Anxiety, unfortunately, is a disorder with no current cure; though, it is manageable with medication and/or therapy. However, because there isn’t a quick-fix or magic remedy for anxiety, it’s important to obtain coping skills and self-regulation techniques. These are exercises that have helped me immensely in times of anxiety and stress, and I hope that you will find some strategies that help you, too. Keep in mind that there are so many more coping skills out there, and research and experimentation to find what works best for you is incredibly important for managing anxiety. Here I’ve listed some of my personal favorites. I hope this is helpful!
Breathing exercises are my very favorite self-regulating techniques. I’ve had the most success with the 4-7-8 method, and I have heard good things about the “Box Breathing” method. Deep breathing is such a wonderful anxiety reliever; it has been researched and shown to significantly reduce the production of stress hormones, such as cortisol. According to my therapist, you know you’re “breathing correctly” if your stomach is moving instead of your chest. This is because deep breathing causes your diaphragm to stimulate the vagus nerve, which sends messages to the brain to lower heart rate and blood pressure.
2. Anxiety apps
Apps on your smartphone that help relieve stress can be an invaluable tool in day-to-day life. My go-to breathing app is called Relax Lite, and the exercises on there have saved me from many panic attacks. Other soothing apps on ios and Android are called Headspace and Calm. Both of these apps contain calming music, stories, meditation, and breathing exercises. I also like an app called Heart Rate Free; I can monitor and actively try to lower my heart rate during stressful times.
3. Use a weighted or heated blanket
My parents bought me a weighted blanket off of Amazon about a year ago and it is so nice and calming! Weighted blankets actually reduce activity in the nervous system. In a study conducted by the Journal of Occupational Therapy, 32 subjects were given a weighted blanket. 63% reported lower levels of anxiety and 78% preferred a weighted blanket to a regular one. Heated blankets are relaxing because the heat relaxes tense muscles. (I am under my heated blanket as I type this!)
RelaxBlanket Weighted Blanket | 60”x80”,15lbs | for Individual Between 140-170 lbs | Premium Cotton Material with Glass Beads | Dark Grey https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0797W4VSK/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_rHI-DbA4YV728
Weighted blanket ^
Heated blanket ^
4. Frontal lobe exercises
My therapist was the angel who taught me about frontal lobe exercises. I will attempt to explain this like she did: The frontal lobe of your brain is the area that deals with attention, judgment, problem- solving, and much more. The amygdala is the part that deals with emotions, survival instincts, and memory. When the amygdala is overactive, such as when you’re anxious, the frontal lobes “turn off.” Therefore, your anxiety gets in the way of your judgment. Frontal lobe exercises work my turning your amygdala “off” and your frontal lobe “on.” I use the counting method (counting my 2’s forward or backward), or I name all the states surrounding mine. Brain teasers and riddles help, too; anything that uses that frontal cortex and calms the overactive amygdala.
5. Grounding techniques
Grounding techniques are extremely beneficial during moments of panic. They basically work by bringing your racing thoughts back to the here-and-now. Here are some that I have found very useful:
-The 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Find 5 things you see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste.
-Hold an ice cube. It might sound kind of silly, but holding an ice cube diverts your attention from your anxiety to the coldness of the ice in your hand.
-Describe the room you’re in. Where you’re at, the color of the walls, objects surrounding you, etc.
6. Find a hobby
A couple of years ago, I had absolutely no hobbies. I was constantly bored and depressed. I had no idea what to do with myself because I believed that I had to have a talent to succeed at anything I attempted, (which is totally not true, by the way). Some hobbies that I enjoy are reading, writing, exercising, and crocheting. (Crocheting has been awesome for lowering my trichotillomania habits). Some other activities you might want to give a shot could be learning a new instrument, journaling, cooking or baking, list making (what I’m thankful for list, what I’m looking forward to next week list, etc.), or pretty much anything that brings you joy and relaxation! Having and practicing hobbies has been linked to lower levels of depression and higher levels of positivity.
7. Take a warm shower or bath
I absolutely love taking warm showers when I am feeling stressed and anxious. The hot water relaxes muscles and increases the feel-good hormone, Oxytocin. If I am in pre-panic-attack-mode, a hot shower can do wonders.
8. Listen to music
Calming music eases anxiety, and upbeat music improves mood. According to Psych Central, music helps reduce pain by activating sensory pathways that compete with pain pathways in the brain, stimulating emotional responses, and engaging cognitive thinking. I really enjoy the song, “Weightless” by Macroni Union. A study conducted by Dr. David Lewis on the effects this song has on anxiety found that the participants’ anxiety was reduced by 65% when listening.
9. Clean out
I try to clean out my clothes and other objects in my room every 2-3 months. I also love deep-cleaning; It is very therapeutic to me. I like to think of it as cleaning up my brain and refreshing my mind.
I found a love for volunteering about a year ago, and it has changed my life. Getting out of my mind and helping others has really gotten me out of my shell. Volunteering allows people to connect with new people, help their community, and, according to studies, it reduces anxiety and depression.
Thanks for reading!
I hope you enjoyed this post and found some helpful coping mechanisms to put into use! Don’t forget to research and try out different self-regulating skills until you find what is right for you! Not everything that works for me will necessarily work for everyone else, but I encourage you to attempt a few of the exercises and skills listed above. Thanks for reading to the end! Don’t forget to like and subscribe to follow my mental health journey!