If you experience stress and anxiety, then you’re no stranger to how overwhelming it can be. Being unable to concentrate, racing thoughts, excessive worrying, even feeling irritable and restless can all indicate you are experiencing anxiety.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to bring you some relief, calm your mind and body, and get on with what you are doing. Here are 8 tips and tools you can use to relieve your anxiety.
Becoming aware of anxious thoughts and what causes them is probably the most powerful, also the most simple, tool to use. But it takes some practice.
Think of anxiety as a feeling, which is a message. Just like any other feeling. Become aware of the signals your body is giving you and what is triggering your anxious feelings. Take responsibility for your anxious thoughts, because that gives you a sense of control within them. Often when people feel anxious, it seems to get worse when they feel they are not in control of what’s happening.
Accept your anxious thoughts as thoughts. Recognize them and be aware of them. Think of it this way; by resisting anxious thoughts, avoiding them, or pushing against them, the thoughts actually become bigger since that’s where your focus is. Anxiety gets bigger, you get smaller.
Instead, focus on being aware of the anxious thought and what caused it. This shifts the focus to you, not the anxiety. You get bigger, anxiety gets smaller!
Not just any old breath, but deep, slow breaths. Slowing your breath and breathing deeply creates a physical response in your brain, and wakes up your body’s relaxation response. When anxiety feels out of control, it’s because you are operating out of the “feeling” part of your brain. The fight-or-flight response is activated. Unfortunately, when you’re in your feeling brain, the “thinking” brain stays on the back burner.
That’s where breathing comes in. Deep breaths tell your brain to calm down, and your brain tells your body to calm down.
One technique is to use something called “Square” breathing. It works like this:
Breathe in through your nose, filling your lungs completely with air 1…2…3…4
Exhale slowly through your mouth 1…2…3…4
- Guided Meditation
Meditation or Mindfulness is a great way to relax your brain and reduce anxiety. Think of meditation as training your brain to focus and pay attention to the present moment. Since anxiety often takes us to the future or “possible” moments, learning mindfulness meditation can help you focus back on right now.
There are some great apps that offer guided meditations and teach you how to begin learning to focus on now. Calm and Headspace are two of those apps. There is also the Abide app that has awesome scripture based meditations.
- 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
This is a simple technique that can help to calm an overactive, anxious mind by bringing your focus to the present and distracting your thoughts from what’s causing you anxiety. It works like this:
Look around. Name 5 things you can see.
Name 4 things you can hear.
Name 3 things you can feel.
Name 2 things you can smell.
Name 1 thing you can taste.
- Question Your Thoughts
An anxious mind will quickly overwhelm you with all kinds of unrealistic thoughts, unlikely situations, worries, and what-ifs. When this starts to happen, STOP. Ask yourself “Is this true?” Answer yourself with a “yes” or “no.”
It’s also helpful to ask yourself “what’s the worst thing that can happen?” and “what’s the best thing that can happen?”
“How would I be right now if I didn’t have this thought?”
These are some examples of how you can begin to challenge your anxious thoughts. Try it out!
- Get Active
It’s widely known that regular exercise has many health benefits for both physical and mental health. There are lots of scientific explanations for how your brain and body respond to aerobic exercise.
In a nutshell, when you exercise, you get out of your head, in touch with your body, and your brain releases happy chemicals like serotonin and endorphins.
Exercising in the mornings can help lower your overall stress level throughout the day by allowing you to release tension through exercise instead of holding it in your body.
So, get moving! Choose an activity you enjoy. Take a class. Workout with a friend. Make your exercise routine your own and enjoy the many benefits!
Similar to exercise, there are many physical and mental health benefits to getting enough quality sleep. It seems unfair that one of the things you need the most to decrease stress and anxiety is sleep, which you often can’t do under stress and anxiety.
Sometimes regular exercise helps regulate your sleep cycle, so tip #6 may help you get to #7 if your anxiety keeps you up at night.
Try some strategies to help relax your mind and body before going to sleep. Also, stick with a routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Things like a hot bath, listening to some relaxing sounds or music, certain kinds of scents like lavender, practicing deep breathing can all help you to relax your mind and get some sleep.
- Healthy Food
While there is no magic diet or food that will cure anxiety, certain lifestyle changes including watching what you eat, choosing healthy meals, and what times you eat could help boost your overall mood.
Eating plenty of protein helps you feel full longer and keeps blood sugar steady, avoiding spikes and crashes that can affect mood.
Choosing complex carbohydrates to fuel your body, such as whole grains, vegetables helps slow digestion and steady blood sugar.
Avoid simple carbohydrates such as sugary foods and drinks.
Be sure to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, and avoid/limit alcohol and caffeine.
Of course, consult your physician before making any changes to your diet or exercise to be sure you are meeting your own personal nutrition and activity needs.
Is your anxiety making it difficult to get through the day, enjoy life, or accomplish the things you wish to accomplish? It’s important to seek the advice and treatment of a licensed therapist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders, in conjunction with a medical doctor, when the anxiety reaches a place that doing it alone feels impossible.
Our therapists are highly skilled in working with adults, children, adolescents, and families. We offer a diverse array of services to meet the needs of you and your family!
Let’s connect! Call us today to schedule an appointment. We’re here to help!
940-222-8552 or email [email protected]
Michelle Fitzhugh, MA, LPC, EMDR
Clinical Director, Redeemed Life Counseling, LLC
Teen Social Anxiety