Calm Body, Calm Mind
Anxiety can feel overwhelming. Calming it doesn't have to be. Use these strategies anytime, anywhere.
You Can Calm Anxiety
Anxiety refers to the thoughts, feelings, and actions we have when we've perceived a threat or danger. It can feel like uneasiness, tension, irritability, worry, dread, or even panic.
Anxiety is a normal part of being human and isn't always considered a disorder. However, it can still be uncomfortable. For some people, anxiety can interfere with daily life, cause significant distress, and become difficult to manage. This is when they may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Whether you've been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or need a mental health boost, there are ways you can calm anxiety in your daily life.
The Essential Elements of Calming Anxiety
Anxiety symptoms can be seen in our thoughts, feelings/physical sensations, actions, and mental images. Learning how to address each of these areas is key to calming anxiety.
Where would you like to begin?
You've probably figured out more about your anxiety than you give yourself credit for. You can use that to your advantage to create a concrete coping strategy that helps you notice anxiety faster and take helpful steps earlier.
Turn your intuition about what works for you into intentional, actionable steps by naming these 3 things:
tell: a personal signal that anxiety's been triggered
trigger: a signal to your body that you're in danger
glimmer: a signal to your body that you're safe
Put It All Together
More tools to help you name your triggers and glimmers:
If you've ever tried to think your way out of anxiety, you know that that's not the easiest path. The first thing to do when your heart starts beating faster and your brain is overthinking is calm your body down. Breathing can help you do that. Breathing helps your body feel safe again, and that can give you a bigger, more grounded perspective on a stressful situation.
Here's a breathing strategy to try:
Breathe in through your nose to a mental count of 4.
Expand your belly as you breathe.
Hold your breath to a count of 7.
Exhale slowly to a count of 8.
Pause a moment before breathing in again.
Grounding Helps Too
Grounding is a way to connect back with the present moment, which helps you feel calmer, more focused, and clear on what to do next. There are lots of grounding exercises out there, so experiment and find something you like.
Like numbers? Count backwards by 2, 3, or 4, whatever’s challenging for you.
Like simple? Name everything you see that’s blue (or any color)
Like distraction? Try eating a sour candy, or holding an ice cube in your hand.
Like a little of everything? Try this:
Our brains are designed to let fight, flight, or freeze take over our thought process when we're feeling threatened or in danger. The result is overthinking. The more anxious we are, the more likely we are to overthink. And the more we overthink, the more anxious we get.
You can counteract the drive to overthink by giving your brain a concrete, non-threatening task. It doesn't have to be complicated or related to your anxiety to work. Giving your brain something to do can help you feel more calm and in control. From that place, you can think through whatever was on your mind more clearly.
4 Ways to Stop Overthinking
Name It: Acknowledge that you're overthinking and talk yourself through your anxiety coping skills.
Go With What You Know: Talk or think through things you know well, like a recipe you know by heart.
Single Tasking: Do one thing with your full attention.
Find Easy Facts: What color is the sky? Where did you go to high school? A little bit of certainty is a safety cue to your brain.
Talk Yourself Through Your Worries
What questions can you answer?
Write down what you're thinking and look for the questions you can answer. If your worries are not answerable, try rephrasing them.
What if I fail can become what are the requirements to stay in my major or keep my scholarship or what are my options for retaking this class?
Think what NOW (not what if).
Refocus on what information, resources, and solutions are available to you now.
Look for solutions.
Shift from a problem mindset to a solution mindset. Set a timer for about 10 minutes and brainstorm as many solutions as you can - without editing or analyzing them.
After your 10 minutes are up, choose 1 that sounds good enough and take a baby step in that direction.
Look for more possibilities.
Anxiety can become preoccupied with the worst-case scenario. As you walk yourself through a stressful situation, gently ask yourself if anxiety is the whole truth. Make a list of other possibilities.
Anxiety can make it feel like you’re all alone in a scary situation, and it can come with critical self-talk. Self-compassion can be a powerful way to make you feel safer and more connected.
Self-compassion is a way of being present, understanding, and kind to yourself when you’re feeling emotional pain. It involves 3 components:
- recognizing and naming that you’re hurting
- reminding yourself that this feeling is a shared human experience
- choosing to do something caring or soothing for yourself
Soothe Anxiety with Self-Care & Kindness
Nourish Your Body
Eat nourishing, satisfying meals and keep a healthy snack handy for your long days.
Move Your Body
Moving your body helps release pent-up anxious energy.
Put It All Together
What's something helpful you could say to yourself the next time you're anxious?
What's something caring you could do for yourself?
Writing It Down Can Help
Because avoidance is a common part of anxiety, many people find taking small steps outside of their comfort zone or engaging in exposure therapy to be an important part of managing anxiety.
How Exposure Helps
Although avoiding or escaping a feared situation can relieve anxiety in the short run, they can reinforce anxiety and prevent us from learning valuable skills over time. This makes our world much smaller and our anxiety much more intense.
When you face your fears in a thoughtful way, a few things happen. You can:
- become comfortable feeling uncomfortable
- see what actually happens vs. what you were afraid would happen
- learn ways to tolerate or manage the way anxiety feels
- build valuable skills for getting through the feared situation
- gain valuable experience and insights into your fears
- boost confidence in yourself
The Steps of Exposure
Follow along with The Psych Show's Dr. Ali Mattu as he demonstrates these exposure steps with his own real-life, real-time example:
- Name what you're afraid will happen and how much you believe it.
- Identify your motivation for facing this fear.
- Make a list of all the situations where you'll likely encounter your fear.
- Test it out and see what actually happens. Feeling uncomfortable is part of the process.
- Get lots of evidence about what happens in the situation and with your anxiety.
- Combine your fears and remove safety behaviors.
- Mix it up with different settings.