Picture this… you are all alone in the woods late at night. You have a flashlight, but the batteries must be running out because it is starting to dim. You do not know exactly where you are, and you do not have a way to call anyone for help. Your senses are on overload as your eyes strain to see through the dark and your ears are hypersensitive to every little rustle. Your brain is rattling with a million thoughts of what to do and what might happen. What are you feeling? Afraid? Helpless? How about worried?
Now, come back to where you are. Those feelings of fear, helplessness and worry are some of the base feelings that we experience when we are anxious. If anxiety is a familiar experience for you, then you know that it can make your world full of ambiguity and fear. However, what if I told you that, despite feelings of helplessness, that there are steps you can take to reduce your anxiety? Here are 3 steps for getting you out of the deep, dark woods and reducing your anxiety today.
Breathing. Seems simple enough, right? Yet simple does not make something easy, especially when you are dealing with anxiety. When we experience anxiety, our brain and body become saturated with stress hormones. Our heart rate quickens pumping blood into our brain and adrenaline begins coursing through our veins. If you’ve heard of the term “fight or flight,” this is exactly what happens when your heart rate increases and your adrenaline rushes. When we are anxious, our brain and body are frantically trying to figure out if we should defend ourselves or make a run for it. Sometimes we may even become so overwhelmed that we simply freeze and cannot do anything at all.
By focusing on our breath and breathing, we can interrupt the fight or flight process and regain control by pumping the breaks for our brain and body to reset. When we take deep breaths, we can sometimes make the mistake of raising our shoulders and making our chest rise up and down. Instead, truly deep breathing takes place in our bellies. Instead of breathing from our chest, the trick is to make our belly expand and empty like a balloon. Slowly inhale through your nose and exhale through your lips in a controlled manner, like you are blowing out a candle. So, place your hands on your belly, imagine a balloon, and blow out that candle. Ah, doesn’t that feel so much better already? For a simple breathing exercise that can help with anxiety, check out this video.
Turn It Off
You know the saying, “misery loves company?” Well, guess what? So does anxiety. Anxiety feeds off all our concerns, doubts, and uncertainty. Most of us are inundated with worry before we even pour our first cup of coffee. Turn on the morning news and in a matter of minutes, you will hear a list of things to feel nervous about ranging from politics to global affairs to the weather. Scroll through social media and you will find enough doomsday articles, posts, and tweets that will have you convinced we are nearing the end of times. It can all feel so crushing and unbearable.
Here is my mental health tip for you – turn it off. Allow yourself to disengage, if even for a moment. Exposure to constant stimuli, news updates, disturbing images, and immediate alerts that you have so little control over can leave you feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Being informed and active in society and your community is important and necessary, however, so is having boundaries and limits. It is important to recognize that for many individuals, the pain and trauma reported in the news are much more than just soundbites and clips. They can be very personal and wounding reports that affect individuals who are a part of minority groups that often feel unsafe and vulnerable due to the history of our country. If you find yourself nodding in agreement, then please protect your mental and emotional health and wellbeing at all costs. Give yourself permission to rest.
Worrying is all about the “what-ifs” and is on a mission to convince you that you will not be ok in the future. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is about the here-and-now and serves as an anchor of reassurance for the present. While practicing mindfulness can sound like developing a superpower, it is simply all about practicing awareness of your present experience. Mindfulness allows you to connect your brain, body, and feelings in the present.
How do you accomplish this Jedi mind trick you ask? Start by paying attention through your 5 senses. What do you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste? Look at the colors and their shades. Listen intently to the sounds around you. Smell the fragrance in the room or the air. Notice the way your body feels as it sits, stands, and moves. Take a bite or drink and think about the flavors and how you would describe them. These may seem like unimportant tasks or trivial when compared to your worries, but so often we are on autopilot and become passive participants in our daily habits. By staying grounded in the present, anxiety loses its ability to propel us into the unknown and we can instead become active and fully engaged in the moment.
Practicing these steps by themselves can surely be helpful but to get the most out of them, treat them as sequential steps that build on one another. Begin with breathing as you turn off excess stimuli and bring your attention to the here and now. Practicing these steps is like working a muscle; the more you practice these steps, the more able you’ll become to ground yourself amid anxiety.
Additionally, working with a therapist to get at the root cause of your anxieties can be an instrumental step in moving forward in your mental health journey. If you’d like to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation to hear more about how counseling can help you to reduce your anxiety, click here to schedule and begin working on your anxiety today.