Anxiety can be common and something that many people experience. So if you’re feeling anxious and stressed out, you’re not alone. Millions of people experience some form of anxiety on a daily basis. Here are some of my favorite calming techniques that are quick, easy, and often effective in helping me physically take the edge off and shift my focus and mood.
Before I list these techniques, however, let’s first go over what anxiety is and the kind of anxiety these techniques might help.
What is anxiety
Anxiety is a rather broad term. It is experienced when you feel anywhere from tense and agitated to a full-blown panic attack. Anxiety, no matter how it is felt, is the body’s way of letting you know something is wrong.
When we experience a perceived stressful situation our autonomic nervous system turns on. This is also known as the fight, flight or freeze response. This system controls heart rate, breathing, cortisol and adrenaline levels. It keeps us safe by getting our body ready to deal with the perceived threat.
However, our body has a natural calming system, called the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest and digest state. In this state our digestion turns on, our breathing slows down and our immune system gears up.
We are constantly going back and forth between these two states throughout the day as we perform everyday tasks and live our life. For instance, we get revved up and motivated to deal with family and work challenges and then we take breaks and give our body and brain time to relax and rest.
Chronic anxiety occurs when someone doesn’t give their body the opportunity to transition back into the parasympathetic state of rest and digest and therefore they get “stuck” in a subconscious fight, flight, or freeze mode. Their thoughts are either on the past or the future and therefore they are not living in the present moment. They fail to process a negative situation and thus carry it with them sometimes on a conscious level but more often on a subconscious level. This is extremely taxing on our mental and emotional health and eventually, the body has to let us know that something is wrong.
12 helpful techniques to calm feelings of anxiety.
The list of techniques I’m going to describe are going to be most effective for people who are experiencing anxiety in milder forms. This kind of anxiety could be described as frustrating, upsetting, and uncomfortable. It’s important to remember that anxiety can run the gamut from mild to severe. If you’re not experiencing any relief from your anxiety, seeking professional support is always recommended.
#1 – Breathe
Sometimes we can get ourselves all riled up and in a tizzy merely by our own thoughts and we forget to breathe. By merely being conscious of your breath and slowing it down, making it steady and deep you can calm your body down because you’re sending calming signals to the brain. The box breathing technique is one of the most popular. You simply breathe in for a count of four. Hold for a count of four. Breathe out for a count of four. And hold again for a count of four. Then repeat for 5 minutes or so.
By consciously controlling your breathing, you’re sending signals to the brain that everything is ok and that you are safe. This will naturally slow your heart rate down and lower cortisol levels.
#2 – Move your body
Anxiety symptoms are often the result of an excess of cortisol and/or adrenaline. When you move your body you expel excess energy. Exercising is a great way to relieve stress. So go outside for a brisk walk. Turn on music and dance to your favorite tunes. Sing to the radio. (Singing is exercising the vocal cords.) If you play a musical instrument, practice a song you’ve mastered. Lift weights, punch a pillow or do some jumping jacks, running in place, windmills or any other aerobic exercise.
#3 – Relax your body
When we get stressed and anxious often we hunch our shoulders, clench our teeth or tighten up other body parts. So to counter our body’s physical tension we need to consciously notice what our body is doing and tell it to do something else. To do this, sit quietly and start with your head and neck notice how tense it is. Then consciously relax those muscles. Work your way down your body until you have relaxed every muscle part.
#4 – Oral stimulation
Anxiety and nervous energy often show up in our face and facial muscles. By stimulating your mouth and giving your jaw something to focus on, it helps expel energy. So chew a piece of gum, suck on or chew on ice (crushed ice is easier on the teeth), or suck on lozenges. Eat one piece of dark chocolate. (Notice I said one piece, not one candy bar.) Dark chocolate contains large amounts of tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that also works as a precursor to serotonin, which is the “feel good” hormone.
#5 – Writing releases negative thoughts
Writing is a great way to process emotional energy. For instance, if you’re anxious because you feel overwhelmed by everything you have to do, sit and write a to-do list.
If your anxiety is due to difficulties you’re having in a relationship, then write a gratitude list about the person. For instance, you can write down a positive memory you have about them. Write something that you have learned or something you have gained because of them. Write something that they did for you in the past. This helps you reframe the relationship in a more positive light and calms down the negative energy you’re presently having around it.
You can also just write your stream of consciousness about what you are fretting about. It’s a way of releasing the negative thoughts from your head and giving them over to the paper for storage. The energy it takes to hold onto all those thoughts and the corresponding feelings is exhausting. This activity is often very freeing and therapeutic.
#6 – EFT (tapping) eases anxiety
Tapping is an excellent technique to reduce anxiety because it scientifically has been shown to specifically reduce cortisol levels. Learning to tap is quick and easy. You can use this technique to tap on literally any negative emotion you are feeling and experience some immediate relief.
#7 – Meditation calms nerves
Meditation is an excellent stress and anxiety-reducing technique. It can help calm the mind in a matter of minutes. There are a number of different techniques. One very basic technique is merely to get in a comfortable position (either sitting in a chair with your feet on the floor or in a recliner), close your eyes and focus on your breathing. You can also listen to some white noise such as the hum of an air conditioner or other appliance or healing frequencies found online. If you need more support and direction there are a plethora of Youtube videos with guided meditations to choose from.
The goal of meditation is often a misconception. The goal is not to get to the point of “no thought” but rather to a place where we merely notice and allow our thoughts to freely come and go with no judgment. Meditation is about releasing the resistance we have to our thinking. The more we try to push a thought away the more power it has over us. When we meditate and gently shift our focus to something calming and soothing such as healing frequencies or the words of a soft voice in a guided meditation our thoughts naturally slow down.
#8 – Listen to calming music
Music has been said to soothe the savage soul. Find some calming music that is pleasing to your system and put on headphones or earbuds, close your eyes, listen and relax. Some people prefer instrumental music. Some say that listening to hymns helps soothe their mood. Just find whatever calms your body down and you notice you naturally relax when you listen to it.
#9 – Essential oils for anxiety relief
There are a number of essential oils that can help with anxiety and assist the body to relax. Three of my favorites are lavender, chamomile, and rose. There are also proprietary blends that are a mixture of oils made by essential oil companies that are very effective as well. You can either inhale them through the nose, rub them on your temples or on the bottom of your feet, or put them in a diffuser.
#10 – Challenge your anxiety
Since our thoughts can cause anxiety, sometimes all we need to do is challenge our own thinking. When you have a thought that is upsetting or scary, stop and pause for a moment and question the validity of that thought. Is it true? How do you know? What else could be true? Do you have all the facts and information?
When we stop and challenge those disturbing thoughts that pop into our heads, many of them are not based on any factual reality. They are “what if’s?” They are exaggerated versions of “it could happen.” When they are matched up with what is actually true they collapse and disappear. Confront your ego and stop being someone who would rather be right than happy. If you aren’t right, you might just be happier.
#11 – Sit with your pet
There is something very calming about being in the presence of an animal and especially one that we have an established relationship with. Our fur babies love us unconditionally. They accept us with warts, flaws, and all. It’s been scientifically proven that petting your dog or cat lowers blood pressure and increases relaxing hormones.
#12 – Cold (Ice) therapy
Sometimes all we need is a way to distract and reset our nervous system. Ice therapy has been proven to be a quick and effective way to stimulate the vagus nerve (the longest nerve in the body). When you hold your face in a bowl of ice water for 15-30 seconds, it distracts the mind and causes the body to divert blood from non-essential parts to essential parts such as your brain and heart. When this happens it lowers your heart rate which is a calming signal to your brain.
If you’re feeling especially panicky (you probably would need to be at home to have access to this) place a bag of frozen veggies on your chest. Or jump in and take a cold shower. The cold stimulation automatically activates your parasympathetic nervous system
Each of these simple techniques, when done on a routine basis help teach the body to relax. Many of us have given away the power of our lives over to our external environment and the never-ending barrage of stimulus. Or we have succumbed to our own limiting beliefs and lies that cause us to feel unworthy. Our world has sadly programmed far too many people with the idea that only through doing “enough” will we prove our worth. It’s no wonder anxiety is rampant in our society. If you suffer from chronic anxiety, stop and give yourself a break. Decide that you are going to make self-care a priority. Try some of these techniques every day and see if you don’t notice a difference and feel calmer and at peace.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of The We Spot, its employees, sponsors, or affiliates.