Anxiety has a very unwelcome way of popping up when you least expect it.
It could happen at a party, just when you were starting to have a good time. Or in the middle of the night, making it that much harder to get a blissful eight hours of sleep.
For some, anxiety has a habit of rearing its ugly head in the early morning — just to make sure your day starts off on a really stellar note. And sometimes, it can even creep up on you in work.
Anxiety episodes and disorders are serious, and often need to be treated as such by a doctor. It can take time and practice to nail down a treatment that works for you. However, in those perilous moments of anxiety, we just want a fix and one that will work quickly.
If you’re experiencing some of the symptoms of anxiety, which can include nervousness, feelings of panic, tenseness, difficulty concentrating, panic attacks and tiredness, we caught up with Dee McCormick, Pre-Accredited MIACP, to discover 5 easy ways you can try to calm yourself down when your anxiety bubble up and get the better of you.
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"Firstly, it's important to know that Anxiety is very common so don't be too judgmental on yourself if you have it," says McCormick.
"The ways that I find work most effectively for my clients are 'body-based'. Basically, that means that anxiety keeps you trapped in thoughts and ruminating about things. You can get stuck in a cycle of thinking that makes everything seem worse than it is. Getting back to your body and to your sensations can be very grounding."
This sounds like a typical solution – the sort of thing that someone who doesn’t have anxiety would tell you to do but according to McCormick, breathing really is the "fastest way to calm your anxiety".
"My preferred breathing exercise is in through the nose to your own count of 4 – hold your breath gently for 1 and breathe out through the mouth to your own count of 6. If this seems a lot you can always build-up to the 4 – 1 – 6 count."
While the physical health benefits of exercise are frequently discussed, the psychological benefits are often overlooked. But research shows exercise can be quite beneficial for mental health. "Get in touch with your body," recommends McCormick. "One exercise I love is called The Container by Peter Levine. It’s basically giving yourself a hug which can regulate the nervous system’s stress response."
Here's how to do it:
Step 1: Place your hands on either side of your head. Think about how you are creating edges for your thoughts. You are creating the sides of a container that contains your thoughts. Feel the sensation between your hands.
Step 2: Place one hand on your forehead and one hand on the back of your head. Feel the container around of your thinking. Feel the sensation between your hands.
Step 3: Place one hand on your forehead and one hand on your heart. See if you can sense some sensations between your hands.
Step 4: Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly – it can be over or near your belly button. Feel the sensations between your hands.
Step 5: Place one hand on your solar plexus – the point above your belly and right below your rib cage – and the other hand behind the base of your head – halfway covering the base of your head and halfway onto your neck. The middle of your hand should be over the deepest indentation.
By the end of this sequence, you should feel calmer than when you began.
"Yoga moves/Tai Chi/dance/exercise all work well, too." adds McCormick.
"Experiment with what works for you." For more body techniques that can help soothe anxiety, McCormick recommends watching the video below to find a method that works for you.
The fears in our head always feel much bigger when they don’t have a face. Give yourself a focus by grabbing a pen and paper, and start doodling. Not only will it help you realise what it is you’re actually anxious about when you’re forced to try and express it, but it gives you something to do instead of sitting motionless and flailing in your mind.
"As an Art Therapist, creativity is definitely one of my go-to solutions for anxiety," says McCormick. "Make a collage out of old magazines/doodle/ paint/use clay. We are innately creative and it’s one way of integrating the neural pathways that help to calm anxiety."
Anxiety is a cognitive state connected to an inability to regulate emotions. But research shows that a consistent meditation practice reprograms neural pathways in the brain and, therefore, improves our ability to regulate emotions.
That said, McCormick points out that it's important to know your own body. "Some meditations can invite you to breathe with them but when you have anxiety, that can even be too much. Go at your own pace and find the rhythm that works for you. The most beneficial element is having a longer out-breath than in."
LISTEN TO music
When anxious thoughts become overwhelming we can often look for escapism and comfort, both of which can come in the form of a favourite song. "Music can be a powerful remedy to anxiety," says McCormick.
"One particular song has been used in studies on anxiety reduction it’s called Weightless by Marconi Union. Anything with low beats per minute works effectively. Composers like Hans Zimmer/ Ludivico Ein Audi/ Thomas Newman are all great listens for calming down anxiety."
You practice yoga, you’ve mastered meditation – but have you tried tapping? The therapeutic exercise, also called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), is said to relieve stress and anxiety by using your fingers to gently drum on energy meridians on the body.
"The 'tapping technique' has been used for people with anxiety/PTSD and panic disorders," says McCormick. As you tap on these energy meridians (head, face, neck, under the arm), you’re also speaking and emoting about what’s coming up for you.
It might be something painful, a source of anxiety, or anything pressing going on in your life but by practising EFT, you can identify what it is that's the root of your anxiety and discover ways to overcome it.
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Obviously, mental health apps aren't a replacement for professional mental healthcare, but they can help provide you with skills and small ways to ease your anxiety. "Apps can be really helpful in training your nervous system and brain to be more regulated and calm," explains McCormick.
Understanding anxiety is the first step in managing it. "Another thing that is very helpful is learning about anxiety and panic attacks," says McCormick.
"Read about the stress response and its effects on the body. Having a name for what is going on helps you to overcome it." To learn about anxiety and how to respond, read here.
While the above techniques are all extremely useful for calming anxiety, fast - they're unfortunately not long term solutions.
"Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is helpful in the long term for identifying the intrusive thoughts or maladaptive thought patterns that underlie your anxiety," explains McCormick. "Aware offer free programmes called 'Life Skills' which are designed to help participants learn more about how we think and how this can influence our actions in helpful or unhelpful ways."
If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, there is help available:
- Samaritans – 116 123 – [email protected] or [email protected]
- Pieta House – 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 51444
- Aware - 1800 80 48 48
- Childline – 1800 66 66 66 or free text 50101
Main image by @_jeanettemadsen_