In technical terms, anxiety is apprehension over an upcoming event. We anticipate the future with sometimes scary predictions that don’t necessarily have any basis in truth. In everyday life, anxiety’s physical and emotional symptoms can mean an increased heart rate, poor concentration at work and school, and sleeping problems.
Anxiety and stress are physical and emotional responses to perceived dangers (that aren’t always real). And since most of us aren’t running from tigers or hunting and gathering in the woods, it’s often the little things that put us over the edge: an over-loaded email inbox, morning rush hour, or losing those keys before running out the door. Luckily, it’s easy to beat this kind of stress with just a few easy changes added throughout the day.
Focus on meaningful activities. When you’re feeling anxious, it’s also helpful to focus your attention on a meaningful, goal-directed activity. Try asking yourself what you’d be doing if you weren’t anxious. If you were going to see a movie, still go. If you were going to do the laundry, still do it. The worst thing you can do when anxious is to passively sit around obsessing about how you feel. Doing what needs to get done teaches you key lessons: getting out of your head feels better; you’re able to live your life even though you’re anxious; and you’ll get things done. So the bottom line is, get busy with the business of life. Don’t sit around focusing on being anxious – nothing good will come of that.
Take a deep breath. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful anxiety-reducing technique because it activates the body’s relaxation response. It helps the body go from the fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system to the relaxed response of the parasympathetic nervous system. Try slowly inhaling to a count of 4, filling your belly first and then your chest, gently holding your breath to a count of 4, and slowly exhaling to a count of 4 and repeat several times.
Accept that you’re anxious. Remember that anxiety is just a feeling, like any other feeling. By reminding yourself that anxiety is simply an emotional reaction, you can start to accept it. Acceptance is critical because trying to wrangle or eliminate anxiety often worsens it. It just perpetuates the idea that your anxiety is intolerable, he said. But accepting your anxiety doesn’t mean liking it or resigning yourself to a miserable existence. The bottom line is that the feeling of anxiety is less than ideal, but it is not intolerable.
Question your thoughts. When people are anxious, their brains start coming up with all sorts of outlandish ideas, many of which are highly unrealistic and unlikely to occur. And these thoughts only heighten an individual’s already anxious state.
Use a calming visualization. Practice the following meditation regularly, which will make it easier to access when you’re anxious in the moment. Picture yourself on a river bank or outside in a favorite park, field or beach. Watch leaves pass by on the river or clouds pass by in the sky. Assign [your] emotions, thoughts [and] sensations to the clouds and leaves, and just watch them float by.
Use positive self-talk. Anxiety can produce a lot of negative chatter. Tell yourself “positive coping statements.” For instance, you might say, “this anxiety feels bad, but I can use strategies to manage it.”
Focus on right now. When people are anxious, they are usually obsessing about something that might occur in the future. Instead, pause, breathe and pay attention to what’s happening right now, he said. Even if something serious is happening, focusing on the present moment will improve your ability to manage the situation.