Your thoughts are spiraling, you are on the verge of tears, there is a pit in your stomach and your breath is caught short. We’ve seen it before: anxiety.
When you don’t have the time or energy to dig into the underlying causes, practice quick ways to overcome it in the moment. Here are five things you can do to help cope with anxiety right now.
1. Name It
Anxiety convinces us there are deeper reasons behind everything that goes wrong. If your head is caught in a spiral of black-and-white thinking or self-blame, say out loud to yourself, “This is just Anxiety talking.”
Labeling it helps to reduce the power it holds over you. So instead of identifying it as a character flaw, call it what it is: a symptom of your anxiety. It’s a part of you, not who you are at your core.
2. Practice Deep Belly Breathing
The American Institute of Stress found that 20 to 30 minutes of deep belly breathing each day can decrease your levels of anxiety.
First, find a comfortable, peaceful place to sit or lie down. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Close your eyes and take a few slow breaths to relax your muscles.
Breathe in slowly through your nose and feel your belly expand into the palm of your hand. If you need help taking slow breaths, breath in for four counts, then out through pursed lips for another four.
The hand on your chest should remain still while you breathe, stabilizing you. With each breath, try to gradually expand your stomach and steady your chest. As you start to relax, try making the breaths longer and longer, until you’re inhaling and exhaling for eight counts each.
Do this for 5–10 minutes to feel a significant reduction in your anxiety. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect right away. Learning how to manage anxiety in this way is a skill and takes practice. Keep trying!
3. Squeeze an Ice Cube
If you have an anxiety disorder, you may be used to the feeling of your body being in fight-or-flight mode even when there is no real threat at play. When anxious thoughts turn into this kind of physiological panic, give your brain something to react to.
Squeezing an ice cube in your hand forces your brain to focus on it, so that it can let go of fight-or-flight mode. It’ll think, “Oh, there it is—there’s the threat!” Play around with what works best for you—you can press it to your chest, your stomach, the back of your neck, the inside of your wrists, etc.
Interrupt the physical anxiety cycle by distracting your brain with the ice cube.
4. “Brain Dump” Then Organize
If you’re feeling anxious because of an endless list of tasks to complete, it can be helpful to set some realistic expectations for yourself. Anxious people sometimes struggle with perfectionism and taking on too many things at once. Taking the list out of your brain and onto paper can do wonders for your anxiety.
Start out with a piece of paper and a pen. Write down everything (yes, everything) you’re currently trying to accomplish. Then, circle the ones with deadlines or those you consider a top priority. Finally, break down these goals into the steps it takes to accomplish them. Sometimes it can even help to write things down you have already accomplished that day just you can cross them off your list. Did you get out of bed? Did you write a list? Check and check! Look at you getting things done!
When our brain is overloaded with information, it’s hard to then go back and organize it all. Make it easy on yourself by writing your goals on paper—having a visual reference gives our brain a break from having to memorize it all.
5. Walk Around the Block
Exercise has been linked to reducing stress and anxiety for years now. But did you know that when it comes to finding instant relief, a brisk 10-minute walk can be just as helpful as a 45-minute workout? That’s great news for those of us with endless to do lists and not much spare time. Finding 10 minutes for a walk is a bite sized, doable thing that can help calm your nervous system.
Don’t push yourself to break a sweat, just get a taste of fresh air and get your body moving so the nerves have a place to go. As you walk, try to distract yourself from whatever caused the anxiety so that you can go back to it with a clearer head. Listen to soothing music or try to find a bird whenever you hear one call out.
If your anxiety is getting in the way of living a healthy, authentic life, reach out to one of our counselors today. You do not have to white knuckle your way through life. It is possible to feel better. We can help.
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