If you’ve been struggling with anxiety for a while, you’ve probably experienced how difficult it can sometimes be to talk yourself down if your anxiety has reached even a 3 out of 10. I’m writing this post to offer you some ways that you can take on your anxious episodes by using your body, and hopefully build your sense of self-efficacy at being able to manage your anxiety.
The trick when you are feeling anxious is to override what your head is doing and tap into the resources of your body, which is where your anxiety is being played out anyway.
I’ve listed three things you can try, and they’re sorted in ascending order of effort required/potential effectiveness:
Extend Your Exhalations
You can experiment with this right now if you like. Try inhaling for 5 seconds, then exhaling for 10 seconds. The act of exhalation engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which serves to relax the body. Try doing 5 rounds and see what you notice. You can even hold your breath for a few seconds after inhaling to increase the power of your exhalation.
This method, which involves gently tapping on 9 meridian points on your head and upper body, takes a little bit of effort to learn, but you may find that it is well worth it. You will read mixed reviews about tapping, but you are the best expert on what works for you, so give it a try and see what you think. I’m impressed with the results, and Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist and a pre-eminent theorist in the trauma field, is an advocate. Here are a couple of links that demonstrate the tapping points. I’ve chosen these videos because I think each woman does a good job of demonstrating the tapping points, not because I am promoting anything that these videos may be selling. Video 1 and Video 2. Once you have the points down, you have a portable stress management tool that you can use in all kinds of places, even in a washroom cubicle at work if need be. Just do the rounds of tapping while talking (silently or out loud) about what is upsetting you as if you were speaking to a friend or your therapist. Go round and round until you feel a shift.
Tapping does a really good job of calming the ‘fight or flight’ response, so that you can begin to think more clearly again, and focus on your life. If you find that this method is helpful for you, you can even try simply pressing on the collarbone points when tapping wouldn’t be convenient, say, during a meeting.
Do Your Own Version of Flashdance
While you may find that a brisk walk outside can be sufficiently calming when you’re feeling anxious, sometimes going outside can feel like more than is possible at the moment. At a time like this, when you’re feeling quite anxious, your body has collected stress hormones in preparation to fight or flee, so you would really benefit from flushing them out with something fun that makes your body work hard enough. This suggestion of course comes with the proviso that your health permits vigorous movement. When you are really anxious I realize that it can be hard to take action, or it can feel hard then to do something nice for yourself, but I bet that you will be surprised at the change in the way you feel if you just give this a try. Why not put on a couple of your favourite songs that contain a fast beat, and go for it for the duration? Just give things over to your body and see what happens.
If you notice a difference from your experiment with vigorous activity, I hope that you will be inspired to move your body every day as a ‘prescription’ against anxiety.