Along with the 5 pillars of mental/physical well-being, discussed in the last blog, we can add some exercises and techniques that can be used for anxious moments. Practicing some type of mindfulness/meditation daily will help reduce overall anxiety but the following techniques can be used for spikes of anxiety as well.
This is a grounding technique that utilizes your senses. Start by looking around you and noticing 5 things that you see, then 4 things that you feel (feet on the floor,
fabric against your skin…), 3 things that you hear, 2 things that you smell and 1 thing you can taste. Don’t worry about the order of things, just cover all the senses if possible. This technique brings you in to the moment and gives you some distance from distressing thoughts or feelings.
This is a technique that utilizes temperature to change our emotional state. There are several versions of this so use whatever works in the moment. You can hold an ice cube in your hand and up to your face, or hold something cold to your cheek (can of soda or glass with ice in it), you can also splash cold water on your face or wet a face towel with cold water and set it on your face. This helps to distracts from difficult or uncomfortable emotions.
There are several excellent mindfulness apps to help with chronic anxiety or episodes of anxiety. Use of daily mindfulness will reduce overall anxiety. Many of the apps will allow you to start with as little as 3 minutes a day (recommended if you’ve not practiced mindfulness before). Over time as you get used to how it works you can increase by a few minutes. YouTube will have many different options for mindfulness exercises and most are free. The pay apps will usually give you a free week so you can try the mindfulness or meditation or sleep aids and see what you like. Calm, Headspace and Insight Timer are 3 of the most common pay apps.
We all know that exercise is good for us but vigorous exercise (heart rate up for at least 15 minutes) has the best anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects. Some smart watches will have short, guided exercise programs that you can do on the fly.
Taking a walk can be very calming but when anxiety is at a high level something more intense will bring more relief.
Yes, math problems. When we’re anxious our amygdala is activated and signaling danger. Math problems utilize our frontal lobe which forces our analytical mind to start working again. If you’re really anxious it will be difficult at first to get your mind to do math but eventually it will get easier, and this will slowly take you out of an emotional state. If it’s too hard to multiply or even add you can simply count backwards from 100 by 7 or 3 (or any number) and see how far you can get.
Mindfulness through playing an instrument or doing yoga
Certain activities force us to be present, and being present takes us out of worry and anxiety which are wholly future oriented. Playing an instrument (especially if we’re still learning it) forces our focus on what we’re doing.
Yoga is another activity that
forces us to pay attention to what we’re doing in the moment. There are other activities that do the same thing so pick one you like.
Vacation in your head (DBT-IMPROVE)
To take a vacation in your head either think about a trip you’ve taken or make up a trip you’d like to take. Go through all the details of your trip taking in sights, sounds, smells and things you think and feel. If you’re focusing on a trip you took already recall the happy moments of that trip by activating as much of your senses as you can. Recalling positive memories can shift our current emotional states. Try not to over think it or compare past positive experiences with current stressors. Stay with what you take in through your senses.
Music can be very soothing because it can shift our emotional state. If we create a playlist of songs we love to sing to, if you’re in a place where you’re comfortable with that, singing engages us thus distracting from feeling states. Make sure the songs are up-beat. Putting headphones or earbuds on and turning up the volume a bit (not for extended times) we can shift our focus and thus our feelings. On the other hand, soothing music with no words may be helpful too depending on the individual.
Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds then breathe out for 6 seconds. It may be difficult at first to control the out breath but if you practice this breathing when you’re not anxious it can make it easier to access when you are. There are many different ways to use breathing to reduce anxiety, this is just one. Do this breathing for 2-4 minutes or more if needed.
Body Scan tense & relax
Take a moment and scan from head to toe noting any sensations in your body and taking a moment to progressively tense your muscles for a few seconds then relax them.
Earth, Air, Fire, Water
Connect with the earth by feeling your feet on the floor or, if you’re outside, touching the ground or a tree or a rock. Connect with the air through breathing in to your diaphragm, it can help to put your hand on your stomach to makes sure the breath is going deeper. Fire up your imagination thinking of a pleasant place you’ve been (or want to go) in the mountains or by water, someplace peaceful. Take a moment to drink something cold, or something warm and soothing. Either extreme will shift physical sensations thus distracting from intense emotions.
Cyclic sighing (Andrew Huberman)
Take a deep breath in through your nose filling your lungs to capacity then follow it with a second sharp inhale through the nose to expand further and then follow that with a long sighing exhale through the mouth. Do this 1-2 times to reduce stress or do a 5-minute cycle per day to reduce overall stress.
These are some common techniques that can help with anxious moments. Along with the 5 pillars of mental/physical well-being these are good tools to put in your toolbox. Practicing these skills when you are not anxious can make you more likely to think of them when you are anxious.
Vicki Swab, LPC