Anxiety is a normal part of life, and everyone experiences some anxiety now and then. However, anxiety can feel more debilitating at times, and more intense anxious states may appear at certain points in one’s life, for instance during a significant life change.
Anxiety is about the future. It triggers thoughts and worries about something that may happen in the future. This is one of the main reasons why most of the techniques that will be discussed below bring you back to the present moment, to the here and now.
It is important to understand that anxiety is not dangerous, and that worrisome thoughts caused by anxious states are just thoughts, and nothing more. It seems obvious, but intense anxiety can cause us to give these thoughts a much greater importance than they actually have, and if we give the anxious thoughts too much importance, then we risk perpetrating the anxiety.
Another important point is that we cannot expect the anxiety to disappear from one day to another, and the best strategy is to learn to cope with stress and anxious feelings and eventually, its intensity will become less strong and overwhelming.
A few simple techniques:
Breathing – If you have experienced feeling very anxious, then you will most probably have experienced symptoms like shortness of breath, dizziness, or feeling like you are unable to take in a full breath. What tends to happen when we are anxious or stressed is that we breathe with the upper part of our lungs, which prevents more oxygen from coming into the body. If we bring more air and breath slowly, then the body will start to slow down and find a calmer state.
A simple technique is to place your hands over your abdomen, and to start inhaling and exhaling slowly through your nostrils, paying attention to the movement of your belly. Inhale, push your abdomen outwards, exhale and relax the abdomen in. Continue breathing in this way for several minutes, paying attention to the sensations caused by the breath. When you breathe using your abdomen, you bring more air to your lungs, as you are also using the lower part of the lungs.
Mindfulness – Often, if we are feeling anxious, we understandably try very hard to get the anxiety to go away, as we don’t want to feel this way. However, trying to feel different only makes us feel worse. The most helpful thing we can do is actually to accept the feelings and thoughts we are experiencing, without fighting against them. This is the principle of mindfulness: to accept what is.
Notice the sensations in your body, without any judgement, trying not to analyse or change anything. Notice even the most subtle feelings, e.g. “right now I notice that my heart is beating quickly… I notice that I have a tingling sensation in my right hand, etc.”
Colouring – Colouring, free drawing and painting are creative activities that bring us back to the present moment, as we become easily engrossed when practising them. The movement of the hand and the ‘reverie’ state that colouring produces help engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which eventually results in a calming physiological response. You can find mindfulness colouring books online or in many bookstores.
Apps – Download apps like Breathe and Calm on your smartphone. You will find breathing and mindfulness exercises to help you relax.