This article was originally published on August 20, 2015.
They say that if you really want to learn something, you have to teach it. I want to learn to improve the way I handle anxiety, so hopefully sharing these tips for immediate anxiety relief will benefit author and readers alike.
Over the years, I think I’ve made good progress in creating a life with built-in stress relief. I stick to a routine (for the most part). I eat healthy meals. I exercise regularly. I grant myself downtime. All of these habits help me process daily stress in a healthy way. There are days, however, when something just pushes me over the edge, and before I can say ommm, I’m swallowing back tears and trying not to hyperventilate.
I don’t think moments of intense anxiety are abnormal. Some of us are genetically predisposed to anxiety, and it’s probably safe to say that all of us have experienced the inner turmoil that results when mental fatigue meets unpredicted stressor. This post will point to a few ways to calm those flashes of anxiety when you need immediate relief, so you can address the problem at hand from a more centered place.
1. Slow your breath. I’ve heard that taking deep, slow breaths can offer almost instant aid for anxiety, but I’ve also read that taking deep breaths when your body wants to hyperventilate can make you feel like you’re suffocating. I think the latter is true for me, but everyone’s body is different. I would try both slow, deep breaths and slow, more shallow breaths to see which calms you more. The important part is to slow down without feeling physical discomfort.
2. Try lavender. Rubbing a lavender-infused lotion or oil on your hands, temples, or collarbone can help you return to a state of calm (and feel pampered!). Just be sure to choose a product that’s formulated with actual lavender essential oil. A synthetic perfume version just isn’t the same.
3. Wash your face. I confess to writing half of this draft with mascara stains on my cheeks. I wanted to put my feelings on pause and get my work done! While doing a productive task can help divert your attention away from all the feels, you still have to take care of yourself. Washing your face can feel like a mental reboot. Splash cool water on your face at least 10 times and gently pat dry.
4. Acknowledge that you are experiencing anxiety. Observe your feelings from a more detached and nonjudgmental place. Trying to ignore or downplay your emotions may just making you feel guilty for having them in the first place, which only makes things worse! (Trust me, I’m well acquainted with feeling anxious about being anxious.) Calmly observing your feelings may seem impossible if you feel pretty worked up, but you can start by describing your feelings: I feel my heart racing. My head is throbbing. I feel trapped. Then you can remind yourself that you have strategies to manage the situation, and as bad as the anxiety feels, it’s not permanent.
5. Put on some tunes. Do you have a favorite song or artist that puts you at peace? It doesn’t have to be the music from your yoga class. I love listening to The Weepies when I feel out of sorts. Sometimes a little playful, sometimes a little sad, but always sweet, they’re the Gilmore Girls of my iTunes.
6. Touch something. Focusing on touching something tangible, like making a paper swan or cleaning your keyboard, can help you feel more grounded. The idea is that your brain can only focus on one thing at a time, so your attention is taken away from your panic and applied to whatever is between your fingers.
7. Do a forward bend. Forward bends, like touching your toes or hanging out in child’s pose (see photo above), are calming for the nervous system and can also help contribute to that sense of grounding that accompanies doing something tangible.
8. Watch cat videos. Watching cat videos can help you feel calmer and oddly enough, improve productivity (what?!). Plus, there’s nothing like a cat living the thug life to make us laugh—and there’s nothing like laughter to deflate anxiety.
What helps you calm down when you have anxiety?
Related: On Living with Chronic Anxiety
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Photo: Mary Hood Luttrell