Learn exactly how to reduce anxiety - 10 different ways
Anxiety is fear of the unknown. It's a fear of needing something, and being unable to meet that need. We all worry; we all have things to worry about. Some worry is even necessary for addressing what matters to us. It helps us to avert danger or discomfort. But, we aren't usually taught how to cope with this lack of ease.
What worry or anxiety is
There are different types of worry, which include health anxiety (this is classed as a panic disorder), phobias and social anxiety.
In most cases, worry is about the past or the future. Worry assumes that something was or will be very wrong. It almost always involves giving yourself a hard time and worrying about what others think of you.
The physical signs of anxiety are: a flat face, breathing only in the upper chest, and a monotone high-pitched voice. Because, anxiety is a heightened state of fear and defence. What is happening in the body is that it is getting ready to defend or to protect you.
The belief underneath worry and anxiety is that we cannot cope. We fear what we could feel, rather than what actually is likely to happen. With anxiety, we overestimate risk, and we underestimate our ability to cope. Our belief systems play a huge part in this.
The physiological state of anxiety actually increases concern. As the breath gets higher in the body, we may start to panic. A panic attack can occur with the combination of this chest breathing and worrying thoughts. Especially if there is a belief that there will be a panic attack.
Given that this is a natural physiological state, what can we do?
10 ways to reduce anxiety
The focus of coping with anxiety is on reducing the anxious thoughts, bringing breathing away from your upper chest, and addressing what the anxiety is.
- The breath. Just paying attention to the breath exactly how it actually is, can calm you down. It is a good idea to change your physiological state first, because that heightened physiological state makes being rational impossible. Breath manipulation is one of the easiest things to focus on in the body. Try this: Breathe in naturally, then exhale slowly.
- Hum, or make an 'Aaah' sound. Send the sound outwards as you breathe out.
- Try a 'polyvagal' exercise: Cradling the base of your skull in your hands with your thumbs pointing downwards, turn your head as far as you can to one side, looking towards the wall behind you. Wait until you take a deeper breath, sigh, laugh, cough, or yawn. Repeat on the other side.
- Someone else's voice can be soothing. Choose someone you love, or a calming audio.
- Observe how you behave when you're anxious. How do you respond when something makes you nervous? Engage in reflective activities, like written or audio journaling, to be aware of your anxiety triggers and response. Get to know what thoughts or images you see and have in your mind, when feeling apprehensive.
- What do you do to look after yourself when you feel worried? They say that what you focus on is who you are. So, instead of feeding rumination and worry, focus on kindness, love, and self-compassion. Because that will grow. Change your habitual response to one of caring.
- Develop the ability to know that you can cope. Increase your confidence. Worry asks what if? So answer that question. What's the worst that could happen? Be realistic about what the actual danger is. Fact check.
- List all the criticisms. Then list compassionate responses on the other side. For example, “I'm not stupid, I'm great if you get to know me”
- Sometimes you have to explore the reason why the anxiety is there. So that you can address it. Be understanding and gentle with yourself for feeling this anxiety. Often we feel frustrated with ourselves when we have a strong emotion. But it's there for a reason. What is the anxiety about? Explore what the anxiety is saying. Name the threat. Just as a Mother would investigate the room for monsters if a child had a nightmare about monsters, this can often help you to see it's not as scary as you thought.
- Investigate what is important underneath this worry. Ask what it means that you care about. If you're worried about social anxiety, is the root fear about not being able to connect? Not being able to be authentically you and acceptable? Anxiety is often about abandonment terror; a fear of being ultimately alone. Your nervous system may be revved up from previous trauma. So that anxiety and a feeling of not being safe are always in the background, ready to come out. Often this is about a feeling of not deserving love. This is something that needs compassion, and may need professional support.
The way ahead
Today, I've talked about what worry or anxiety is, how to understand it, and how to cope with it. I've given you some anxiety-reducing techniques and offered ways of exploring anxiety.
Emotion is not the enemy. Replacing fear with curiosity and compassion will take the mystery and power right out of anxiety. This will free you up to connect with the vibrancy in life that you truly deserve.
Some ideas here were inspired by a Nicabm training on working with anxiety. You can buy your full training programme here.