Knowing how to overcome anxiety is easier said than done. Maybe you're in the middle of a meeting and you can not walk away. Or maybe you are in the middle of a lecture hall with 300 peers. There is no way out.
Suddenly it happens. You feel hot. The sweat starts pooling and you begin to panic. Anxiety strikes again- but you are stuck in that room. We gotcha'! Here are ways to overcome anxiety when you can't get up and leave. Of course, if you have anxiety, you should be seeking treatment from a mental health professional. In the meantime, try these strategies to help you get through it.
1. Remember to Breathe
Sounds silly, right? One of the first things that happens with anxiety is rapid shallow breathing, which is actually part of your body's stress response system- it is meant to alert you of danger and help you to survive threatening situations. So, it is helpful in an emergency, but can be destructive at work or in class. How do we survive this powerful force? According to Harvard Medical School, belly breathing can bring you back toward a calm state. Here's how to overcome anxiety by breathing:
Breathe in your nose slowly while you count to five and pretend your belly is a balloon. As the air goes into your belly, you should see your stomach get bigger. Then slowly release the breath from your mouth while you count to five. Your belly should deflate causing your stomach to shrink. Practice belly breathing when you are by yourself and you will be a pro in no time and able to initiate belly breathing in the middle of a crowd and stay calm!
2. Check in with Your Muscles
When anxiety strikes, your muscles get tight! The American Psychological Association notes that this stress reaction is a way that our bodies protect us from injury and pain. Try lowering your shoulders. Wiggle your fingers. Gently stretch your neck. If you are at a desk, have a heating pad nearby to place on your neck or back for a few minutes. Heat loosens those tight muscles and may give you just the boost you need.
3. Keep a Smooth Stone in Your Pocket
Sounds like a joke, but it's not! Keep a small object like a smooth rock or a stress ball in your pocket, purse, briefcase etc. Whatever you choose be sure it's something that feels calming to you. The idea is that the sensory piece will help calm you when it is held, award-winning author and nationally certified counselor, Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC explains!
4. Find a Picture or Object in the Room and Hone in on It
Notice the colors and shapes of the picture or object. If other thoughts cross your mind, see them floating away and bring your attention back to the picture. This is called mindfulness and research has found it highly useful in helping people regulate their emotions.
5. Distract Yourself!
Distraction is described as momentarily finding something else to focus on instead of being consumed with the cause of your anxiety. An evidence-based therapy called DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) uses this tool too. Pick a favorite song and go through the lyrics in your mind. Notice intrusive thoughts and bring your focus back to the song. You can also use a picture in your memory or a poem.
6. Drink Lots of Water
Anxiety is often accompanied by rapid breathing, sweating and feeling hot. This can be calmed with cold water. Slowly take a few sips. It's a distraction and a sensory tool all in one!
“There is no quicker way to reduce general anxiety than having good eating and drinking habits. One of the most easily implemented and effective additions to your diet is fresh water. Water is a great quencher of thirst—but more importantly here—It is a helpful tool as an anxiety cure. Nearly every function of the body is monitored and pegged to the efficient flow of water through your system. Water transports hormones, chemical messengers, and nutrients to vital organs of the body. When we don’t keep our bodies well-hydrated, they may react with a variety of signals, such as anxiety, which we would never think are related to our poor drinking habits,” claims Panic-And-Anxiety-Attacks.com
7. Have Your Own Mantra Ready to Go!
This means you come up with a saying or borrow a saying you've heard and repeat it daily. When anxiety strikes, repeat the words in your mind- over and over. It should be a positive, uplifting mantra. For instance, "I am able to handle my feelings." Or "I am making progress." The mind is a powerful tool to control anxiety.
And if these seven tips don't help, we'll leave you with a bonus skill. Blast an upbeat tune like "Shake it Off" or "Another One Bites The Dust!" Smiling and laughing also reduces anxiety. Now come up with your own silly image to recall when anxiety strikes in that meeting. Who knows? That laughter may save the day!