Experiencing anxiety and panic can be frightening and overwhelming, but finding relief is possible. Often our reaction to these feelings can make a bad situation worse, but with a few simple strategies, you can manage anxiety in the moment no matter where you are. Relief can come more easily with continued practice, and, after enough practice, the ability to cope is almost effortless. Anxiety is something you won’t have to fear any longer. Relief from anxiety is possible with these simple coping strategies:
Breathe. This may sound obvious, but how you breathe can help mitigate the fight, flight, freeze response system in the body. Breathing into your chest, which I refer to as anxiety breathing, is shallower and quicker breathing. Belly breathing, or breathing from your diaphragm, is deeper and slower and serves to reset our stress response system. Place your hand on your belly and as you inhale gently push your belly out and, on the exhale, allow the belly to fall. Pay attention to the rise and fall of your belly and rhythm of your breath. Some may need to lean back a bit to expose the belly in order to access the diaphragm. A gentle lift of the lower back will help. Try to keep other areas of the body such as the shoulders, neck, and head, quiet and still. Continue to practice this as you try the other strategies below and consider incorporating a few minutes of breathing 2 to 3 times a day. This is a strategy that you can do anywhere!
Use the 5-5-5 technique. Begin by sitting in a comfortable and quiet space with your eyes open, gazing softly just past your toes. Keep your eyes, head, and body still as you simply begin to list 5 objects you see, 5 sounds you hear, and 5 things you feel. For example, “I see my feet. I hear the sound of my breath. I feel the sofa beneath me.” Then decrease to 4, then 3 and so on. Speak this out loud as the sound and rhythm of your voice can be soothing.
This is a very forgiving technique. If you list 5 objects then 4 sounds, that’s ok. You can also repeat a sound, object, or feeling. For example, you may hear the sound of your breath twice in one round or once in each round. Be kind to yourself, and, as you practice the exercise, you will become more aware and more detailed. This is also a great tool to use with children before they become too anxious.
Get moving! Anxiety is energy, and, for some of us, it is helpful and important to burn that energy. Engaging in physical activity, such as walking or playing with your child or pet, can be impactful. When engaging in physical activity to minimize anxiety, it is important to do it mindfully. To help bring yourself into the present moment, focus on the 5 senses. Ask yourself and name the things you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste. For example, you may see the trees, hear your shoes as they make contact with the ground beneath you, feel the cool breeze on your face, smell the fresh cut grass, and taste the air of the season. Continue this practice until the anxiety has decreased, and, as always, remember to incorporate belly breathing.
It is important to practice these techniques even when you are not experiencing anxiety so that they become known to both your mind and body. When you are feeling anxious, they will be ready for use. If you don’t learn them ahead of time, using them in moments of stress and anxiety may prove difficult. Remember, these strategies are meant to assist but not take the place of therapy. Very often there are deeper causes of anxiety, and getting to the root of them with a trained therapist can have longer lasting effects. If you need more help, reach out to schedule an appointment.