Here are four simple, easy to use strategies, proven to be beneficial in the management of anxiety.
Breathing is one of the first things to change automatically once our Fight or Flight response is activated through our sympathetic nervous system. When we subsconsciously detect threats in our environment our survival instinct aims to increase our oxygen supply to the muscles in our major muscle groups so that they are prepared to either stay and fight the threat, or run to safety (flight).
So, how do we get more oxygen into our bodies? We breathe it in. You'll usually notice when you are anxious your breath becomes faster and shallower as you attempt to obtain more oxygen into your body.
To nip the Fight or Flight Response in the bud, we can take conscious control back over one of the first things that changes when we are feeling anxious, our breathing.
Try this simple controlled breathing exercise.
- Hold your breath and count to six.
- Exhale slowly to the count of three, forcing all of the air out of your lungs.
- Then, inhale slowly and deeply to the count of three.
- Repeat the exhale/inhale process nine times.
Once you've completed that full cycle, one minute will have passed and you should notice your anxiety symptoms have or are subsiding. You can easily repeat the controlled breathing cycle one more time and that should be enough to have returned your body to a more relaxed state.
Feel free to get creative with the counting. You might inhale for 2, hold for 3 and exhale for 4, for example. It doesn't matter, as long as you count.
The counting is important because it occupies your cognitive space that you might otherwise use to worry!
Tip: Practice this one when you are feeling calm. It needs to become an automatic process that you can easily access when you are stressed or anxious, so don't wait until you are stressed or anxious to try it out, it won't work. And don't worry, no one needs to know what you're doing. You can use this one anyway. I do it ten minutes before an exam or interview and it works like a charm.
Legs Up The Wall - Yoga Pose
This is a yoga pose designed to do everything wonderful for us, especially activate the parasympathetic nervous system which has the opposite effects to the sympathetic nervous system during Fight or Flight. This one slows down our breathing and our heartrate and promotes relaxation, among other things. It's also wonderful for insomnia. Just 15 minutes of lying in this position has the equivalent effect of three hours sleep! My yoga teacher taught me that.
This image is from yogaoutlet.com
The pose is easy to do, find yourself a wall, lie on your back with your bottom close to the wall, with your legs straight and resting up the wall, arms straight with palms up. Bliss. You could do this prior to going into an exam, or before completing any other anxiety provoking activity. It's also great just before bed to help with sleep.
Write it Down
Another piece of pure and simple genius is to fill the ten minutes prior to your bullfight... I mean, exam/interview/speech etc... with writing down all of your worries and feelings. This apparently helps to activate your pre-frontal cortex, engaging your 'thinking' brain, whilst emptying your working memory, leaving you with space to focus on the task in front of you. So just before you enter the room, write!
Reframe or Label It
One final and very quick strategy that is very important during the actual activity, is to be able to cognitively evaluate any anxiety in a productive way. One way to do this is to label what you are thinking or feeling:
Sometimes it can be helpful to simply say to yourself:
"That's just a thought."
"That's a feeling."
"Oh look, that's just my anxiety talking, this situation isn't really a life or death one."
You could also acknowledge your mind for doing it's job, albeit doing it too well.
"Thank you mind. I know you're just doing your job and helping me survive, but I think I've got this one covered."
You can also put it into perspective and give it a positive reframe.
"I'm feeling a litte bit anxious which is a positive thing because a little bit of anxiety will actually help me perform better."
Be sure to look out for more articles in our upcoming series on anxiety.
Can't wait to hear your feedback on how you went with any of these strategies. Best of luck!