Practical ways to ease anxiety right now, wherever you are
Have you seen that meme where the dog is sitting in a room that’s on fire and he sips his coffee saying “this is fine”? Well, I don’t think I’m the only person who can relate to this right now. It feels like the world around us is burning so it’s no surprise anxiety is on the rise for many of us.
Anxiety is something I’ve lived with for years - it feels like an old friend who I kinda hate but, for some reason, we stay in touch. Lately, though, this old friend of mine has changed. It’s made some buddies and become something bigger.
I no longer feel anxious for totally ridiculous reasons, I feel anxious for very real reasons. The threat and fear is tangible, I can taste it.
This makes tackling it a little different. Before, I could use logic and reason with myself - noticing when I was catastrophising and catching thoughts before I descended into a negative thought spiral. Now that logic is failing me.
Instead, I’m trying to accept that what I’m feeling is totally reasonable and that I’m not alone in how I feel. Accepting this, however, doesn’t make it go away. It softens its edges a bit, makes it feel less pointed, less ‘mine’ and mine alone... but it’s still there.
Amping up my usual self-care routine is helping. Talking to people about how I’m feeling, journaling, meditating, practising yoga, all things we promote here at Happiful. But there are times that this anxiety rises when, quite frankly, I don’t have the time or headspace to journal or do yoga. When I feel panic rising and I need something to quickly bring me back down in that moment.
This is where practical grounding exercises can help. I wanted to share some I’ve found useful and, let’s be honest, I wanted to put them all in one place so I can bookmark my own article for reference. Let’s take a look.
1. Hold an object
This sounds so simple, and it is, but hear me out. When we feel anxious, our breathing becomes shallow, our heart rate increases and blood is pumped to our major organs to prepare us to run or fight. Because of this, some parts of our body can become numb or tingly, we might also experience dissociation, where we feel as if we’re not in our body.
A helpful way to come back into your body is to instigate your sense of touch. And one way to do this is by holding an object. Any object will do, but try to find something with lots of different edges or textures. Focus on how it feels in your hands. Squeeze it, try to identify what you feel - is it warm or cool? Soft or hard?
I have a big chunk of rose quartz crystal I like to use for this. It’s raw and has lots of bumps and ridges, it feels cool then warms in my hands and, if you’re a believer of crystal healing, it has a soothing property that promotes healing and self-love (heck, I’ll take it!). You might want to try a fidget cube, a rock or shell picked up from a past holiday, or literally any object in front of you.
2. Adjust your breathing
If you feel able to sit and meditate, by all means do. This can be an excellent way to bring yourself back into a state of calm. If you don’t think you have the focus to sit for 10 minutes, a simple adjustment of your breathing will help.
There are lots of different breathing techniques you can try, but the one I find the simplest to remember is to focus on breathing from your belly (not your chest) and exhaling for longer than you inhale. When you do this, the vagus nerve (this runs from your neck down to your diaphragm) sends a signal to your brain to turn down your sympathetic nervous system and turn up your parasympathetic nervous system which calms your body down.
3. Smell something lovely
Activating any of your senses is a great way to ground yourself and come back to the present moment. Scent is one that, along with touch, works the quickest for me. When our brains receive a smell, it causes a reaction in the body. It can help us feel more energised, relaxed or even hungry, depending on what we’re smelling. We often tie scent to memories, so you can use this association to your advantage. If you know a smell triggers happy and calming memories and you’re able to bottle it (or bottle a sense of it), do this.
I have aromatherapy rollerballs dotted around my flat, by my bed and on my desk so I can inhale calming scents whenever I need to. I like to combine this with adjusting my breathing and give myself a real moment to pause.
4. Drink a cold glass of water
This is often recommended for someone going through (or on the verge of) a panic attack and I can see why. Cold water can ‘shock’ your system and help you feel really present in your body. When you drink it, notice the way it feels as it travels down your throat and into your stomach, let the cool sensation release tension.
Another tip that involves cold water is to dunk your head into a bowl of it. No, really. There’s research in physiology to suggest the human heart rate slows down 10-25% when our faces come into contact with cold water and this can ease panic. Perhaps that explains why many of us splash our faces with cold water when we’ve received bad news or need a moment to cool off.
5. Use an anchoring phrase
Anxiety sweeps us up and away. It’s like a tidal wave, determined to drag us to some terrifying place. As its name suggests, an anchoring phrase helps us stay put. The idea is to help remind you of who and where you are in the present moment. So an anchoring phrase I could use right now might be:
“I’m Kat Nicholls, I’m sitting at my desk in my flat. My partner is in the same room and I am safe here.”
Words like “I am safe”, “I can cope” or even “I’m OK” can all reinforce to us that, no matter how fiery the world is looking, in this present moment right now, we are safe.
I hope these techniques are helpful. Try them out and see which ones resonate the most and make these your go-tos. Ramp up that self-care, talk about how you’re feeling and don’t be afraid to ask for help.