How to Free Yourself from Anxiety
Anxiety seems to be the way of the modern world: anxiety has been on the rise for years, especially in women and young people, and the pandemic saw a record uptick in reported anxiety levels. However, while these statistics are troubling, they have also brought a new awareness to the problem – and a new focus on ways to help people who might be struggling.
Though anxiety often interacts with common experiences such as worry and negative thinking, it can be much more intense and uncontrolled and also comes with unpleasant physical symptoms – ranging from tension and upset stomach to debilitating full-blown panic attacks.
That’s because anxiety is closely related to the fight-or-flight response and thus impacts our entire nervous system, which can mean serious consequences if it remains untreated and morphs into chronic stress.
People suffering from anxiety disorders or who have trouble managing their everyday stress may benefit from the help of a professional. But there are several things you can do on your own to calm your mind when anxiety starts to take hold.
Practice Deep Breathing
One of the most important things you can do if you start to feel anxious is to take deep, controlled breaths. As we mentioned above, anxiety has distinct effects on the nervous system that can accompany negative or obsessive thinking – and the effects on the brain can heighten the effects on the body and vice-versa, creating a nasty feedback loop.
Deep breathing techniques can help to interrupt those effects by calming the nervous system, and focusing your mind on the physical sensation of your breath can help quiet all that chaotic mental chatter. You can practice deep breathing no matter where you are, though it can help you lie down on the floor to relax your body and zero in on the physical sensation of your lungs and abdomen expanding and releasing.
Take up meditation
Focused deep breathing is often the first step and a key part of developing a meditation practice. Meditation is a heavily researched, frequently recommended way to combat anxiety.
In addition to helping you relax and recenter yourself at the moment, it has long-term benefits that can reduce and prevent anxiety in the future. If you want to learn how to meditate, there are many resources out there that can help.
Get up and move
Changing your scenery can help interrupt obsessive or frightening thoughts, and walking (especially outside) is shown to be beneficial for mental health and focus.
More broadly, aerobic exercise in general is shown to elevate mood and increase mental health, thanks in part to increased blood circulation to the brain and a host of feel-good chemicals that are released when we work out. Exercise can also help mitigate and complete the stress response cycle, releasing you from fight-or-flight mode and helping to reduce chronic stress.
Listen to music
Listening to music, in addition to simply being fun and pleasurable, has been shown to have real mental health benefits, such as regulating stress and mood. Listening to music has been shown to lower cortisol levels and release dopamine, both of which are extremely important in managing stress, regulating mood, and increasing positive feelings.
Keep a worry diary
Worry diaries are an oft-recommended therapeutic tool for managing anxiety. In addition to allowing you to vent anxious thoughts, worry diaries can help your brain make sense of those thoughts and neutralize some of their effects.
By writing down your worries, reading them back to yourself, and asking questions about where they come from, you’ll often come to realize that your brain is giving these thoughts more significance – making them way bigger and scarier – than they are in reality.
Seek help from a professional
If your anxiety is having a detrimental effect on your quality of life, and you’re having trouble getting it under control, it may be time to talk to a therapist about it. In addition to helping you dig into the sources of your anxiety, a therapist can offer much more advanced treatment strategies customized to your particular case and needs than articles like this are able to provide.
And while finding a therapist can seem a little daunting, there are a lot of resources out there for guidance – and your mental health is worth the effort.