Raise your hand if you’ve never been anxious… even just a little…
Great news, I likely didn’t unintentionally embarrass any of you by making you raise your hand in public… because I’d be willing to wager that if you’ve even made it until your teenage years, you’ve experienced some type of anxiety. It’s part of life!
Anxiety serves a purpose – if only in the right dose at the right time. When your heart skips a beat because the person in the car next to you swerves toward you… your anxiety is what alerts you to turn your wheel accordingly. Your brain is wired to protect yourself and your loved ones… and that’s great!! But sometimes our brain becomes ridden with anxieties that aren’t life-saving, per say.
As a counselor, I’m frequently asked how to “get rid of” anxiety symptoms. While I don’t have the magic cure for that, I do have ways to alleviate the symptoms, at least temporarily. I also have some ways to be sure you are setting yourself up to avoid unnecessary stressors which would cause anxiety… those will follow in a different blog post. One step at a time.
For now, find below five ways to slow your heart and brain down when your anxiety is at its highest out of the blue. I’ll start with things you can do without leaving the current setting you are in.
1.) Ground Yourself. No, not as in “You stayed out past curfew, you’re grounded!”… as in you’re using your five senses to plant your feet back onto the ground so that you can hold steady. In this approach, you are stating facts to yourself by using your sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. You aren’t forming opinions or elaborating, you’re simply stating facts. This is a distraction technique that brings you back to the here and now and brings you back to reality. So, to ground yourself, you’ll ask yourself (and answer) the following questions:
Answer each of these questions with as many responses as necessary until you begin to notice that physical feeling of a pounding heart, hot face, upset stomach, etc… go away. It will take a few minutes but after you do that, your brain will have cleared up enough that you’ll have the ability to problem solve and plan next steps. Grounding is a great tool to use if you tend to have anxiety at bedtime… it clears the brain so that your anxiety is not transferred to your sleep cycle.
Wait! Wait! Wait!!! I see you scrolling!!! Yes, Meditation is for you, too, Captain WigglesAlot! READ THIS! I promise you can do this!! (And no, it’s not all “ommmm….” and Yoga, either)…
Meditation is simply a way to be mindful about your thoughts. Some of you are digging this already because you enjoy meditation and yoga… But for those skeptics out there, in this context, the purpose of meditation is simply to pay attention to your thoughts… and guide your thoughts to something desirable and/or neutral. One simple method I teach my clients is the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” method. You’re simply singing a song in your head and paying attention to the words, the musical notes, the highs and lows of the sound, the stream of lyrics, and even picturing the song (stars, moon, night sky color, diamonds, a child in wonder and awe, etc…). You’ll notice your mind wandering to your stressors so at that point you simply correct your thought process and guide it right back to that song. Lather, rinse, repeat until you feel that heart rate decrease. You don’t have to use that method, but there are many like-methods that will get you to a point of “meditative peace” that are just as simple.
For a physical relaxation guide to meditation, google “videos for progressive muscle relaxation”… this is a method that is so effective that even high-energy folks (like, me) even seek this out to relax after using it just one time…
3.) Counting and Numbers Games.
I hate math. And math hates me right back (well, that might be a little far-fetched considering I don’t think math has emotions…) but even I am able to come to a point of peace and relaxation using numbers games. For some, simply counting while paying attention to breathing will help. For others, it’s not enough. A method that works for many of my clients (and for me, the math-hater, as well), is counting backwards by random numbers. For example, if I know I’m really stressed, I will count backward from 350 in intervals of 8… So: 350, 342, (this third one made me have to think hard) 334, 326, 318, etc…. whoops, you guys, in having to focus so hard on that mental math (and I’m not going to lie, I had to hold my hands up to get to 342 and count with my fingers), I accidentally began to meditate… again, in this context, I became focused on my thought process and my goal and brought my other thoughts right back to my task of backwards counting.
Another form of using mental math to guide your thoughts and bring you back down to earth is to take a multi-digit number and add it up to make it equal one digit. For example, Caim Counseling’s phone number is 309-648-6549…
3+0+9+6+4+8+6+5+4+9=54 (that took me a LONG TIME to get to with using my head… my 1st grader probably got it quicker…54… 5+4=9. Simple strategy…
4.) Coloring, Drawing, Listening to Music, & Leisure Reading.
Okay… do I need to tell you all about this? I doubt it. But, I will just remind you that dollar stores have a huge selection of coloring books and leisure activities produce endorphin’s, dopamine, & serotonin (which are responsible for helping your pleasure center and combating your grumpy center (that’s not a real term but it is now…). Grab your favorite book or coloring book, get your Pandora going, and take some time to yourself. If you’re wanting to go an extra mile, journal prior to your chosen leisure activity. Journaling can be very therapeutic but can also be emotionally draining at times… so following up your journaling session with something relaxing and enjoyable will help to put those emotions in check and bring closure to whatever it was your mind was on.
For some of us that means parking way extra far away at the grocery store… for others it means going on a 5 mile jog… it doesn’t matter how physically exerting the activity is, the point is to simply get our body moving… Anxiety brings out our fight, flight, or freeze response… sometimes your body is begging you to move!! If your heart is pumping and you are having a hard time sitting still, it’s time to take control over where and how your body is moving… don’t unintentionally pace your hallways… be intentional about it. Go for a jog, do some jumping jacks, do some sit-ups, stretch, do whatever it is your body will allow you to do when its begging you to move. Just don’t over-do it. It’s good to warm-down afterwards if you exert yourself exceptionally hard… so grab your leisure of choice from number 4 and wind down afterwards.
Of course, there are several more options for self-soothing during anxiety. However, these are some that are low-cost and effective. I’ve found that the more you do these things while you’re not anxious, the easier it is to do them while you are. And even better, the more you engage in leisure activities, the less frequently you will find yourself in high-anxiety situations.
Happy Wednesday, all!! If you need me, I’ll be packing up my laptop and reading a book. But if you really need me for a session, you have my number (revisit option number 3 haha).