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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 September 20, 2018

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

1. Breathe

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

  • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
  • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
  • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

2. Loosen up

After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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3. Chew slowly

Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

4. Let go

Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

It’s not. Promise.

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Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

5. Enjoy the journey

Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

6. Look at the big picture

The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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Will this matter to me…

  • Next week?
  • Next month?
  • Next year?
  • In 10 years?

Hint: No, it won’t.

I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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8. Practice patience every day

Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

  • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
  • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
  • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

Final thoughts

Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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