How to Regulate Anxiety

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Lots of people think of anxiety as a mental thing — negative self-talk, ruminating thoughts, catstrophizing... But that’s only part of the story — anxiety is at least as much a bodily experience as it is a mental one.

I don’t know about you but, when I’m having a full-blown anxiety attack, thinking ‘nice thoughts’ is usually not enough to calm me down. When my body is really activated, I need to address it directly. And science has confirmed my personal experience — emulating a calm state in the body can help the entire nervous system to settle down. Here’s how to do it:

  • Exhale completely • Deep breathing is often recommended to folx experiencing anxiety. But rather than hyperventilating or exaggerating your inhale (which can exacerbate anxiety) try starting with a complete exhale; then relax your torso and allow your lungs to naturally refill before exhaling completely again.

  • Use your Peripherals • When our defenses are activated, our vision naturally becomes very focused & vigilant; so shifting our perspective to be wider & more-relaxed imitates & reinforces a relaxed state.

  • Relax your muscles • Most of us have a tendency, when we’re anxious, to tense up in our face & jaw, shoulders, back, hands, and even our legs & feet; we can help to reverse the anxiety by consciously relaxing our muscles.

  • Notice that you are safe • Point out things you see, hear, & feel around you — the furniture in the room, the fan, the ground beneath you... Noticing that we are physically in a safe environment helps bring us out of the anxiety storm and into a state of feeling safe, which calms our nervous system.

  • Smile • Smiling has been shown to reduce our heart rate and release feel-good brain chemicals. For me, this is most helpful once I’ve neutralized a bit from crisis mode; it helps me shift from a neutral state to something more positive & optimistic