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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 January 3, 2020

The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People

The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People

Are you waiting for life events to turn out the way you want so that you can feel more positive about your life? Do you find yourself having pre-conditions to your sense of well-being, thinking that certain things must happen for you to be happier? Do you think there is no way that your life stresses can make you anything other than “stressed out” and that other people just don’t understand?  If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, you might find yourself lingering in the land of negativity for too long!

The following are some tips to keep positive no matter what comes your way. This post will help you stop looking for what psychologists call “positivity” in all the wrong places!  Here are the ten essential habits of positive people.

1. Positive people don’t confuse quitting with letting go.

Instead of hanging on to ideas, beliefs, and even people that are no longer healthy for them, they trust their judgement to let go of negative forces in their lives.  Especially in terms of relationships, they subscribe to The Relationship Prayer which goes:

 I will grant myself the ability to trust the healthy people in my life … 

To set limits with, or let go of, the negative ones … 

And to have the wisdom to know the DIFFERENCE!

 2.  Positive people don’t just have a good day – they make a good day.

Waiting, hoping and wishing seldom have a place in the vocabulary of positive individuals. Rather, they use strong words that are pro-active and not reactive. Passivity leads to a lack of involvement, while positive people get very involved in constructing their lives. They work to make changes to feel better in tough times rather than wish their feelings away.

3. For the positive person, the past stays in the past.

Good and bad memories alike stay where they belong – in the past where they happened. They don’t spend much time pining for the good ol’ days because they are too busy making new memories now. The negative pulls from the past are used not for self-flagellation or unproductive regret, but rather productive regret where they use lessons learned as stepping stones towards a better future.

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4. Show me a positive person and I can show you a grateful person.

The most positive people are the most grateful people.  They do not focus on the potholes of their lives.  They focus on the pot of gold that awaits them every day, with new smells, sights, feelings and experiences.  They see life as a treasure chest full of wonder.

5. Rather than being stuck in their limitations, positive people are energized by their possibilities.

Optimistic people focus on what they can do, not what they can’t do.  They are not fooled to think that there is a perfect solution to every problem, and are confident that there are many solutions and possibilities.  They are not afraid to attempt new solutions to old problems, rather than spin their wheels expecting things to be different this time.  They refuse to be like Charlie Brown expecting that this time Lucy will not pull the football from him!

6. Positive people do not let their fears interfere with their lives!

Positive people have observed that those who are defined and pulled back by their fears never really truly live a full life. While proceeding with appropriate caution, they do not let fear keep them from trying new things. They realize that even failures are necessary steps for a successful life. They have confidence that they can get back up when they are knocked down by life events or their own mistakes, due to a strong belief in their personal resilience.

7. Positive people smile a lot!

When you feel positive on the inside it is like you are smiling from within, and these smiles are contagious. Furthermore, the more others are with positive people, the more they tend to smile too! They see the lightness in life, and have a sense of humor even when it is about themselves. Positive people have a high degree of self-respect, but refuse to take themselves too seriously!

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8. People who are positive are great communicators.

They realize that assertive, confident communication is the only way to connect with others in everyday life.  They avoid judgmental, angry interchanges, and do not let someone else’s blow up give them a reason to react in kind. Rather, they express themselves with tact and finesse.  They also refuse to be non-assertive and let people push them around. They refuse to own problems that belong to someone else.

9. Positive people realize that if you live long enough, there are times for great pain and sadness.

One of the most common misperceptions about positive people is that to be positive, you must always be happy. This can not be further from the truth. Anyone who has any depth at all is certainly not happy all the time.  Being sad, angry, disappointed are all essential emotions in life. How else would you ever develop empathy for others if you lived a life of denial and shallow emotions? Positive people do not run from the gamut of emotions, and accept that part of the healing process is to allow themselves to experience all types of feelings, not only the happy ones. A positive person always holds the hope that there is light at the end of the darkness.  

10. Positive person are empowered people – they refuse to blame others and are not victims in life.

Positive people seek the help and support of others who are supportive and safe.They limit interactions with those who are toxic in any manner, even if it comes to legal action and physical estrangement such as in the case of abuse. They have identified their own basic human rights, and they respect themselves too much to play the part of a victim. There is no place for holding grudges with a positive mindset. Forgiveness helps positive people become better, not bitter.

How about you?  How many habits of positive people do you personally find in yourself?  If you lack even a few of these 10 essential habits, you might find that the expected treasure at the end of the rainbow was not all that it was cracked up to be. How could it — if you keep on bringing a negative attitude around?

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I wish you well in keeping positive, because as we all know, there is certainly nothing positive about being negative!

Featured photo credit: Janaína Castelo Branco via flickr.com

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