Many of us have probably experienced some degree of anxiety at various times in our life. This is perfectly normal and usually not a huge issue. Anxiety can become a problem, however, when it becomes chronic and begins to interfere with our lives. Whether you suffer from chronic anxiety or just occasional anxiety, there are things you can do to put yourself in a more relaxed and calm state of mind. Here are 7 tips to help keep you feeling calm.
- Use the breath, Luke
- Burn off anxiety with exercise
- Release anxiety and tension with gentle stretching
- Clear your mind with meditation
- Sing the anxiety away!
- Laughter is the best medicine
- Accept the ALS ice bucket challenge
Use the breath, Luke
What? Your name isn’t Luke? Sorry. It still applies though. Using the breath is the one of the best ways we can have an immediate impact on anxiety. I’ve discussed diaphragmatic breathing in other blog articles, so let’s talk about the full breath.
To practice the full breath, begin inhaling through your nose using your diaphragm – imagine your breath filling up your belly as your belly expands/rises. Then continue the inhalation by expanding your chest, so that the breath fills up your chest as well. This should be a long, deep breath that fills your lungs completely. Then exhale quickly through your mouth while feeling all the tension and worry leave your body. Follow this by slow and even diaphragmatic breathing for about 5 breaths. Now, repeat the full breath, except this time exhale very slowly and evenly through your mouth. Try to make the exhale about twice as long as the inhale. Again, follow this up with diaphragmatic breathing. Does it feel better to exhale quickly or slowly? Complete the cycle few more times, using whichever type of exhalation feels best for you.
Burn off anxiety with exercise
Maybe your too ramped up and anxious to be focusing on your breath. That’s ok, there are other options. Anxiety puts us in fight or flight mode and it can sometimes be hard to get out of it. If breathing techniques aren’t cutting it for you, try using fight or flight mode to your advantage and pick one – fight or flight. Go for a run as if that bear were actually chasing you or grab some boxing gloves and take it out on a punching bag. One of the best ways to deal with all those stress hormones that are making you feel anxious is to burn them off, so to speak. Exercise is a great way to decrease anxiety and improve your mood.
Release anxiety and tension with gentle stretching
While stretching is certainly a form of exercise, it’s kind of the opposite of the type of exercise I mentioned previously. Gentle stretching is a great way to bring yourself back into your body. Use it to take the focus out of your head and place it in your body. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Use a simple forward bend, for instance.
Stand with your feet approximately hip width apart, knees slightly bent and your back straight. Gently bend forward at your waist, while keeping your back straight, slowly sliding your hands down the side or front of your legs. When you begin to feel the stretch hold the position and take slow and even breaths, feeling your abdomen rise and fall. Now, drop your head, let your back curve and drop your arms toward the ground. Relax fully into the position without pushing the stretch. Stay in the position, taking slow and even belly breaths, focusing on the stretch in your legs and breath in your nose. Clear the thoughts from your head and focus only on the stretch and your breath.
Clear your mind with meditation
Where does anxiety come from? Sometimes it can be a biochemical imbalance in the body, but oftentimes, even if that is the case, it originates in the mind. Our thoughts have a direct effect on our body and it’s biochemistry. Meditation may not be something you can use in the moment you are feeling anxiety…or at least not as easily as some of the other techniques, but when practiced over time, it can have a dramatic effect on anxiety as well as overall mood and health. There are many, many techniques one can utilize to begin meditating, but the goal is always to quiet the mind.
For a simple beginner’s meditation, sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor about hip width apart and your back straight. Rest your hands on your thighs, palms up. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Let your belly rise on the inhale and fall on the exhale. Feel the coolness of the breath in your nose during inhalation and the warmth during exhalation. Focus your attention fully on the feeling of your breath in your nose. Gradually, let the tension slip away from your muscles and let your body relax in the position. Thoughts will come and go. Let them do so without focusing on them. Always bring your attention back to the breath. Try to stay here for five to ten minutes, letting the thoughts drop from your mind as they come up. In time, even short, regular meditation can improve your state of mind and overall health.
Sing the anxiety away!
Music can be a great therapeutic tool. Listening to your favorite music has the ability to elevate your mood and ease tension. When you combine that with singing, however, the effect is even more powerful. Singing can stimulate the vagus nerve and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. If you’ve read any of my previous articles on the topic, the parasympathetic nervous system promotes a state of calm and relaxation. So, get your favorite song playing on your stereo and sing your heart out!
Laughter is the best medicine
You’ve probably heard that laughter is the best medicine. Well, it’s true. Regular doses of laughter are good for your health in general and for anxiety. If you’re feeling stressed out or anxious, take some time for yourself and laugh. Of course, most of us can’t just laugh on command (though this can be helpful too), so find something to make you laugh. Perhaps you can call that friend that’s really good at telling jokes. Or maybe just sit down and watch one of your favorite comedians or funny movies. And, believe me, there are no shortage of funny cat videos on youtube. So, no excuses. We can all get caught up in the stress of life, but it’s important to also find the joy in life. What better way than through laughter!
Accept the ALS ice bucket challenge
Maybe your anxiety is being stubborn or you’re unable to do some of the above suggestions for whatever reason. When all else fails, take the ice bucket challenge – not only is it good at raising money for ALS, but it can put an end to anxiety (if you don’t know what the ALS ice bucket challenge is, come out from under that rock, join facebook, find your friends and notice that 98.2364% of them have posted a video in the past month where they dump water over their head). How can the ice bucket challenge help your anxiety, you ask? As it turns out, immersing your face in cold water also stimulates the vagus nerve and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Of course, I realize you may not always be in a place where you can dump a bucket of ice water over your head, but you can do the next best thing. If you’re feeling especially anxious or feel a panic attack coming on, excuse yourself to the restroom and splash some cold water on your face. You can even combine it with some other techniques, such as the full breath, diaphragmatic breathing and gentle stretching.
Now you have some tools to work with next time you’re feeling some anxiety. You can use them all or you can use the one or ones that work best for you. If these tips aren’t cutting it, be sure to see your doctor to discuss what other options are available. Whether you’re interested in prescription medications or more natural options, there are many possibilities, so there is no need to suffer with anxiety.