Dealing with Anxiety – 6 Easy Tips to Reduce Your Anxiety Now
Anxious or stressed out? Feeling tense or panicked? Want to learn how to deal with anxiety more effectively? This blog post offers a few practical suggestions for coping with anxiety symptoms, based upon my therapeutic experience working with anxiety disorders, as well as literature influences from colleagues of mine who are also specialists in the field.
1) Recognize the rhythms of your anxiety and take a ‘time-out’ when you first notice your anxiety starting to build
What are your anxiety signals? There are many signals of an anxious over-reaction, ranging from cognitive (typical maladaptive anxious thoughts or worries) to emotional (e.g. fear) to somatic (certain sensations in the body, such as heart racing or stomach clenching). When you first notice your signals, give yourself permission to take a time-out from what you are doing and reset. Now in terms of determining the best reset for you…
2) Know your personality style
Are you someone who is comfortable sitting in a quiet room and closing your eyes? Or are you someone who is high-energy and prefers movement? Match your anxiety help strategies with what fits your personality.
Although diaphragmatic breathing is a staple of many traditions (such as meditation and self-hypnosis), for some people this feels too ‘passive.’ For active types, I encourage more kinesthetic based anxiety discharging techniques. For example, consider a technique which encourages muscle variation, such as progressive muscle relaxation or a fist clench (and release). These types of techniques involve clenching/tensing and releasing/relaxing – it is the alternation of these two states which can be both empowering and relaxing. Another type of kinesthetic anxiety management technique involves rhythm. For example, consider foot tapping or hand clapping to a musical beat that you enjoy. In fact, calling a song to mind is a helpful way of shifting your focus away from the anxiety. Should you be so inclined, there are also more formal kinesthetic practices, such as yoga, mindful yoga, and active-alert hypnosis.
3) Utilize multiple senses in your anxiety management practice
Why just breathe when you can imagine your stomach as a balloon filling on the in-breath and emptying on the out-breath? Or better yet, imagining a balloon that changes color with alternation of breath? For the fist-clench, imagine a ball of liquid that intensifies as the fist tightens and runs loose with color as the fist releases and fingers unfurl. The creative possibilities are endless. Employing multiple senses heightens your sensory involvement in your own self care and coping.
4) Get grounded
An important staple of any kind of relaxation practice is connecting yourself with an object that is inert, stable, and symbolically secure…. like the floor or ground. I always tell my clients that the floor isn’t going anywhere (unless maybe you live in an earthquake zone… in which case there might be other more helpful types of imagery!) I also find that the symbolism of your feet on the floor is incredibly grounding and soothing. It signals “hey, I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere (unless I want to).” Another applicable image is one of a tree with roots that are anchoring and nourishing. Getting centered often involves concentrating on the comfortable and pleasant sensations in your feet on the floor, such as heaviness and/or warmth.
5) Focus on the undeniable positive truths in your present moment-to-moment experience… and keep it simple
While practicing your anxiety management skills (e.g. techniques for coping with anxiety), what positive truths about your experience do you observe? Well, odds are that you are breathing in and out, no? There is a good chance your hands might be by your side, or in your lap, or holding one another, correct? Or you’re sitting in a chair or a couch, right (or if you are active, you are moving in some kind of predictable way, such as swaying your arms from side to side or moving your feet/legs one in front of the other)? Allow yourself to concentrate on these positive, pleasant and undeniable moment-to-moment sensory experiences. And if you find it helpful, repeat them to yourself – such as “I’m breathing in and out… my feet are on the floor… my hands are by my side.” These kind of statements are very soothing. I initially tend to emphasize these rather than reassurances about the future (e.g. ‘everything will be alright’) which are more difficult to empirically prove and may be connected to anxious fears.
6) Mindful self-statements
When you become more comfortable with your practice of dealing with anxiety, try adding some mindfulness-based statements, such as: “I am aware of ___” / “I breathe through __” / “I release __” If this language doesn’t feel right for you, substitute statements that do. There is no magical formula.
These tips are a great place to start. However, it’s always important to trust your own responses and do what works for you. Ultimately, the best way to learn how to deal with anxiety is to know how to listen clearly and accurately to your own signals and follow the wisdom of your body. Also, remember that anxiety help is around the corner. Consider speaking with a trained and licensed mental health professional for more extensive consultation.
Eric Spiegel, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and practice director of Attune Philadelphia Therapy Group. He is the President of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH) for 2018-2019, and has won numerous awards from ASCH, including their Early Career Achievement Award (2012). Dr. Spiegel is the co-author of the book Attachment in Group Psychotherapy, published by the American Psychological Association. He has also published journal articles and book chapters on subjects such as attachment, hypnosis, group therapy, anxiety, trauma, and relationships.