Anxiety is more than just a feeling; it’s a physical manifestation of fear and worry, that can come up as a knot in your stomach, a cold sweat, or even as severe as fainting spells and heart palpitations. Panic attacks as a result of anxiety can be crippling, disrupting your day in ways that are both difficult to expect or account for. After all, while we can sometimes name the source of our anxiety – i.e. a big test coming up – sometimes, the triggers are not as obvious.
1. Feel your anxiety.
Take a moment and – as scary as it sounds – feel what you are feeling. Psychologists often stress (pun unintended) that it’s important to not avoid the emotion because, while anxiety is uncomfortable, it’s not dangerous. When anxiety triggers the alarm that danger lies ahead, our instinct is to run – we’re in fight or flight mode – but this often doesn’t help when it comes to unavoidable situations (i.e. the test, maybe a date you have set up, a job interview). As a result, feel what you’re feeling and tell yourself that what lies ahead is a challenge, not a threat. Acknowledge the possible outcomes and you’ll find yourself better able to deal with the anxiety you are facing.
2. Give yourself a hug.
In the same way that smiling induces a chemical reaction in the brain that releases certain hormones (including dopamine and serotonin) that increases our feelings of happiness and reduces stress, giving yourself a hug can soothe the nerves. I know, self-hugging might sound silly, but it’s actually really helpful.
Psst! A nifty trick (might not work for some, do note!) is to pull out a comfy blanket, wrap yourself in it and sit snug.
Research from 2011 shows that hugging yourself reduces pain, as backed by another study in 2015 that suggests that this has to do with the hormone oxytocin (aka the “love hormone”), which is released when a person experiences a soothing touch. Not to mention the fact that a hug generally brings about the feeling of comfort and safety. And while applying this gentle pressure can calm your nerves, knowing that you’re the one comforting yourself can be empowering – rather than wait for someone else to support you, you’re taking important steps in understanding that you can comfort and be the support that you need.
3. Do something that does not require much thought.
For some, the idea of mindlessly going about a task can seem ridiculous. Why do something for the sake of doing something? As it turns out, finding a motor activity – one that requires more action than thought – is a great way to calm anxiety. Whether you choose to pick up painting, colouring, baking or putting together a puzzle, keeping your mind on what you’re doing rather than how you’re feeling can take the focus off your anxiety triggers and onto whatever it is you’re holding.
Anxiety can be good, it keeps us motivated and excited about life. It can even act as a subconscious signal that something isn’t feeding your present needs (maybe your relationship is no longer working, or you’re feeling trapped in a job with no growth, perhaps financial issues have you losing sleep) and allow you to notice the adjustments you need to make in your life. The next time you feel overwhelmed, try the tips here and remember: you’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem.
*Cover image credits: 'Parks and Recreation', NBC