How to calm your anxiety

Anxiety can be an incredibly difficult thing to live with. Your thoughts spiral, your heart races and your body is uncomfortable. The first thing – anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s very common. It was once helpful – back when we were cavemen, having an increased sense of alarm kept us vigilant and safe. The problem is, we haven’t evolved as much as we think we have. Our brains can confuse the stress of a work call as the same as being stalked by a tiger – so know, it’s a biological response, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s your brain’s way of keeping you safe, but there are ways to calm it.

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In this article, I have listed some discreet, quick methods that can help relieve your anxious symptoms, as you work on a long-term solution. If you resonate with any of the below, perhaps consider contacting a counsellor for a therapy session. I work with many anxious individuals and help them find relief in their everyday lives. From one anxious bean to another - let's get started!

Everyone operates differently so you might have to try a few things before you find the method that works best for you.


4 quick and discreet methods to relieve symptoms of anxiety

1. Breathe

I know – It sounds so simple it’s silly – but it really isn’t. If there is one technique that I’ll say everyone has to commit to – it’s breathing.

When we’re in an anxious state, our breathing increases. If you slow down your breath, you signal to your brain that you are safe, and don’t need to breathe rapidly as if you’re about to run away.

There are many breathing techniques out there – for those who like the distraction of numbers there’s the '4-7-8 method.' Breathe in with your nose for four. Hold your breath for seven. Exhale through the mouth for eight. Keep your hand on your stomach and try to move your breath there rather than up in your chest. The distraction of counting can also be helpful if your thoughts are spiralling.

For those who like visuals, there is 'box breathing'. Imagine a box and your breath is travelling down the outline of the box. In all exercises, make your exhale longer than your inhale if you can help it. Really focus on the sensation of your breath – how it feels travelling in your body, the warmth of it on your lips and the end of your nose.

If you have asthma or other difficulties breathing,you can use the 'pursed lip' method. Breathe in through your nose slowly, hand on your stomach focusing here, and exhale slowly by pursing your lips – as if sucking a straw. Remember to exhale longer than you inhale.

2. The colour spotting game

One of my favourites. Pick a colour and look for it around you, it can be like a video game – you get 50 points for each new blue thing you spot. Maybe first it’s your T-shirt, next could be a woman’s handbag, after that a billboard? What you’re doing is redirecting your focus away from yourself. Soon you’ll be more focused on the next blue thing than whatever made you anxious.

3. Grounding

How often are you aware of your feet? Can you feel your pinky toe? When our minds are racing – it can be easy to be swept up in our thoughts, so instead – redirect your focus on the physical. Your body, and the textures that you feel – things you had otherwise never noticed before. Imagine your consciousness travelling in your body, sight-seeing what each part of your skin feels like. You can start at the top of your head – your hair, the feeling of wind on your scalp, your brows – if you feel tension there, make your face soft. Your jaw – if your tongue is on the roof your mouth, drop it down and relax. Your shoulders – if they’re up by your ears, drop them. Your chest – focusing on your breathing again, being in your belly instead. Focusing on your clothes and what they feel like. Then your legs, and your feet, feeling the sensation of the ground beneath you – and travelling back up.

You can do this anywhere, even if you are interacting with people. Just subtly focus on your fingers in your hands, or your feet on the ground. Your earrings touching your skin. Bring yourself back into the present.

4. 5-4-3-2-1 senses

Similar to the colour spotting game, focus on your senses. What are five things you can see? Four things you can hear? Three things you can touch? Two things you can smell? One thing you can taste? Depending on where you are you can switch the numbers and senses around as well. Again – really helpful in diverting your attention away from your anxiety and calming your nervous system.

So now maybe you have some short-term releases that help you cope, but now you’re ready to get to the core of the issue. What’s next?

Therapy

Therapy can be incredibly helpful. Very often, extreme anxiety is the symptom of something bigger – your brain feels constantly under threat, why? Where has this come from? Attending therapy with a professional who is trained to support you in finding the answers can be incredibly healing. Unlike friends and family, we therapists are trained to not shy away from your fears. I promise you – your anxiety does not scare me. Together, we can get to the core of the issue and help your brain realise it’s safe with you.

Diet

Not a lot of people realise how much our food impacts our mood! Recent studies have shown that the gut is essentially the second brain – every gut is different and responds to foods differently. A great example is alcohol – you might find your friends can drink just as much as you and the next day feel fine, but you feel tired and depressed. Alcohol, caffeine, drugs, protein, fats, fibre (and the sneaky culprit… sugar!) can all have a massive impact on your mood. So it’s always worth looking at what you’re ingesting and if there is a change needed there.

Exercise

I know, everyone says it – doesn’t make it any less true! Anxiety – it’s a bit like electricity – it has a lot of energy and needs somewhere to go. When it has nowhere to go, it combusts inside us instead – hence anxiety and panic attacks. So give it a place to go! Whether that’s strength training, going for a run, or simply dancing energetically in your bedroom. Anxiety wants movement, if you give it consistent movement, I guarantee you’ll feel a change.

Exposure

Look at what type of anxiety you are facing, because usually, a big part of the answer is doing the opposite of what your anxiety wants you to do. This is when having a therapist can be especially helpful, they can support you as you start creating gentle exposure to the things that scare you. For example, if you have social anxiety you need to prove to your brain being around other people is OK – this includes going to parties, joining a club, or attending family gatherings. Yes, you might find it incredibly hard, but you did it! You can come home and say to yourself – “Yes that was tough, but I’m OK. I’m safe.” Keeping your foot on the pedal and attending these events, should eventually make your anxiety soften and turn into perhaps normal nerves that you can put aside.

Time with yourself

Despite what anxiety may tell you, and how it feels – you are in control. You decide how much focus you put on your anxiety. Work with your therapist in deciding how you’d benefit from some alone time with your anxiety – being able to be alone with your thoughts and feel safe to do so, is an essential skill to gain. If you can do that – you can treat anxiety as a visitor in your home. You can say: “Ah! You are here, welcome. Let me make you some tea, what are you trying to tell me?” This can be done a number of ways – going for a walk out in nature, journaling, or another arty type of expression. Be with yourself and see what you learn – if this feels like too much, again, this is when therapy can be most helpful. Your therapist can be present with you as you sit with difficult feelings and thoughts.

Community

We all need people we feel safe with to let our guard down, more so than ever. Whether you have many friends and family, or maybe you just have your therapist in the beginning – that is OK. Just have one other person, you can always gain more later. Anxiety can feel all-consuming. It can be very helpful to have an outside perspective you can lean on occasionally. A friend who smiles at you across the room at a party, a family member supporting you with a difficult task, or your therapist being with you as you release all the tears you’ve been holding back. We need our anxiety to be witnessed, and most importantly, validated – to have someone we care for or trust say: “It's not all in your head - I see it too. I see how hard you’re struggling – you’re not crazy, you’re doing better than you think you are. Let me help where I can.” Can be just the release we need.

I hope you found this article helpful, bearing in mind all these techniques work best when they’re all used together. I have suffered with anxiety most of my life, and as part of my healing journey, I became a therapist – committed to supporting others break free from the anxiety that clings to them. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Haslemere, Surrey, GU27 2AB
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Written by Grace Parker
Haslemere, Surrey, GU27 2AB

Grace Parker is an Integrative Counsellor. She offers online and face to face sessions in Haslemere and Guildford, Surrey.

Grace offers her clients a warm, natural and empathic space to explore their Depression and Anxiety. She focuses heavily on finding the root cause, as well as how to make peace with the present using art and worksheets.

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