“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.”
– Deepak Chopra
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health illnesses in the United States. Those who suffer from anxiety experience pervasive and uncontrollable worry about a number of things. Shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, headaches, irritability, upset stomach, and fatigue are just a number of physical symptoms that anxiety can cause.
As anyone struggling with anxiety knows, you can’t control when these symptoms hit. Unfortunately, there’s no magic solution for the worry to disappear. An important way to manage anxiety is to feel empowered by learning ways to decrease physical symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Relax Your Muscles
Progressive muscle relaxation is a tool that many use when having panic attacks. When anxiety hits, do a full body examination of what you are feeling in each muscle, slowly tighten each muscle group and release. Often times it’s helpful to have a plan: start with your toes and work your way up. Tense the muscle group for 10 seconds, relax for 20 seconds. Move on to the next muscle group until you have scanned your whole body.
Remember the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Use all 5 senses to get back to the present. When you are feeling anxious or having an anxiety attack, close your eyes and take a breath. Open your eyes and look around. Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
Yup, you guessed it – simple breathing exercises can help. Controlled breathing can slow down your heart rate and get your system back to baseline. Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. Take 5-10 deep, slow, and controlled breaths. Try inhaling for 4 seconds, then exhale for 5 seconds.
You can’t always control what happens outside of your body, but you can control what you put inside your body. Caffeine can impact anxiety because it is a stimulant, and can cause our heart rate to increase and often make anxiety worse. This isn’t just limiting your morning coffee, many other foods and beverages have caffeine (energy drinks, soda, tea).
Exercise can boost your mood, reduce stress, and improve sleep. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that it takes only five minutes of aerobic exercise to stimulate anti-anxiety effects. Don’t love the gym? Try taking a brisk walk every day.
Whether you try all or none of these techniques, it’s important to remember that anxiety is a real condition that impacts many. It can be challenging, but try to find the strength to talk to a trusted friend, adult, or mental health counselor about your challenges.
This blog was written by Kaitlin MacDonald, LICSW. Kaitlin is an independently licensed social worker practicing in the state of Massachusetts. She is currently a Program Manager at a community-based agency providing a variety of mental health counseling and family support services to children, young adults, and families. Kaitlin specializes in trauma-based therapy and uses a relational approach with her clients.