Are you on high alert? Worried, fearful, ready to fight, or ready to run?
Or maybe you’re fine this minute…but you’re increasingly worried because you know that anxiety is coming soon, to take over your body and derail your mind.
If your life and body are overrun by anxious thoughts, you’re suffering.
And you long for relief.
Consider the seven following strategies for coping and restoring calm. They can help you experience comfort and balance again.
Breathe. Deep breathing goes a long way in soothing the body and mind. It helps subdue and settle an overactive fight-or-flight response by the sympathetic nervous system. Learning to control breath rate, intake, and exhalation stimulates the opposite, parasympathetic nervous system, enacted during periods of rest. Deep-breathing exercises effectively combat hyperventilation, rapid heartbeat, and further escalation of anxiety symptoms.
Physical exercise for a fitter mind. Anxiety doesn’t care for exercise much. Be sure to stay as active as you can. The rush of feel-good neurotransmitters, and the boost to your immune system that accompanies regular activity, is important for coping with stress. You needn’t run a marathon; simply incorporate daily walks, a yoga class, or a regular swim into your daily routine to see calming benefits.
Release anxiety-causing energy “stuck” in the body. The word soma means “in the body,” which is often where the undischarged energy of stress or trauma exist. Body-centered techniques that foster awareness of sensations and physical responses to stress help heal internal distress, rather than cause you to re-live it. A therapist experienced in body-mind therapies such as Focusing can help you restore harmony to the body and mind.
Check the chatter in your head. The internal dialogue going on in your mind supports negative thinking and shapes your perspective. Think about what you tell yourself on a regular basis about your capabilities, possibilities, and relationships. How often do you compare yourself to others, catastrophize, or self-criticize? How much time do you spend alone, ruminating on the past, or dreading the future? Learning to slow down and examine those thoughts is vital. Challenging their validity is the key to making cognitive and behavioral changes that will help you keep anxiety in its place.
Pause and focus inward. Ask yourself, “How am I now?” Spend some time really sitting with, focusing on, and developing what Gestalt and Focusing-oriented therapies call “the felt sense.” Exploring the feeling that something more is happening inside you, beyond surface responses and triggered emotions, can redirect your thoughts from fear and worry to bodily awareness and concentration on the here and now.
Accept, rather than avoid, anxiety. Life comes with some degree of uncertainty. Allow yourself to feel those sensations the way you would any other uncomfortable feelings. Remind yourself that anxiety is no worse or better. Resist the urge to fight, wrestle with, or avoid anxious thoughts, which usually just serves to amplify them and give them more power than they warrant.
Meditate. Mindfulness meditation allows you the opportunity to disconnect from negative thinking and observe, without judgment, your emotions and responses to anxiety. Release any need to control, direct, or deny your anxiety. You’ll find that you can observe anxiety without immersing yourself in it. Simply see it for what it is.
Calm will come as you practice these nervous system calming techniques over time. Be compassionate with yourself and seek support.
Soon, you’ll learn to rein in “fight or flight,” and fully enjoy your life again.