Updated: Mar 30, 2019
1) Willingness: Increase your willingness to feel anxiety. I realize this sounds very counterintuitive but give me a chance to explain. Most anxiety disorders are more accurately described as anxiety avoidance disorders. Anxiety is a normal physical and emotional sensation. Our reaction to anxiety is where we can run into problems. Most often, society tells us that any negative emotion is bad, and we should strive to feel only positive emotions, like happiness. I get it, positive emotions feel much better than negative emotions. However, we would not value positive emotions without the negative emotions. Additionally, our negative physical and emotional senses are there to protect us in times of danger. So, let’s not give them such a bad rap. Instead of panicking when you feel anxious, try accepting the physical and/or emotional sensation. If we teach ourselves to accept feeling anxious as opposed to finding ways to stop the sensation, then often we discover that our feelings of anxiety, or our reaction to feeling anxious can become less intense. If your feelings of anxiety are from being overwhelmed, try taking a pause to do some breathing or meditating. If your anxiety seems to come from nowhere and is beginning to cause you constant distress, then perhaps you can look for some professional assistance to help you find relief. Of course, if your anxiety is because you are actually in a dangerous situation, then it’s best to get out of there, and/or find help.
2) Breathing: You may or may not already be familiar with breathing techniques, so let me either introduce them to you or give you a refresher. My favorite thing about breathing techniques for anxiety is that our breath is a tool we always have with us, and breathing can be done rather inconspicuously. If breathing techniques sound cliché to you, let me reassure you that our breath is one of the quickest ways to activate either our sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system, which are both a part of our autonomic nervous system. Our sympathetic nervous system is responsible for what you may know as our flight or fight response, accelerating our heart rate and getting us ready for action. Sometimes we need to activate this system, perhaps in an emergency situation, or to get hyped up for a physical competition. On the other hand, our parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for what you may know as rest and digest. This system slows down our heart rate and helps us achieve a calmer state. Breathing techniques can activate either one of these systems. If you take short quick breathes you can activate your sympathetic nervous system. If you take long inhales and even longer exhales you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system. In fact, deep divers utilize this technique in order to slow their heart rates down to maximize their blood oxygen, so they can stay under water longer. So, if you are feeling particularly anxious, try inhaling slowly through your nose, and exhaling through your mouth. Pick a count that is comfortable for you, for example 5 seconds in and 7 seconds out. Just try to ensure that your exhale lasts longer than your inhale. Do this for several repetitions until you can feel the sense of relaxation set in as the anxiousness starts to ease.
3) Physical activity: You’ve likely been made aware by now the importance of physical activity and perhaps you’re even familiar with its benefits to mental health as well. So, if physical activity is not a part of your regular routine, then it’s time to start considering ways to get it in there. Exercise releases chemicals that are helpful in improving your mood, such as endorphins and serotonin. Not to mention the slew of additional physical benefits to all your other body systems. The problem is, when you’ve been in a funk it can be really difficult to find the motivation and energy to begin and maintain a physical activity routine. Let me offer a couple pieces of advice on how to overcome this conundrum. The first bit of advice is to fake it ‘til you make it. Meaning, just start with something, anything, and keep doing it until it no longer feels like you’re forcing yourself. It’s also best to start with very reasonable and small goals, such as taking a walk around your block every other day or doing yoga for 10 minutes a day. If you can get through those first few weeks of dreading your physical activity but doing it anyway, you should start to feel the improvements physically and mentally. Then you can add on in small or large increments until you’re where you think you should be with your exercise regimen. Keeping in mind that it’s important to work with your doctor to determine what forms of exercise are best for you. Also, don’t forget to show yourself love and compassion. If you miss one of your days, or even a week, don’t beat yourself up or think that you’re a failure. Just write it off and keep working towards your goals. The second piece of advice I can offer is to eliminate as many barriers that stand in the way of you reaching your goal as you possibly can. For example, if you set a goal to start running in the morning, lay your running gear right by your bedside. That way when you get up, the thought of digging through your closet won’t become the barrier that prevents you from reaching your goal that day. The smallest barriers can be all it takes to throw us off our paths. If you find you aren’t reaching your physical activity goal, take a moment to determine if there are any barriers that you can remove so that you may stay on track.