Unfortunately, anxiety is part of being human. It will not go away. Not completely. It is just part of our human make up. If you had no anxiety, you would be an alien. In fact, if you think about it, if you had zero anxiety you would probably have a hard time keeping yourself safe in a dangerous environment.
So, really, we have to thank anxiety for keeping us alert and safe.
But this may be cold comfort to those of us who struggle with overly active anxiety at times. Thanks a lot, anxiety, please go away.
While we can’t expect our anxieties to go the way of the dodo bird, we can change our relationship to it. You can work on this in therapy, of course, as a long term strategy. But what can you do right now, when you are full of anxiety, at this very minute?
Here they are…
Oh, but, PS…
Before you get to these suggestions, I just want to say that I am pretty sure I know that you will NOT want to do ANY of these activities.
Your resistance to these ideas WILL come on strong! This is very normal. Anxiety will tell you that these ideas will not work, that they are stupid, who is this chick anyway?, I don’t like these activities, I already know that they suck, I’ve tried them before, etc. Sound familiar? I bet they do.
The anxious part of you will say ANYTHING to prevent you from taking action right now. It’s almost like anxiety has a life of its own and wants to survive by keeping you from taking any action to reduce it.
Tell anxiety this:
"Thanks for your help, but I am going to go try one of these things anyway. Fudge you!”
(I'm a therapist, I’m probably not supposed to swear.)
5 strategies to try right now:
One may work, all may work, none may work. You need to experiment to find what works for you in general and today.
1. Go for a run
Get your heart rate up and sweat. Run for longer than you want to. Or do a bunch of squats. Again, more than you think is enough. Anxiety and sweaty exercise share some symptoms: Sweaty hands, increased heart rate, increased activation in the body. Your brain will begin to associate the anxiety symptoms with the exercise instead of with anxiety, creating a positive feedback loop with exercise. This helps make exercise an increasingly useful strategy for shifting your anxious state in the future. Today, the exercise will shift your physical state dramatically, and can often include a decrease in the anxious feelings. (Plus: being in nature and being outside is good for us, but that is a different article.)
2. Be social
Humans need connection. Anxiety tends to cause us to isolate ourselves. Call a trusted friend and connect. Even if you do not mention your anxiety, it may help just to hear your friend’s caring voice. Do you have a friend who also struggles with anxiety? Set up a reciprocal arrangement to help each other through an anxiety peak. Get together and brainstorm ways to talk with each other that that you know usually helps. I suggest simple empathy and reflection. One more idea: doing something social where you are also helping someone else tends to distract us from our selves and it feels good to be useful. Win win.
3. Have a hot shower, then a cold one
This one is also about changing your physical state to shift your emotional state. Many people swear by this method. I stumbled upon it because my partner and I did the Wim Hoff course last year (for 30 days! Ending with a 10 minute cold shower! Ahh!), I found it incredibly effective shifting my state, including shifting my anxious states. (Also was helpful for headaches.) Some people go hot for a while, then end with cold for a while, some go back and forth every minute. Experiment to see what works for you. Here are two articles that go more deeply into this method:
4. Breath work
Why do so many people make a great big deal about breathing? It's because breathing deeply signals to your body that you are safe. (More reasons too, but this is the one I am focussing on right now.)
Anxiety is largely your body being in flight mode, so helping your body realize that it is actually safe is important (assuming you are... if you are not, then maybe there is a very good reason to be anxious!). There are lots of directions online about various methods of breathing — search around until you find one you like. The key is to make your exhale be longer than the inhale, breathe into your belly rather than your chest, and go slowly. Try it for a few minutes to test it out.
Yes, I know, everyone is promoting meditation right now. but for GREAT reasons: the evidence for the many health benefits is staggering.
Here is an excellent article citing the benefits and citing the evidence:
You can freestyle meditation (that just means making it up on your own — I don’t think that is an actual method, but maybe I should make a meme about it!) If you are new to mediation, it will be easier to start with an audio meditation that leads you through it. Two of my favourite apps are Buddhify and 10% Happier, but there are many to choose from, including some free guided mediations online. Tara Brach’s are excellent.
I, personally, found meditation was an excellent, in the moment, “I am anxious right now”, state shifter. Back in my more anxiety-ridden days, I'd sit down for ten minutes of meditating and feel much better when I got up. Magic. It did not always work, but it worked well enough that I kept using it. Doing a short meditation tended to bring the anxiety down a couple notches, and a couple notches was usually enough that I could get on with me day. I bet you can agree on how valuable just that is. Many of my clients report this effect for many of those annoyingly anxious, but not too overly terrible bouts.
Experiment on yourself!
Experimenting is the only way we figure out way works for us. Trial and error. We try, we experience, we assess, we learn. You cannot tell whether or not an activity will work for you by just thinking about it. You have to experience it.
Try these ideas at your own risk. I don’t know your situation, so use your good judgement about whether or not these are suitable for you and your situation. But know that your anxious part of you might be (definitely is) telling you not to do these activities for its own selfish reasons: to keep you anxious.
Is this article helpful?
Laurel Swenson, MC, RCC — Registered Clinical Counsellor
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