Have you ever been sitting somewhere, maybe a class or at work or even a restaurant, and all of a sudden, a feeling of worry just washed over you? Your insides turned to mush, and your thoughts were racing.
What do you do when you're surrounded by all kinds of people, most of whom look happy and calm, and there you are, feeling like your heart is about to jump out of your chest?
There are lots of techniques to help dial down your worry. My favorites are those that are simple and easy to remember. Afterall, trying to recall anything can be hard when your mind is going 100 miles an hour. Here are ways to stop feeling anxious no matter where you are.
Deep Breathing Exercises to Stop Feeling Anxious
When many people think of deep breathing, they roll their eyes because they may have tried it in the past, and it did nothing for them. In my own work, when I poll my clients, I have found that about 50% of them say deep breathing is helpful, and the other 50% say that it either does nothing for their anxiety, or it just amps it up more.
Personally, I have found that either sighing or doing a specific step-by-step deep breathing technique work for me. But the general take deeper, slower breaths from your belly and not your chest just tangles my breathing up completely.
If you find your anxiety growing while doing these breathing exercises, stop doing forcing yourself to do them, OK? There are lots of other tools to help lower anxiety, and should deep breathing not work for you, don't despair. 🙂
- Mindful Breathing doesn't involve a lot of details. Keep breathing as you are, but start to notice tiny things that are happening. Are you breathing faster than normal? Is there a pattern to it? What do you feel elsewhere in your body when you are inhaling and exhaling? Is your breath hot? Once you done this for a moment, go a little deeper with the next inhale. Not too deep. You're not trying to make your sides touch. Hold it for a second, and let it out. Do you notice any tension leaving your body?
- Four Square Breathing reminds me of waltzing. They teach that waltzing is like stepping on the corners of a box. Four square breathing has a tempo, too. Breathe in and count to four. Hold the breath and could to four. Breathe out and count to four. Hold that to the count of four, and then start over. This exercise can be especialy helpful if you are in the midst of having a panic attack, since it slow downs your body's automatic reaction.
- Breathing in Words is a great exercise to remind yourself of your great attributes while calming your nerves. Double win! When you breathe in, say the word “I.” When you breathe out, say “calm,” or “safe,” or “good,” “kind,” “loved,” “skilled,” “OK,” or anything else you want to say (just make sure it's positive- you don't need to repeat negative messages to yourself). You can advance and say a sentence when you inhale like “I breathe in trust,” and when you exhale, “I breathe out fear,” or “I breathe in hope, and I breathe out pain.” For the gold star, put your thumb and forefingers together while you do this exercise. It helps to further relax your body.
Exercises Using Your Senses to Soothe Anxiety
One of my favorite techinques uses the five senses. Not only are they with you wherever you go, but tuning in to them puts you in the here and now. Often, worry puts you thinking about something that could happen, instead of relishing the experience you are currently having. For instance, thinking about what the kids have done to the toy room at home while you are at the eye doctor keeps you from enjoying the dim lights when they test your eyes.
- Five Senses roll call takes you through each of your senses. Ask yourself what you see at this exact moment. From the computer screen to a squirrel outside your window or even the pile of laundry- focus on what's in front of you right now. Ask yourself what you hear. Is it the hum of the furnace? Someone laughing down the hall? Next, ask yourself what you feel. From itchy the hole in your sock that lets in a draft of air to the soft cushion you are sitting on, concentrate on what is coming in contact with your body. Then, focus on what you are smelling. (Note: I am not responsible for tuning you in to the scent of burnt popcorn or poopy diapers.) You may keep a small votive candle in your purse or a stick of incense to help you inhale something pleasant. And finally, ask yourself what you are tasting. From the onions on your pizza, to the mouthwash you just used, or even the piece of candy you keep in your desk drawer for moments like this, take a moment to savor. Depending on how quickly you do this exercise, you may need to repeat it a couple of times, since it takes 90 seconds for a thought to run its course through your brain, according to Jill Taylor Bolt in her book, My Stroke of Insight.
- 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 is a similar exercise that uses the senses, but it works the repetition in from the beginning. It works great no matter where you are or who you are (or aren't) with at the moment. And it can be quite helpful for those who have OCD. From where you are sitting, pick a spot to zoom in on, and say five things that you see, hear, and feel. Then repeat and say four things that you see, hear, and feel. Do this again by saying three things that you see, hear, and feel, and on down to two things you see, hear, and feel, and one thing you see, hear, and feel. You can think or say these observations out loud, depending on the situation. You can repeat the responses, but this isn't about remembering and recalling what you said during each round. It's meant to distract you from those pesky thoughts that are taking up too much space.
The next time a sudden wave of worry washes over you, try one of these techniques to help stop those thoughts from flowing. Don't miss out on the great things in life that are happening right in front of you, by dwelling on the things that may or may not be true.
The more you do this, the faster you'll be able to stop feeling anxious, and the fewer and further between episodes.