People with chronic anxiety know what it’s like to seek help and not find the perfect method for anxiety relief. The truth is, there is no perfect method. Your anxiety could strike at any time for any reason, and you could be left helpless until it passes.
Now that you’ve faced the truth of what anxiety is (i.e. a mental illness that doesn’t need a reason to strike), you can face the truth of how to relieve your anxiety. The purpose of this article is to provide you with unique and practical ways for anxiety relief.
1. Activate your body’s natural relaxation response with deep breathing
Any article or book about anxiety relief will tell you that one of the top methods for relieving anxiety is to focus on your breathing. Deep abdominal breathing activates your body’s natural relaxation response which helps alleviate anxiety.
Here are some tips for how to breathe to trigger that response:
- Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Breathe in deeply until the hand that is on your stomach is higher than the hand that is on your chest.
- Breathe in through your nose, breathe out through your mouth to a count of 8 to 10 seconds.
- Repeat as necessary to reach a rate of 6 to 8 breaths per minute
2. Find your “happy place” by using visualization techniques.
Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore, he was the hockey player turned golfer who couldn’t keep his anger in check until he learned a visualization technique to calm himself down.
Your anxiety may not have you ripping the heads off of clowns at a mini-golf course, but you can probably relate to the feeling.
When your anxiety strikes, use the following techniques to help you with visualization:
- Take a few slow, deep breaths to calm and center yourself.
- Imagine you are in a place of your own creation where everything is exactly the way you want it.
- Focus on having different senses in your happy place. Don’t just visualize a scene in your head, create the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches that come along with it and visualize them.
- Stay in your scene for 5 to 10 minutes (or until you are relaxed).
3. Use mindfulness to center yourself in the here and now.
It has been said that depression is a symptom of someone who focuses too much on the past, whereas anxiety is a symptom of someone who focuses too much on the future. I don’t know how true that is, but I do know that many of the anxieties we face come from worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.
Much of our anxiety comes from a focus on something that doesn’t exist in the present moment. Bring yourself back to the present moment by using the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique to acknowledge the following things around you:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can touch
- 3 things you can hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
By the time you are done, you will find yourself back in the present moment focusing on the here and now. This will relieve any anxiety that you have about future events.
4. Question your thoughts and stop believing what your anxiety is telling you.
One of the main things about anxiety is that it has little to do with what is in front of you. Often anxiety can be a result of things from our past that we haven’t resolved. So try the following method for relieving your anxiety:
- Find the deeper thing that is triggering your anxiety.
- Realize the silliness of that thing.
- Acknowledge the thought that is causing your anxiety.
- Realize you are doing the best you can with what you have.
- Release the thought and give yourself permission to see new possibilities in your life.
5. Practice radical acceptance via the paradoxical intention.
Viktor Frankl created what might have been the weirdest psychological solution ever: the paradoxical intention. It’s rooted in the idea that trying to suppress a thought or feeling is only serving to make that thought or feeling stronger. So instead of resisting it, you actively strive to create more of that thought or feeling in your life.
It’s a “face your fears” kind of therapy and it’s been proven to be effective. I like to call it “leaning in.” Instead of resisting the thing you fear, try leaning in to it. Put your entire focus on the thing that is causing you anxiety, puff out your chest, and tell your anxiety to bring it on.
The beauty of this method is that it reduces anxiety by relieving you of the fear that your anxiety brings you. When you purposely make it bigger than it really is and you welcome your anxiety with open arms, it will dissipate. Hence, the paradox.
6. Turn your focus to meaningful activities that give you a deep sense of purpose.
While we are on the subject of Viktor Frankl, he actually created another form of therapy that is widely effective for anxiety relief. Frankl believed it was possible to turn suffering into achievement and accomplishment.
His method of logo-therapy has three main parts: dereflection (focus on other people), paradoxical intention (focus on the thing causing your anxiety), and Socratic dialogue (self-discovery through meaning-centered words).
The point is to play with your anxiety to the point where it no longer is intimidating to you. Once you’ve done that, you open up your ability to choose what gives you meaning in life. When you turn your focus to the very purpose of your being, your anxiety and worry gets stripped away because you are truly engaged with the present moment.
So, find activities that give your life meaning. Some of them have big overarching meaning (like your job) and others give you purpose for a short period of time (such as a good book or puzzle).
7. Embrace daily meditation as a part of your life.
There are many proven benefits of daily mediation. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that you will gain control over your emotions (and experience anxiety relief). There is no major challenge to meditation.
The aims of effective meditation are the following things:
- A quiet place free from distraction.
- Strong focus on your breathing.
- Clearing your mind of distracting thoughts.
If you can achieve those three things, then you’ll reap the benefits of meditation.
If you struggle with clearing your mind, remember that you shouldn’t resist distracting thoughts. Acknowledge them as they arise and then bring your focus back to your breathing.
8. Create a regular exercise routine and stick to it.
Benefits of regular exercise include: lower stress hormones in your body, improved quality of sleep, and higher confidence.
Exercise has also been proven to increase endorphins in your brain which make you feel good.
The key is to make it regular enough to be beneficial without overloading yourself. If you decide you’re going to exercise 7 days a week, you’re going to find that is an impossible goal. Something will eventually come along and knock you off your rhythm and you will feel guilty.
Set a goal to exercise three days a week for an hour each session. That’s frequent enough to make a significant impact without disrupting your life too much in the process.
9. Reduce intake of known anxiety triggers such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
Sadly, some of life’s greatest pleasures can also be huge triggers for anxiety. Other common triggers include negative self talk, poor sleeping habits, stress and fear of failure.
As an anxious person, your goal is to try to remove or manage these triggers as much as possible. This doesn’t mean you have to live like a monk in some monastery somewhere. You’re here to live, so live your life to the fullest.
The key is to understand what triggers your anxiety so that you can find ways to manage it. If you know yourself and how you react to certain things, you can make a plan for how to best reduce your anxiety when you experience those things. But, at the end of the day, things like caffeine and nicotine are actually causing much of the anxiety you feel. So try to avoid them whenever possible.
10. Write or talk about your anxiety.
Keep a journal that you can reference when you need it. If you’re not a writer, then get a portable recording device and talk into it.
One humorous method that I use to manage anxiety is what I call the “man in the chair” method.
I’ll pretend like the FBI or some government official is tasked with listening to my life through my phone. So, I pretend to have a conversation with that person about my issues.
I know it’s silly (which helps relieve anxiety through humor) and totally crazy, but there’s an intangible benefit for imagining that somebody is listening to your thoughts. You speak more freely and you tend to put your thoughts down in a way that distances you from them. That distance will create anxiety relief.
11. Create strong connections with people.
One study found that women, in particular, benefit from from spending time with friends and children. The benefits come from a release of Oxycontin which happens when spending time with people you care about.
Another study found that the men and women with the fewest social support often suffer the most with anxiety and depression.
Often our mental illnesses drive us to do the opposite of what we need to do to manage them. Anxiety can make a person pull away from people.
But no person is an island, and you need to try to make connections with at least one other person. Don’t let your anxiety pull you away from people.
12. Find ways to bring more laughter and amusement into your life.
An interesting study done among people with cancer found that people who were in the laughter intervention group actually experienced a decrease in stress. Even crazier was that laughter also increased disease resistance within cells.
So, the old proverb “laughter doth good like a medicine” is actually scientifically true.
When in the throws of anxiety, you can find relief by watching a stand up comedy special or a funny TV show.
Better yet, buy tickets and physically go see a stand up comic with a friend. Laughter is a great medicine, but laughter among friends is the cure to many of life’s ills.
13. Listen to soothing music.
A study on the effects of music on the human stress response found that listening to music can initiate faster recovery in the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine and psychological stress response. That’s a fancy science way of saying that music is a great form of anxiety relief.
People’s tastes in music are vastly different. What one person might find soothing might not have the same effect on you. This is one of those cases where you have to know yourself and what you find relaxing.
If you’ve noticed, this article focused less on the “tips and tricks” side of anxiety relief and more on lifestyle changes. Because a person with chronic anxiety knows that in order to manage anxiety and stress, you have to find new ways of living and coping.
You build your lifestyle to help you reduce triggers, calm yourself when anxiety hits, and snap back quickly when it hits you.
So make it your goal to create a lifestyle that helps you do that. This is your life. Isn’t it time you found the freedom you’ve been looking for?
Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com
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