How to Calm Anxiety Naturally
Big presentation coming up? Hate flying? Exam season? Too much on your plate? Deal with daily anxiety? I got you covered.
For one reason or another we all get this surge of nervous energy, whether it be right before an important, life-altering moment or on a daily basis. Being a ball of anxiousness can be quite paralyzing and not fun at all, so I’ve compiled a list of my tried-and-true actions I take to draw away nervous energy and get myself back to feeling balanced, ready to face whatever lies ahead.
#1 Put Motion Back in your Day
When we get that sudden flush of nervous energy, our body has a tendency to respond by a rise in temperature and feelings of panic. When our bodies feel emotionally charged it’s easy to become fixated on the anxiousness that we feel. That fixation can turn into chains that hold us hostage in the current moment so we feel trapped and paralyzed.
The advice that I have found very effective in breaking myself out of the self-imposed trap is to put motion back in my day.
For example, if you are about to give a big presentation but your knees are starting to lock and your breath is becoming shorter, start to ask yourself a list of questions about what you will do after the presentation: What do you want to eat for lunch? Or for dinner? It’s been a while since you’ve cooked so maybe you want to cook dinner tonight. Are there some groceries you want to pick up? Then maybe after dinner you will treat yourself to a movie. Will you stay in and rent a favorite? Or go see one in theaters? What movies are there to see right now?
By asking yourself a list of questions about what you are going to do after that moment ends, because it will end, you are putting movement back into your day by making a plan for later, re-engaging your brain in something other than how you are feeling at the moment, and confirming for yourself that the moment that feels never-ending, will end.
I know it sounds almost ridiculous to be reminded to do something our body naturally does, but when we start to feel anxiety, we subconsciously start to take faster, shorter breaths which increases heart rate, tightens our chest, and heightens feelings of panic. These symptoms are due to our natural “fight-or-flight” response. While the situation you face may not be life or death, our body will respond as if it does by taking in faster breaths to give more oxygen to our muscles that are preparing to run.
A couple ways that I’ve found are effective in reducing anxiety is to focus on diaphragmatic breathing vs. chest breathing and the 4-7-8 rule.
When we start to take shorter breaths we tend to breathe with our chest instead of our diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing can reduce anxiety by increasing the amount of oxygen to our brain and muscles which reduces heart rate. One tip that makes this technique more effective is by breathing in with your nose and out with your mouth because it allows us to take fuller breaths, allowing more oxygen to spread throughout the body.
The 4-7-8 rule is a counting technique where you inhale from your diaphragm for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. This technique works wonders in regulating the breath back to a natural pace and relaxing the body.
Both of these techniques do not require a lot of time or energy so whenever you feel yourself starting to get a little panicky, remember that no matter where you are or what you feel, you always have your breath.
#3 Process of Elimination
When I start to get really nervous it is usually because I feel that something bad is going to happen, will happen, or is already in the process of happening. And on top of that, my mind does this thing where it tries to convince me that the thing that I absolutely do not want to happen has a very logical chance of happening. Or does it?
This is where I start my process of elimination. For example, let’s say you dread being sick but you feel that your throat is scratchy. Nervous energy starts surging through you, but before the spiral begins, you start to break it down. Yes, you could be catching a cold. Or you could have slept in a dry environment, have not been drinking enough water, had your mouth open all night, been eating a lot of sweets, or you’ve been using your voice a lot. So, you have a ⅙ chance of getting sick but ⅚ chance that you are not. Are the odds in your favor?
I find this technique helpful because when your mind is trying to convince you of the “logical” impending doom, you strike back with some logic of your own.
#4 Have your Go-To’s in your back pocket
So we’ve started to calm the nervous system and are on our way to feeling good, but we still feel a little emotionally vulnerable. This is the moment where I like to break out my tried-and-trues. Even though you can probably recite the lines and accurately predict what’s going to happen next, those TV shows you’ve watched a million times can be extremely comforting in those moments when we feel on edge. If TV is not your go-to, no worries! It can be anything and everything that brings you comfort—wrapping yourself in a blanket, cooking, roasting marshmallows—if you name it, it belongs in this category.
#5 Go Outside
While going outside may be the absolute last thing you want to do when you’re not in the most confident mood, going outside requires that you remove yourself from your current environment (in which you feel anxious) and place yourself in a new environment. This simple act taking yourself from one environment and putting yourself in another can feel like a fresh start, even if it’s just right outside your home.
With a friend. A parent. A teacher. A therapist. Anyone other than you.
Sometimes I feel that all we need is to take that inner dialogue we’ve been ruminating on for days and say it out loud to someone else. The act of verbalizing what has been weighing our minds can give us such an emotional and mental stress relief. Then we can start to break down our thoughts, reason them out, and see if we still agree with what we were thinking. Whether we come to those conclusions on our own or with someone else, finding someone to listen may be just what you need.
You got this. You are in the driver’s seat. You have all the power you need to accomplish anything.