Anxiety is an intense feeling of fear that can cause your heart to race, and your thoughts to spin out of control. Symptoms can include difficulty falling or staying asleep, inability to focus at work or school, and upset stomach.
If you suffer from anxiety, there is Overcoming your anxiety available. You can find relief by learning coping skills and working with a mental health professional.
1. Breathing Exercises
Experts often recommend breathing exercises as a way to reduce anxiety and stress. They can be easily done anywhere, at any time, and are effective if practised regularly.
For example, box breathing or 4-4-4 breathing is an easy breathing technique that can be practised in any quiet environment. Inhale for a count of four, then exhale on a count of four, making sure your belly is rising and falling as you breath. If your mind wanders, simply bring it back to the counting and the rhythm of the breaths.
Another calming breathing exercise is resonance breathing or “lion’s breath.” Sit in a comfortable position with your hands on your knees, crossing your ankles or resting them on the floor. Place your first fingers on the tragus cartilage that partially covers your ear canal. Breathe slowly and deeply into the nose, focusing on your stomach rising. Exhale through pursed lips, making a whooshing sound. Repeat a few times.
Yoga classes are an excellent opportunity to learn more about adjusting your body and mind through different breathing techniques, which can help manage anxiety. Many of these techniques have been proven in scientific studies to activate the vagus nerve, which regulates mood and digestion.
2. Relaxation Techniques
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, there are relaxation techniques you can try to calm your mind and body. These can be done on your own or with a health care provider.
Many relaxation techniques involve a combination of mental imagery, deep breathing and body awareness. Some also involve tightening and relaxing muscles to help people focus on the difference between tension and relaxation and increase awareness of their physical sensations. Some relaxation techniques are called autogenic relaxation, or Jacobson relaxation and include tensing and relaxing each muscle group in your body and then relaxing them again, starting with your toes and working up to your head.
Another relaxation technique is visualization, which involves forming mental images of peaceful, calming places and situations. Some examples of visualization exercises are sitting in a comfortable position and closing your eyes, thinking of a place you enjoy (such as a favorite childhood spot or a clearing in the woods), or imagining yourself in a pleasant situation like walking on a beach. Then, imagine the sounds, smells, sights and textures of that environment.
3. Physical Exercise
For many people who suffer from anxiety disorders, exercising is a great way to combat their symptoms. While a workout program should always be paired with an overall treatment plan from a mental health professional, physical activity is an essential part of any anxiety reduction regimen.
Studies have shown that regular exercise can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as boost self-esteem and improve sleep. While scientists aren’t exactly sure why exercise helps relieve anxiety, they do know that it releases feel good brain chemicals that help ease tension and ward off negative thoughts.
Moreover, physical movement is a great way to fight cortisol, a hormone that rises when you’re feeling anxious. Exercise depletes cortisol and helps you feel like yourself again.
While some exercise is better than others, experts recommend any type of physical activity that gets your heart rate up. Try running, swimming, dancing, lifting weights or playing basketball with a friend. Whatever you do, make it something that you enjoy so that you’re more likely to stick with it.
We all have troublesome thoughts from time to time, but for anxiety sufferers, these irrational fears bombard the mind like a hamster wheel. Quieting the mind by observing the fear-based thoughts and then letting them go, is the best way to stop this constant cycle of worry.
Regular meditation has been shown to upgrade anxious, fearful beta brainwaves (13 – 40 Hz) to the enlightened alpha and theta brainwave states (6 – 13 Hz). These enlightened brainwaves promote calmness, boost creativity, improve happiness levels, deepen intuition and instill self-confidence.
Meditation also teaches the mind to let go of worries, even real life ones, such as a concern about a pending medical test or an upcoming family event. This is possible because when you practice meditation, the brain becomes conditioned to accept that not all thoughts deserve your full attention.
Note that meditation is not a cure for mental health disorders, but can be a helpful component of an overall treatment plan when monitored by a healthcare professional. Meditation is most effective when done daily and ideally with guidance from a trained teacher.
5. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is the gold standard treatment for anxiety disorders. It includes a combination of techniques that focus on changing negative automatic thoughts and behaviors that lead to anxiety.
CBT therapists start by helping clients identify their triggers and sources of anxiety. They will also help them understand how their anxiety is affecting them in their daily lives. Then they will teach relaxation techniques and help them break down their distorted beliefs and fears. Eventually, they will expose them to the things that trigger their anxiety, gradually working up to more intense situations. This can be done in real life (in vivo exposure), in their imagination, or through computer simulations. Nightmare exposure and rescripting is specifically designed for those with nightmares.
The most important part of CBT is identifying and addressing cognitive distortions. These are distorted thinking patterns like black-and-white thinking, jumping to conclusions, and catastrophizing. Using a variety of worksheets and exercises, a therapist will work with you to change these thought patterns. Often, your therapist will use the thought recording technique to help you analyze your negative automatic thoughts and come up with unbiased evidence to challenge them.