When people put words to their anxiety I often hear things like worry, nervousness, uneasiness, and restlessness; I call anxiety the silent monster. It is apprehension of the unknown, worry about the future, and an unsettling feeling in the body. The irony about anxiety is that the way we react to it often gives it power. We can hyperventilate, notice the tingling in our hands, let our thoughts spiral which sometime throws our bodies into a full blown panic attack; or we can use tools and strategies to alleviate the monster and return ourselves to normal functioning. Here is a list of 5 helpful strategies to manage the monster within and take back control:
1. Square Breathing: This technique is used as a way to maintain control over our breath and calm the nervous system. Imagine a box with four sides, use your finger to draw this imaginary box while inhaling and exhaling. As you draw in breath for the count of four draw a vertical line with your finger. Next, hold your breath for the count of four as you trace the top of the box horizontally. Exhale to the count of four as you trace the opposite vertical side. Lastly, hold for the count of four as you enclose the bottom of the box with another horizontal line. Repeat as many times as necessary.
2. 5,4,3,2,1. This tool can be helpful when you feel like you need to get out of your body sensations and become more grounded (the opposite of being mindful of your breath). Look around you, wherever you are, and name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
3. Coloring: Adult coloring books are the craze right now. Why? Because they work! Similar to #2, this is a technique that helps get your focus off of the somatic symptoms that often accompany anxiety and attune your focus on a specific task. The therapeutic nature of coloring is evident in childhood and the calming effect can be just what it takes to calm the anxiety monster. Find a coloring book you like at craft and book stores and begin a masterpiece! The intricacies of adult coloring books allows you to spend many sessions on just one picture, creating a sense of purpose working towards completion.
4. Drink Water: Drinking water helps soothe our mind and body. When anxiety is high, our brain begins to translate the physical symptoms we are feeling into something much worse. Dehydration can exacerbate the physical symptoms of anxiety. Staying hydrated is important for healthy brain and body functioning which contributes to emotional regulation. Drinking plenty of water daily may help greatly reduce anxiety, but it is also helpful when that monster rears its ugly head. Getting a glass of water tells your brain that you are choosing to focus on something else, soothes the nervous system, and helps hydrate your body all of which impact healthy functioning.
5. Talk to someone: Whether it’s a professional or someone you feel supported by, putting words to what you are feeling often brings relief almost instantly. While people experiencing anxiety is increasing, using your support system as a tool may help reduce your symptoms and bring insight into what is contributing to the anxiety. Although friends and family may be helpful, it is often important to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor for further support.
Although anxiety is a normal feeling to have at times, other times it can feel like we have no control over the impact it has on us. I hope that in those moments these tools will be helpful. Try them out and find one, or a few, that seem to work best for you. While not everyone reacts the same way to anxiety, it is often a combination of tools and experimentation to find what works best for you. Take back control of your life and your journey towards vitality!