Anxiety. It’s your body’s natural response to stress. When your brain senses danger, it activates a system called the survival circuit, which gets you ready for action. Your heart starts beating faster. Your chest tightens. And you get short of breath.
“Anxiety is your body’s way of alerting you to feeling unsafe,” says Amber Rules of Rough Patch Counselling.
“Unfortunately, our bodies don’t know the difference between perceived and immediate danger. For example, if you have a general feeling of gnawing anxiety because you think COVID is scary and that lockdown is awful, your body doesn’t know that this isn’t an immediate threat, and it responds accordingly.”
So, what to do? While it’s important to note that if you suffer from frequent bouts of anxiety, it might be more beneficial for you to look into why your brain is labelling non-threatening situations as dangerous (through self-development work or with the help of a therapist), there are a few things you can try for short-term relief.
The most common technique is to control your breathing — to inhale and exhale slowly and deliberately, maybe even counting to 10 in your head. However, if you’ve tried that and found it isn’t working for you, here, Rules shares four other things you can try.
Move Your Body Slowly and Rhythmically
Think swaying, rocking, tapping and patting, Rules says. “You can stand and move your hips in a figure-eight pattern, or gently and slowly pat your arm the way you would if you were soothing a child,” she says. “Pets are also great for this — you can co-regulate by gently patting or stroking a dog or cat.”
Expand Your Chest
“Lift your arms above your head, stretch your fingers wide and lean back to open your chest,” Rules says. “Take slow, deep breaths and squeeze your shoulders together. Let go of the breath, drop your hands and shoulders, and see if you can notice a difference.”
Spend Time In Water
“Generally, just floating around in bodies of water can be quite soothing for many people,” she says. “Mammals experience a physiological change called the ‘mammalian diving reflex’ when our faces come into contact with cold water.”
“Specifically, this reflex can slow our heart rate and change our breathing pattern, which in turn can reduce anxiety. If you can’t spend time in water, splashing your face with cold water or using a cold compress on your face can help slow your heart rate and bring your body into a more relaxed state.”
Name the Feeling and Respond Compassionately
“There’s a saying in the psychology world: ‘name it to tame it’,” Rules says. “The idea is that if you are able to register the feeling you’re having and respond to it compassionately, it can help reduce it.”
“It can be helpful to treat yourself the way you’d treat a child who was having a tough time with their feelings. You might say to a child, ‘Darling, I can see you’re feeling very anxious right now. That must be hard. What can we do to feel a bit better?’”
“You can also try this on yourself. It might feel strange at first, but being gentle and curious about your feeling, without judging or punishing yourself, can help soothe it.”