Exercises To Calm Your Anxious Thoughts
What if it gets worse? What if I mess up?
What if I can’t do it and then everyone laughs or gets upset with me?
All of these statements, and many more, are some examples of how anxiety barrels into our lives without invitation. The key to identifying that it is, in fact, anxiety talking...the infamous “What If?” Ultimately, anxiety is our bodies natural reaction to stress. It is what happens when we are fearful or apprehensive about what is to come. The automatic nervous system (responsible for our breathing, our heart rate, and our digestion) will activate and essentially send signals to our body telling it that we are in danger and must prepare. This is where we get the increase in heart rate, the rapid breathing, the butterflies in our stomach, and the many “What Ifs”. Although unpleasant, this feeling will come and go with events like preparing for a job interview or meeting the in-laws for the first time. When this feeling never seems to fully go away, and/or starts to interfere with your day-to-day functioning, it can feel overwhelming.
So how do we control this?
1. Box Breathing.
Commonly used by Police and Military officials prior to entering a high-stress situation, Box Breathing ultimately helps to reset the breath and return the body to its natural baseline:
a. Begin to breathe in through your nose while slowly counting to four. b. Hold the breath in your lungs while slowly counting to four. c. Begin to exhale while slowly counting to four. d. Repeat for roughly two to four minutes.
This may take some practice, and that is OK. Try engaging in this exercise once a day to familiarize yourself with the process. If you find it helpful, you can also trace a square on your thigh or on the top of your hand for an additional tactile component.
2. Unknown Known.
Anxiety operates in thinking errors, two being “Catastrophizing” (i.e. thinking the absolute worst is going to happen) and “Future-Predicting” (i.e. assuming a particular outcome will occur). Either way, it is an unknown and as human beings…we strongly dislike not knowing something. By labeling as many facts as possible, we can help to increase feelings of calm, control, and preparedness, which ultimately decrease feelings of anxiety. Facts can be big or small, from labeling the physical response as anxiety, to what you ate earlier that day, to how many weeks away until your birthday, or anything else in between.
3. 5-4-3-2-1 Rule.
As previously mentioned, anxiety gets us into the habit of living in the future. By bringing yourself into the present moment, your attention is automatically re-rerouted. Further, by engaging all of our senses, we are flipping the teeter-totter from the emotional mind to the logical mind.
While taking a deep breath in and out:
a. List 5 things you can see. b. List 4 things you can hear. c. List 3 things you can feel (i.e. the carpet, the chair, etc.) d. List 2 things you can smell. e. List 1 thing you can taste.
** If the anxiety is coming from an external trigger, like a crowd of people, you can re-order the steps to have the ‘things you see’ be lower on the list.
Anxiety can cause a gr
eat deal of distress and as mentioned, it can feel uncontrollable at times. For some, I can absolutely appreciate how the above strategies are easier said than done. If you feel your anxiety is negatively impacting your life and want some more in-depth strategies, please do not hesitate to contact me and we can explore things in more detail together.