In those moments when our stress or anxiety is heightened, our breathing is shallower, our chest feels tight and we feel restless and irritable, there are things we can do that can help calm down our nervous systems and remind ourselves that we are safe.
The very first thing we can do is to take the time to explore what exactly we are feeling. Is it anxiety? Or is it fear, stress, excitement, or nervousness? There are many emotions that can come up for us that feel like anxiety but aren’t as taxing on us. Once we can notice the difference, it can help reduce our anxiety by acknowledging that we are feeling nervous for a big meeting, or scared because our kids are walking to school by themselves for the first time. All of our emotions and feelings are valid and are our body’s way of communicating with us. When we take the time to pause and check in with what our emotions are trying to tell us, it can help us to work through them and makes the steps below even more helpful.
Here are 5 ways we can reduce those feelings and sensations of anxiety in the moment:
- Breathing. It sounds simple, and it is, but it’s also incredibly powerful. Slowing down our breathing can have a huge impact on our ability to calm down. One of the most well-known methods is box or square breathing. Picture your breath tracing the outline of a box, starting in the bottom left. As you breathe in, for a count of 4, trace the line up to the first corner. Then hold across the top for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 4 to the bottom right corner and then hold for 4 to get back to where you started. Continue this as many times as you need and then return your breathing to a mindful breath.
- Walking or moving our body. Another simple trick is to get your body moving. Whether that’s getting up to walk to the bathroom at work or walking down the block to pick up your mail or taking a half an hour walk around the park. Moving your body is a great way to remove yourself from the stressful situation in the moment. To take it one step further, practice mindful walking. To do this, simply focus on your body and how it feels in the present moment as it is walking, without judgement. Just notice how it feels to be walking and moving. Pay attention to your breath as you walk, and if you are outside, pay attention to the nature that surrounds you and the temperature of the air on your skin. What can you feel, hear, smell?
- Cold water. Cold water seems to reduce the stress hormone in our bodies and is a simple one to try when at work or at home. Washing your hands under cold water can work wonders for our stress and anxiety levels and can help bring us back to a more neutral state.
- Muscle relaxation. Starting with your toes, squeeze or tense them as tight as you can, and then slowly relax them. Continue to your calves, then your thighs, your backside, core ab muscles and onwards right up to your face. This helps you pay attention to the present moment and helps relax your entire body.
- Meditation. There are multiple apps, youtube channels, spotify playlists and other platforms that offer meditations. Finding ones that work for you to have in your toolbox for moments when you need them can be incredibly beneficial. Many range in time from under 5 minutes, right up to an hour and can be great options regardless of how much time you have.
BONUS – A bonus tip for those of you who have children. Spot the Rainbow is a trick that can help relax kids when they are in a heightened state and that can be done anywhere, even in the car. Asking your child to say out loud all the things they see that are red, then orange, then yellow etc., until you’ve made it to the end of the rainbow. It feels like a game and helps them calm down their nervous system.