• Lachlan

9 Simple Ways to Derail Anxiety

Updated: Apr 2, 2019

Anxiety can sneak up on us, can't it?


Yes, there are effective ways to deal with the causes of anxiety, and you’ve probably heard that exercise and eating and sleeping well can help prevent anxiety in the long run. But the reality is, sometimes we get caught off-guard, anxiety is just here, and and don’t have time to go back and fix all the things that lead to this anxious moment. It’s happening now.


So what do you do when it arrives? Do you get upset and think “oh no!” and wish it away, trying desperately to stay calm when you already feel yourself sweating, or your heart racing, trying to think of something to say? Do you start thinking a million things that could go wrong, or think catastrophically how you will always be anxious, or never get enough done to feel like you’re on top of your life?

You can get off that anxious track!

Stop right there! There are things you can do to stop an anxious moment right in its tracks.



These techniques are simple, free, safe, and effective. I could go on about the psychoneuroimmunologic mechanisms, but when it comes to anxiety, sometimes over-thinking gets in the way. Next time you’re having a rough moment, stop and try one of these techniques. Do them until you feel your heart rate come down and you can feel the anxious moment pass. The best part is, some of them you can do in your head even if you’re in a meeting and no one will know.


1. Move and stretch your body

Get up out of your seat, take a few steps, and swing your arms in large circles, alternating forward and backward. Then swing them in front of you from side to side and twist your torso as they go. Feel the momentum of your arms pull your torso and let it stretch your body as it moves. Circle your head in wide circles, pausing at each side. Open your shoulders and allow your chest to expand with deep breaths.


Moving your body and focusing on the physical sensations is a strong way to get out of your head and grounded into your body. The key is really paying attention to your body as if it’s the most important thing in that moment.


2. Name 5 green things in the room

Sequential naming and numbering is a trick to short-circuit anxious rumination. Task yourself with finding and naming all the things in your immediate environment that are of a certain colour. It will distract your cyclical thought patterns into a specific job. Go through a couple colours, naming in your head “green magnet”, “green photo”, “green plant”, etc and move on to another colour when you’re done. Even 2-3 minutes of this can derail an anxious train. I like green, but pick your favourite calming colour to start.


3. Triangle Breathing

Breathing taps into the parasympathetic nervous system that sends a “rest and digest” signal to the brain. Breathing is in fact a remarkably effective way to calm the nervous system and decrease stress hormone release in the brain. There’s a reason it’s an age-old trick. To try triangle breathing, use the video below (widely available online, from Erin Klassen). Following with your eyes is a cue to slow breathing and other physical processes.



4. Feel your body on the chair or your feet on the ground

Like moving and stretching, this one grounds you in your body, and you can do this without anyone noticing. Take a step back from what’s happening in your mind and drop down into the physical sensation of your bum on the chair, or your feet on the ground or in your shoes. Notice any sensations of tightness, firmness, or softness, no matter how subtle. Say to yourself in your head, “this is the sensation of my feet”, or “this is what my back feels like on the chair”.


5. Repeat a mantra

This is a good one to make up ahead of time, even right now. Think about something you’d like to be reminded of, and keep it in the back of your mind. When you get anxious and your thinking mind starts to spin out, and maybe you’re feeling indecisive about how to help yourself, repeat strongly and firmly in your head your mantra. It can be anything, from “I’m trying my best” to “This won’t last forever”, or even “I am alive”. Go with your gut, whatever you know you need to hear. Sometimes I repeat to myself, “This is just anxiety” over and over again.


6. Chug a glass of cold water

Like breathing, this can sometimes short-circuit your nervous system into calming down. Similar to splashing cold water on your face, it sends a quick physical signal that catches the attention of the brain and may derail a thought spiral. It also makes you hold your breath for a moment which can similarly affect the parasympathetic system and make you take big deep breaths afterward.


Bonus: Take a cold shower! Dr Peter Bongiorno ND shares: "Since the density of cold receptors (the parts of our body that can sense cold) in the skin is thought to be 3-10x higher than that of warm receptors, the simultaneous firing of all skin-based cold receptors from jumping into the cold may result in a positive therapeutic effect. It has also been shown that lowering the temperature of the brain is known to have neuroprotective and therapeutic effects and can relieve inflammation. When you're feeling anxious, try a 30 second blast as cold as you can stand.


7. Shake

Anyone who has anxiety knows that there is often a lot of pent-up energy that comes along with it. It can feel like bursting out or coming out in shouts, reactions, or even tears. Moving that energy through your body is a great way to diffuse it so that it doesn’t come out uncontrolled. Stand up and physically shake your hands, arms, shoulders, and head. Maybe let your mouth open up and your cheeks puff out as you breath out strongly. Give it a few good long shakes and see how much better you feel.


8. Practice self-compassion

This is a really big one. It is so common to follow anxiety with self-criticism that they’re almost indistinguishable form one another. Anxiety is a difficult emotion, and sometimes when we feel it we berate ourselves for not being stronger, not being “able to handle it”, which of course only makes things worse. In an anxious moment, the best thing we can do is befriend ourselves and stand next to our own experience, as we would stand next to a friend, and offer a moment of compassion. Put your hand to your heart and notice that anxiety is tough, and this is a difficult moment. The act of noticing and holding space for your own suffering is very healing. If self-criticism and fear of not meeting expectations are a big part of your anxiety, self-compassion can take a lot of the sting out of a moment of anxiety.


9. Remind yourself you don’t have to follow every thought to its end

No one will be hurt if you don’t follow that scenario in your head to the end right now. Nothing will go wrong if you leave that thought unfinished for just a moment. Anxious worrying can feel URGENT, like you absolutely need to spend time and energy on thinking about something, but the truth is, anxious worry is not productive. We stop being able to think our way out when we are anxious because our prefrontal cortex (that does all of our executive brain function) shuts down in panic, anxiety, and extreme stress. We literally stop being able to think productively until we can calm down and get our whole brain back online. So when a thought comes up and it feels urgent like you need to follow it to its end ("what will happen if… and then..."), try to let it go, and remind yourself that the most important thing you can do in the moment is try to reduce acute anxiety by using one of the other techniques above.


Print off this list or save it to your phone, and keep with you for when you have a rough moment. Try it a few times: don’t think too hard, just notice that your anxiety is rising, and pick one thing and do it. Move down the list and try different ones to find what resonates with you.


Of course, these are in-the-moment solutions for when your anxiety is already upon you. The best course of action for truly solving anxiety and mood issues is finding and treating the root cause. Read my article on what really causes depression, and similar articles on anxiety for more insight into underlying causes and how to solve them. Exercise, diet, sleep, supplementation, and acupuncture are some of the ways you can effectively and naturally work to reduce your concerns so that you have uprooted your anxiety at its base.


Are you curious about what your life would be like without anxiety? Book a free 15-min consult with me.

1. Move and stretch your body
2. Name 5 green things in the room
3. Triangle Breathing
4. Feel your body on the chair or your feet on the ground
5. Repeat a mantra
6. Chug a glass of cold water
7. Shake
8. Practice self-compassion
9. You don't have to follow every anxious thought to its end

References

https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/inner-source/201407/cold-splash-hydrotherapy-depression-and-anxiety

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Lachlan Crawford, ND

Toronto, ON

416-214-9251

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