There are many techniques to help you calm down when you feel your anxiety level rising. Almost all of them include deep breathing. This is something most people don’t know how to do, so before I suggest some anxiety-busting techniques, let’s review breathing.
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Unless you’ve been trained as a singer or you play an instrument like the trumpet, you may not know about breathing from the diaphragm. Most of us breathe fairly shallowly throughout the day, and when we get anxious, our breaths become even shorter and shallower. This is why paying attention to your breathing is a part of almost every centering or relaxation technique. Here’s what you need to do:
- Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose
- Let your breath expand your ribcage and your abdomen. If your shoulders are rising but your belly is not, you probably aren’t breathing deeply. Your shoulders and upper rib cage should stay put. Let the lower part of your ribcage and abdomen expand. It may not look attractive to you to see your belly stick out while breathing in, but that’s what you want.
- Placing one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen can help you judge that you are breathing correctly.
- When you can’t breathe in anymore, slowly exhale from your mouth (or nose, if you prefer)
Deep breathing brings more oxygen to the brain and muscles, slows the heart rate, relaxes muscles, and improves clear thinking.
Below are a few choices of centering techniques, which are best combined with deep breathing. You can stop anxiety in its tracks when you find a couple of techniques that really work for you.
5-4-3-2-1 method: Close your eyes briefly while breathing deeply, then open your eyes and name 5 things you see, then 4 things you feel, then 3 things you hear, then 2 things you smell, then 1 thing you taste (maybe keep something yummy handy so you taste something other than your own mouth). Take your time and enjoy this process.
A simpler counting method: A simpler method is just to name, out loud, 3 things you can see, 3 sounds you can hear, etc., until you’ve interrupted your anxious thoughts and begun to calm down. (Remember to breathe deeply!)
Count backward out loud: To stop your brain from racing, sometimes just counting out loud backward from 5 or 10 can help. Counting backward takes a little thought, but not too much stress, and saying it out loud distracts your senses. If you need a greater distraction, try counting backward by 7s starting at 100. That takes more concentration and helps many people calm racing thoughts.
Talk honestly but positively to yourself: Again out loud, offer yourself simple, positive affirmations: “I’m having feelings I don’t like right now, but they are beginning to disappear as I relax and I will be fine.” “I know I’m feeling worried, but things usually turn out fine, so I’m not going to worry about this.” “Yes, this is upsetting, but I am not helpless.” Recognize your feelings but affirm, out loud, that you are not helpless. They are just emotions. Though they feel like they control you when they’re happening, you have the will to overcome them.
Relax and focus: Sit in a comfortable chair in a comfortable environment. Focus on what you are feeling physically. Feel the chair or the floor. Rub the fabric with your hands and pay attention to it. Think about your senses, not other thoughts. Then imagine your stress, like water, draining out of you from your head and out through your toes.
Get your adrenaline pumping: An alternative to relaxing is to get your blood pumping! Exercise is one of the very best methods to decrease anxiety and worry. If you can add a favorite person or a pet to your exercise, so much the better. Walking a dog gets you out in the fresh air getting exercise with a four-legged friend who loves you.
Sometimes you need more help
Find which of these techniques work best for you. There are many others, as well, so don’t give up hope; you can find peace. But if the various techniques don’t help you enough and you continue to have problems with excessive anxiety, don’t suffer alone. Find a helpful friend, support group, or professional counselor or psychologist trained in helping people with anxiety. If you are in the NYC area, reach out to me to see what I can do to help you overcome anxiety in your life.