing tricks on you.
Psychiatrist Kelli Hyland, M.D., has seen first-hand how a person’s brain can make them believe they’re dying of a heart attack when they’re actually having a panic attack. She recalled an experience she had as a medical student.
“I had seen people having heart attacks and look this ill on the medical floors for medical reasons and it looked exactly the same. A wise, kind and experienced psychiatrist came over to [the patient] and gently, calmly reminded him that he is not dying, that it will pass and his brain is playing tricks on him. It calmed me too and we both just stayed with him until [the panic attack] was over.”
Today, Dr. Hyland, who has a private practice in Salt Lake City, Utah, tells her patients the same thing. “It helps to remove the shame, guilt, pressure, and responsibility for fixing yourself or judging yourself in the midst of needing nurturing more than ever.”
- Question your thoughts.
“When people are anxious, their brains start coming up with all sorts of outlandish ideas, many of which are highly unrealistic and unlikely to occur,” Corboy said. And these thoughts only heighten an individual’s already anxious state.
For instance, say you’re about to give a wedding toast. Thoughts like “Oh my God, I can’t do this. It will kill me” may be running through your brain.
Remind yourself, however, that this isn’t a catastrophe, and in reality, no one has died
givinga toast, Corboy said.
“Yes, you may be anxious, and you may even flub your toast. But the worst thing that will happen is that some people, many of whom will never see you again, will get a few chuckles, and that by tomorrow they will have completely forgotten about it.”
Deibler also suggested asking yourself these questions when challenging your thoughts:
- “Is this worry realistic?
- Is this really likely to happen?
- If the worst possible outcome happens, what would be so bad about that?
- Could I handle that?
- What might I do?
- If something bad happens, what might that mean about me?
- Is this really true or does it just seem that way?
- What might I do to prepare for whatever may happen?”
- Use a calming visualization.
Hyland suggested practicing the following meditation regularly, which will make it easier to access when you’re anxious in the moment.
“Picture yourself on a river bank or outside in a favorite park, field or beach. Watch leaves pass by on the river or clouds pass by in the sky. Assign [your] emotions, thoughts [and] sensations to the clouds and leaves, and just watch them float by.”
This is very different from what people typically do. Typically, we assign emotions, thoughts and physical sensations certain qualities and judgments, such as good or bad, right or wrong, Hyland said. And this often amplifies anxiety. Remember that “it is all just information.”
- Be an observer — without judgment.
Hyland gives her new patients a 3×5 index card with the following written on it: “Practice observing (thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, judgment) with compassion, or without judgment.”
“I have had patients come back after months or years and say that they still have that card on their mirror or
up ontheir car dash, and it helps them.”
- Use positive self-talk.
Anxiety can produce a lot of negative chatter. Tell yourself “positive coping statements,” Deibler said. For instance, you might say, “this anxiety feels bad, but I can use strategies to manage it.”
- Focus on right now.
“When people are anxious, they are usually obsessing about something that might occur in the future,” Corboy said. Instead, pause, breathe and pay attention to what’s happening right now, he said. Even if something serious is happening, focusing on the present moment will improve your ability to manage the situation, he added.
- Focus on meaningful activities.
When you’re feeling anxious, it’s also helpful to focus your attention on a “meaningful, goal-directed activity,” Corboy said. He suggested asking yourself what you’d be doing if you weren’t anxious.
If you were going to see a movie, still go. If you were going to do the laundry, still do it.
“The worst thing you can do when anxious is to passively sit around obsessing about how you feel.” Doing what needs to get done teaches you key lessons, he said: getting out of your head feels better; you’re able to live your life even though you’re anxious
; andyou’ll get things done.
“The bottom line is, get busy with the business of life. Don’t sit around focusing on being anxious – nothing good will come of that.”
Taken from: 9 Ways to Reduce Anxiety Right Here, Right Now
Alternate Nostril Breathing
- Close the right nostril with your right thumb. Then inhale slowly through your left nostril.
- Then close the left nostril with your right index finger and open the right nostril by removing the right thumb. Exhale very slowly through the right nostril.
- Then draw the air through the right nostril as long as you can do it with comfort and exhale through the left nostril by removing the right index finger.
- This is one round. Do 12 rounds.
- Breathing in and out should be as slow, soft, steady and long as possible. But don’t force.
- Exhale all the air out through your mouth.
- Curl the tip of your tongue up to touch the hard ridge behind your upper front teeth and hold it there for the duration of the exercise.
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for a count of 10.
- Don’t force it, but take a good breath as this has to last for the next 15 counts.
- Hold your breath for a count of 7.
- Open your mouth and exhale through your mouth (still pressing the tip of your tongue to the hard ridge behind your upper front teeth) for a count 8. of You will make a sound as the air moves around your tongue. You may want to purse your lips if this helps you to direct the flow of your exhalation.
- Repeat 4 times.
The Complete Breath
- First, inhale completely at the abdomen.
- Continue to inhale by filling in the mid-section, the area of the diaphragm.
- Continue to inhale by filling the chest, allowing the upper chest and the shoulders to rise.
- Then systematically release and empty from the upper portion, then the mid-section, and finally empty completely at the abdomen.
Relearn How To Breathe
- Inhale deeply
- Exhale with a short burst (as if blowing out a candle). This helps activate your diaphragm.
- Exhale with a long, slow finish to empty the lungs. Breathlessness is from not expelling enough CO2.
- Inhale, filling your lungs from the bottom to the top, instead of taking short sips. Most use a third of their lung capacity.
- Hold for a moment to allow oxygen to saturate the cells.
- Exhale slowly and completely.
- Repeat steps 4 through 6 for five minutes.
- Do this exercise five times a day
Four In, Four Out Slow Belly Breathing
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe through your nose.
- Deliberately slow your breathing down.
- Breathe from your relaxed belly.
- Keep your breaths smooth, steady, and continuous.
- Breathe in while counting slowly “1-2-3-4.”
- Breathe out while counting slowly “1-2-3-4.”
Whole Body Muscle Tensing and Relaxing
- Take a very deep breath in with your mouth open; fill your lungs up.
- Hold your breath.
- Tense muscles all over your body.
- Count 5-10 seconds.
- Let go of all the tension in your muscles and slowly let your breath out.
- Breathe in while counting to 4. Make it a deep, belly breath.
- Hold your breath while counting to 4.
- Breathe out while counting to 4.
- Hold your breath while counting to 4.
- Do this sequence 2 more times.
- Breath in for a count of 4.
- Hold for a count of 6.
- Breathe out for a count of 4.
- Hold for a count of 6.
- Breathe in.
- When you breathe out, open your mouth and let the air out so you hear the sound of the air releasing, a soft sigh sound.
- As you let the air out, relax your shoulders, neck and other muscles and let go, like you’re melting.
Buteyko Small Breath Holds
- With your mouth closed, take a small, but calm and relaxed, breath in.
- Take a small breath out.
- Hold your nose closed with your hand.
- Hold for a count of 5.
- Gentle, soft breathing in-between sets.
- Tongue rests at the roof of the mouth; Teeth slightly apart; jaw relaxed; Drop shoulders; relax chest and belly; Relax facial muscles.
- Mindfulness Daily - Helps
intergratemindfulness into yordaily life by guiding you through quick effective practices to reduce stress, improve performance, and enhance sleep. This has a "simple start" program which has 21 days of audio lessons including breathing, body awareness, and present moment awareness
- Mindfulness Coach - Offers exercises, information, and tracking log to optimize your mindfulness tracking. This application was created by the VA's National Center for PTSD
- Insight Timer- Provides guided meditations
- Calm - Helps to meditate, sleep, relax and much more (Android)
- Mindful Meditations - provides guided meditations in different time increments up to 40 minutes long.
- Mindfulness - Start your journey to a more relaxed and healthier state of mind with The Mindfulness App. Whether you are just starting out or experienced in meditation, The Mindfulness App will help you to become more present in your daily life.
- Virtual Hope Box - Contains simple tools to help with coping, relaxation, distraction, and positive thinking (Android)
- Stop, Breathe, Think
- Mindfulness Daily - Helps
- Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.
- Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
- Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
- Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. Check out the fitness tips below.
- Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly.
- Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.
- Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn't possible, be proud of however close you get.
- Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?
- Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.
- Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
- Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.
Hold your breath!
Ok, let it out now. We're not recommending that you turn blue, but yoga breathing has been shown to be effective in lowering stress and anxiety. In his bestselling 2011 book Spontaneous Happiness, Andrew Weil, MD, introduced a classic yoga breathing technique he calls the 4-7-8 breath.
One reason it works is that you can't breathe deeply and be anxious at the same time. To do the 4-7-8 breath, exhale completely through your mouth, then inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Now let it out slowly through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat at least twice a day.
Eat something, quick
"Almost universally, people get more anxious and irritable when they are hungry," says Dr. Ramsey, co-author of The Happiness Diet. "When you get an anxiety attack, it may mean your blood sugar is dropping. The best thing to do is to have a quick sustaining snack, like a handful of walnuts, or a piece of dark chocolate, along with a glass of water or a nice cup of hot tea."
Take a 'forest bath'
The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku, literally "forest bath." You and I know it as a walk in the woods. Japanese researchers measured body changes in people who walked for about 20 minutes in a beautiful forest, with the woodsy smells and the sounds of a running stream.
The forest bathers had lower stress hormone levels after their walk than they did after a comparable walk in an urban area.
Learn mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation, originally a Buddhist practice but now a mainstream therapy, is particularly effective in treating anxiety, says Teresa M. Edenfield, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Durham, N.C., who often uses it to treat anxiety patients. "The act of practicing mindful awareness allows one to experience the true essence of each moment as it really occurs, rather than what is expected or feared," she says.
How to begin? You can start by simply "paying attention to the present moment, intentionally, with curiosity, and with an effort to attend non-judgmentally," Edenfield says.
Breath and question
To stay mindful, ask yourself simple questions while practicing breathing exercises, Edenfield suggests. "Sit in a comfortable place, close your eyes, and focus on how your breath feels coming in and out of your body. Now ask yourself silent questions while focusing on the breath."
What is the temperature of the air as it enters your nose? How does your breath feel different as it leaves your body? How does the air feel as it fills your lungs?
Taken from Natural Remedies for Anxiety
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