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3 Specific Ways to Reduce Anxiety

3 Specific Ways to Reduce Anxiety

I want you to picture this image as vividly as possible in your mind:

You’re about to go on stage and deliver a speech to an audience of 100 people.

Quick – what just happened to your heart rate? Check your palms – are they sweaty? Are you breathing faster than you were prior to the visualization?

Congratulations! You’re human!

The vast majority of us become anxious when we are asked to do public speaking. But there are a multitude of other situations in our lives that can bring on this same experience of sudden nerves.

Since anxiety is a particularly uncomfortable emotion to experience, I thought I’d share three quick ways to reduce those feelings down to a much more manageable level. These methods are particularly useful for anticipatory anxiety when we need to compete, perform, or be tested in some way.

1. Why taking a deep breath is an annoying but essential piece of advice.

Don’t you just hate it when you’re nervous about something and someone says, “Just take a deep breath . . .?”

It’s annoying because it seems trite, but the reality is that taking a deep breath is helpful on many different levels.

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First, taking a deep breath stimulates the Vagus nerve. This is a nerve that starts in the brain and wanders throughout the body to just about every organ.

The Vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, the system that our body uses to rest-and-digest, as opposed to the fight-or-flight mechanism of the sympathetic nervous system.

So, activating the Vagus nerve helps to calm us down. And one of the ways it does this is quite noticeable: it slows down your heart beat. This is particularly helpful because it’s very easy to feel your heart rate rise and become more anxious because of it.

The best way to activate the Vagus nerve is to take a deep breath through your nose such that you engage your diaphragm (stick your belly out on the in breath), hold it for a few seconds, then release the air through your mouth in a big sigh as though you were extremely relieved about something.

One of the other benefits of taking a deep breath is that you can use it as a reminder to stay in the present moment. Anxiety is often triggered by fretting about the past and worrying about the future.

Allow your deep breath to remind you to stay fully in the present moment. That breath can easily cue you to get out of your head and back into the world that is currently in front of you.

Finally, a deep breath just feels really good! And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. When your body feels good, your anxiety will diminish.

2. Use positive visualization.

When you are feeling anxious because of an upcoming event, use visualization to boost your confidence and rein in your nerves.

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Picture yourself engaging in the event, feeling confident, and performing well. You might also visualize a similar previous situation in which you did well and replay that in your mind several times.

Make sure you don’t replay negative events!

Another method of visualization is to use the “as if” technique. Act “as if” you have already achieved the outcome you want.

For example, the other day I presented a workshop to dog handlers who participate in dog sports such as agility competitions. Sometimes they or their dogs will have a trouble spot on the course that causes them to be disqualified from that particular event. Rather than focus on the trouble spot, I encouraged them to act as if they and their dogs had already mastered that skill. The increase in confidence of the handler is then picked up by the dog.

Try the “as if” approach the next time you face your own difficult course!

One caveat about visualization though: it is a technique that needs to be practiced. Unlike the deep breath which can be used anytime and anywhere, visualization takes a bit more time and is most effective if practiced at least on a daily basis.

3. Get some perspective.

Many times we get so hooked into our anxiety and the thoughts that accompany it that we lose perspective on the source of our anxiety.

Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

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If the answer is, “I could die,” then you have something to worry about!

But the reality is that most of the time the worst thing that can happen is that we might be embarrassed, be disappointed, or have to revise future expectations if we didn’t pass a test or something similar.

We don’t like to be embarrassed, be disappointed, or have to change plans, but it’s not going to kill us. Besides, I bet you’ve been through all of those things at some time in your life already, right? And here you are still able to read this post! (i.e., you didn’t die from it.)

Another question that is not only helpful to get anxious events in focus, but also life in general is:

“What do you want on your tombstone?”

Do you want people at your funeral to say,

“Yes, she passed that test way back in 2013. I’ll always remember her for that.”

“Remember the time he asked for a raise so calmly? What a guy.”

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No, you want people to remember you for your values. For who you truly were as a person.

“She was so kind and loving to everyone she met.”

“He was always so genuine and authentic with people.”

So, in the long run, it’s likely that the event you are so anxious about today won’t be the thing that you are remembered for.

A little perspective can go a long way in helping you reduce your anxiety.

So remember: Take a deep breath, practice positive visualization, and get a little perspective. You’re well on your way to setting those butterflies in your stomach free!

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Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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