8 Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, According to a Psychologist
Feeling anxious is a very normal emotion that most adults (and some children) will experience in their life. Anxious feelings can often be a reaction to stress, feeling as though you don’t have control in one or more things or it can happen when a person is feeling extremely overwhelmed but unable to identify why.
Stress is also a very normal emotion for humans, but if that stress turns into constant worry, extreme nervousness and panic attacks, then you are likely suffering from the effects of anxiety.
Anxiety can develop throughout any stage in an adult’s life and the triggers can vary from person to person. The symptoms are usually our body’s natural reaction to stress that we have gained through years of evolution and are there to help identify and protect us from any dangers, whether they are real or perceived. However, learning what to do when you’re feeling anxious can be incredibly beneficial to a person’s mental health. Here are some helpful tips to alleviate feelings of anxiety.
8 ways to relieve anxiety, according to a psychologist
1. Take a moment to be in the moment
It can be easy to get swept up in anxious thoughts as anxiety is a future-oriented mental state. Oftentimes, it can feel like these thoughts are too important to ignore but too overwhelming to manage, which can lead to decisions made in a state of panic, commonly known as the "fight or flight response".
Instead, try to stop for a few moments and focus on the present moment. This might mean taking a walk outside without your phone, engaging in an activity that demands almost all of your attention or physically removing yourself from the current location. Doing this can help create some distance between the panic you are feeling right now, and your more logical thought processes.
2. Practice breathing exercises
Most people suffering from anxiety or anxious feelings might have heard of breathing exercises as a technique to reduce those feelings. Whilst it might sound a bit woo-woo, there is actually some science behind this theory. Deep breathing exercises can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn can lower a person’s heart rate and help the brain to realise that they are now able to relax.
Start by gently breathing in through your nose with your mouth closed, for a count of several seconds. Then, exhale for several seconds, allowing your breath to leave your body slowly and gently.
3. Practice mindfulness
This can be anything from learning to meditate or doing some yoga, or simply saying positive affirmations to yourself. Mindfulness activities help foster awareness of one's mental state, and allow someone with anxious thoughts to slow down and capture what they’re thinking about, to be simply more present in the moment without adding in any judgement or bias.
4. Practice 'talking' to yourself positively
Talking to yourself can feel a little strange, especially if you’re in a public place. However, many people have an internal dialogue that is running in the background of everything they do, which they may not be aware of or pay attention to. Self-talk helps you to take a moment to think through your emotions and ask yourself why you might feel a certain way. Self-talk can tap into your subconscious mind, which may help you to understand what might be triggering your feelings. It will also help you identify any patterns with your thinking.
5. Listen to any physical symptoms
Psychological conditions, like anxiety, can manifest in physical symptoms. The warning signs of anxiety are more than just the feeling of being constantly stressed or worried – a pounding heart, shortness of breath and a nauseous feeling in the stomach are all included and can all be warning signs. Some people will also experience headaches, dizziness, sweating and a constant need to go to the bathroom.
Listen to any physical symptoms (rather than just brushing them aside) because this can help you to identify your thoughts before things can become overwhelming.
If you can, do some exercise as it may help alleviate feelings of anxiety by making the most of the release of feel-good endorphins. If you’re at work or in place that might make it difficult to do some exercise, try a brisk walk around the block, discrete desk exercises or a run at lunchtime if you can.
A great thing to remember when it comes to any mental health concerns is that exercising, sleeping well and eating the right foods can help to keep your mental health in check. It’s important to fuel your body with nutritious foods as many people don’t realise that foods can actually affect our brains. Practice mindful eating, ensure you’re getting enough sleep and exercise regularly because it releases those endorphins.
7. Avoid substances that might exacerbate your feelings
Using anything in excess is never a good thing, but for someone suffering from anxiety, it can be particularly detrimental. Even seemingly harmless substances like caffeine, can affect the way the brain functions and cause various anxiety symptoms such as nervousness, problems with concentration, panic attacks and constant worry. Anxiety caused from substance abuse, especially with alcohol, can be particularly difficult to treat because the sufferers can be stuck in a cycle. People can have a tendency to self-medicate when things aren’t working out so well, however, a lot of the time it can have the opposite effect to what is intended and in worst-case scenarios, lead to dependency.
Although it is best practice to avoid excess use of substances such as caffeine and alcohol when feeling anxious, if you are already stuck in this cycle, it is important to seek professional help for substance use or abuse, as it may be complicated by medical issues.
8. Seek professional help
Professional help from a psychologist can make a tremendous amount of difference to a person’s life, especially someone suffering from anxious thoughts and feelings. You do not have to wait until the anxiety is unmanageable to seek help – it can be a preventative measure used to help you learn how to identify early on that you are not coping as well as you wanted and build your psychological toolkit on how to manage these feelings both now and for the future.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, call 000. If you are concerned about your health, wellbeing or sleep, you can also speak to your GP, who will advise a correct treatment plan.
Rucha Lele is a psychologist at Lysn. Lysn is a digital mental health company with world class wellbeing technology which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist whilst being able to access online tools to improve their mental health. Follow Lysn on Instagram @lysnhealth.
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