5 Techniques for Calming Your Anxiety

Anxiety is a common experience in our modern world. Our bodies and brains were not designed for the constant onslaught of information that we take in from the external world through social media, electronics, people, and everyday life. If you find yourself thinking, “I get overwhelmed so easily my anxiety is so bad,” keep reading. We’ve broken down some of our favorite coping strategies for anxiety to help you take back your life. 

#1: Understand Your Anxiety

It might seem counterintuitive, but it can help to understand where your anxiety is coming from and why it exists. The human brain is the most sophisticated thing we know of in the universe! It allows us to respond to our environment with amazing speed and can also learn, plan, and predict the future. However, when you combine the amazing human capacity for creativity with a primitive mammalian survival system, you can run into problems. 

Robert Sapolsky, in his book “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” talks about this glitch. Zebras and other mammals are not chewing grass on the tundra worried about tigers. They don’t suddenly break out in a sweat or have a panic attack as they imagine a tiger running towards them. They only feel scared of a tiger when there is an actual, literal tiger in front of them. Humans, on the other hand, can conjure up all sorts of terrifying things. The problem is that our primitive survival system doesn’t know the difference between a real tiger and an imagined one. It’s very common for the mere thought of something horrible to be enough to trigger a full-blown fight, flight, or freeze response. Viola, anxiety! 

#2: Poly-Vagal Theory and Poly-Vagal Stimulation Exercises Can Help

Poly-Vagal Theory involves stimulating the vagus nerve to help lower anxiety. Many clinical psychologists are recognizing the power of stimulating the vagus nerve as new scientific research shows the benefits of this practice. 

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in our bodies and connects our brain to many different organs. You can activate the vagus nerve through various exercises including cold exposure, singing and chanting, and massage. Cold exposure regularly can lower the “fight or flight” response that anxious people often feel at a higher level than those who are less anxious. You can expose yourself to the cold through cold showers or by ending your shower with a 30-second cold session. 

When it comes to singing and chanting, you can spend a few minutes each day singing your favorite songs or practice a chanting meditation. For massage, receiving a massage from a masseuse is one way to activate the vagus nerve but you can also self-massage. 

#3: Ongoing Health Maintenance is Important

It’s easy to skip over the activities that we undertake in our daily lives, but we shouldn’t. Things like sleep, diet, exercise, connection with others, and personal passion projects help keep us in good health. If you are not doing these things, it’s time to start. It can be difficult to find the time for connecting with others or working on hobbies and passion projects. 

One way to make sure that you don’t skip these activities is to schedule them into your weekly schedule. We often schedule work obligations but forget to schedule a time to relax and disconnect from the workweek. 

#4: Deep Breathing

Breathing deeply from your diaphragm is a good way to slow your heart rate, relax your muscles, and send a signal to your nervous system that it is okay to calm down. Deep breathing can trigger our parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us feel calmer and more connected to ourselves. It can help take the awareness that we have on our anxiety and refocus it on our bodies. A simple deep breathing exercise that you can try is to slowly breathe in for five counts, pause for one count, and then slowly exhale for five counts, pause for one count, and repeat. 

#5: Talk to a Professional

A licensed therapist can share more information about how to implement anxiety-reducing techniques. Not every technique works well for every person. Sometimes anxiety can be reduced from simply having a place to work through problems and to vent feelings. A psychotherapist can provide a safe space for you to explore how you feel and act as a confidant for your most personal thoughts and feelings. 

If you want to learn more about how you can combat anxiety, we would love to meet you. Our team of therapists are well versed in anxiety and can help you move forward with your life. 

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Dr. Chris Tickner, MFT

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