Updated: May 11
If you are one of the 264 million people worldwide who suffer with anxiety, you are probably working to build a toolkit of strategies that can help reduce anxious feelings and mitigate triggers. The five tips below can be used in high stress moments to bring you down from an anxiety or panic attack, but are most effective when incorporated as part of your daily routine.
1. Be Mindful of Your Breathing
The rate and depth of your breathing is a key indicator that reveals where you are at on the anxiety scale. Short, quick, shallow breathing is a clear indicator that you are struggling with high levels of anxiety and may be close to a panic attack if triggered or if interventions are not taken soon to calm your nervous system.
The best way to prevent or come back from an anxiety attack or full blown panic attack is to focus on slowing and deepening your breathing. This also reigns true for those of us with general anxiety disorder, who may suffer with a continuously sensation of being unable to take a deep enough breath.
If you notice your breathing becoming more rapid or shallow, try the square breathing technique:
Inhale for 4 seconds
Hold that breath for 4 seconds
Exhale for 4-7 seconds
2. Ground Yourself Often
Anxiety is often connected to our thought process. When you ruminate about past mistakes and regrets, or think ahead to upcoming events and uncompleted tasks, your body responds to what your mind is focused on - things that bring a sense of unease. As you focus on things that bring distress, your body believes you are in danger and needs to prepare to act.
The feeling of anxiety comes in when the body floods with adrenaline, heart rate increases, breathing becomes fast and shallow, blood sugar spikes. This leaves us ready to react quickly in a physical sense. The problem is, what brings us anxiety in the modern world are not things are solved with quick physical response. When we don't release that quick jolt of energy, our body stays on high alert.
To reduce your bodies reactivity, it is important to bring your mind and body into the present moment. If you bring your thoughts back to what is currently happening around you, chances are you'll realize that you are safe and not in imminent danger. This is imperative for the brain and body to recognize, so the chemicals released by the brain that set our body on high alert are allowed to dissipate.
Next time you feel anxiety escalating, take a few deep breaths and move through the 5 senses grounding technique to help your mind recognize that you are safe in the here and now:
Name 5 things you can see
Name 4 things you can hear
Name 3 things you feel
Name 2 things you smell
Name 1 thing you can taste
3. Stay Consistent with Exercise
It is important to remember that anxiety itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it is what keeps us alive and safe. Healthy levels of anxiety make us productive and motivates us to prepare for a work presentation or to get that project in on time.
Yet, some of us live with a constant level of anxiety that feels uncomfortable because that adrenalin and cortisol are released frequently, leading to chronically high levels. For others, anxiety levels increase only when faced with stressful event or in response to distressing thoughts. Either way, it is important that we physically release that anxiety through exercise on a frequent basis. After all, that is what these chemicals prepare our bodies to do.
If you struggle with anxiety on any level, developing a consistent exercise regimen that incorporates both aerobic and anaerobic activity allows the body to reduce anxiety in a healthy way. In this way, routine workouts (or even a walk around the block after a stressful meeting) works like a release valve for anxious feelings.
4. Ditch Caffeine
While a coffee date can be a great way to relax and connect with others, consuming caffeine on a regular basis is not a good idea for those who struggle with anxiety symptoms. In fact, those who suffer from panic disorder and social anxiety disorder have been shown to be especially sensitive to high doses of caffeine and can expect coffee to increase symptom severity.
Caffeine is a drug that increases alertness by blocking adenosine, the brain chemical that makes you feel tired, while at the same time triggering the release of adrenalin. Those of us who struggle with anxiety are already releasing adrenalin at higher than normal rate, so coffee increases our levels to an uncomfortable place that could exacerbate general anxiety or even trigger anxiety or panic attack.
5. Eat Real Food
Our mental health is inextricably linked to our physical health. Therefore, what we consume has a very real and profound impact on our emotions. Nutritional deficiencies can increase the negative effects of several mental health disorders, including anxiety.
One of the best ways to improve mental and physical health is to eat a well balanced diet of real food. "Real" food refers to nutritionally dense, fresh, colorful, diverse, and seasonal produce that does not include any artificial ingredients such as coloring, flavorings, dyes, industrial oils, refined sugars, preservatives, or other additives. Such additives including aspartame, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and some food dyes, have been specifically linked to an increase in anxiety, depression, and mood changes.
Once you've eliminated harmful additives and refined your diet to consist mostly of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates, the next step would be to incorporate anxiety reducing supplements. Some supplements that contributed to anxiety reduction include magnesium, L-theanine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), taurine, cannabidiol/CBD, and probiotics.
If you are unsure what dietary modifications can best support your mental health, work with a functional health nutritionist, integrative dietitian, or therapist with training in integrative medicine for mental health.
Work with a Therapist to Implement These Strategies
Modifying your lifestyle and implementing healthy changes to diet and routine can be very challenging. It is difficult to know where to start and even harder to stay consistent. Working with a therapist can help you identify the tools that work best for you and make lasting changes that will improve your physical and mental wellbeing.
If you are interested in working with a clinical mental health therapist trained in integrative anxiety treatment methods, reach out to schedule a free consultation at (720) 255-1667 (call/text) or complete our contact form.