Anxiety can be debilitating at times, and sometimes our body reacts in ways that our mind can’t make sense of and our mind goes in directions we feel we can’t control. While anxiety is something that can be chronic and never fully go away, it is something that can be managed in a multitude of ways. Therapy combined with medication, and even separately, can both decrease overall symptoms, intensity, and frequency of anxiety, but even still, anxiety can still sneak its way into our lives and find a way of taking over. That’s why it’s important to have a few techniques and strategies on hand that we can use at home, school, work, social situations, anywhere and anytime that anxiety and those overwhelming feelings can hit us. What may work for others may not work for you, so make sure to try different techniques to see what works best for you; don’t give up if the first thing you try doesn’t completely work. With that being said, have an open mind when trying different strategies; try something new even if you feel it might not work, you may be surprised. Below are some tips and techniques to help with anxiety, mindfulness, and grounding.
Deep Breathing Exercises
Belly Breathing: Sit, stand, or lie down comfortably, whatever you are able to do. Put your hands on your stomach. Inhale through your nose, filling your belly like a balloon and feeling your belly move outwards with your hands. Then exhale through your mouth, feeling your belly move inward, as if the balloon was deflating slowly. Do this continuously, anywhere from 1-10 minutes, or however long you need.
Square Breathing: Sit, stand, or lie down comfortably, whatever you are able to do. You are going to make a square with your finger, you can use an image of a square or imagine it in your head. Start by inhaling through your nose for 4 seconds, moving your finger upward; then, moving your finger across to the right, holding the breath for 4 seconds. Exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds moving your finger downward, then hold for 4 more seconds as you move your finger left across, completing the square. Do this continuously, for however long you need.
Star Breathing: Sit, stand, or lie down comfortably, whatever you are able to do. You are going to make a star with your finger, you can use an image of a star or imagine it in your head. Start by breathing in through your nose, drawing your finger up one side of a point of the star, then holding for a second at the top of the point, and breathing out through your mouth drawing down the point. Do this 4 more times around each point of the star until you complete it; breathing in, holding, then breathing out. Do this continuously, for however long you need.
5 Senses Grounding Technique
Focus on your 5 senses to bring yourself back to the present moment, to ground yourself. Wherever you are, find and name:
5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
In this exercise, you are going to tense and relax each of your muscles, from toe to head, one by one. This is used to help focus and identify the difference between the relaxed sensations and the tense ones. It can help release the overall physical tension in your body you may not even be aware of at first. It can also help to focus your awareness on physical sensations and lessen the feeling of anxiety in our bodies.
Start by sitting or lying down comfortably. Feel free to keep your eyes open or closed during this.
Start by taking some deep breaths, and then tense your toes and feet for 5 seconds. Release the tension and focus on the relaxation and the feelings/sensations accompanied with it.
Next, tense your calves for 5 seconds, and relax and notice.
Then tense your upper legs/thighs for 5 seconds, noticing the feelings, and then relaxing and focusing on those.
Do this through your entire body, going through your stomach muscles, chest, back, shoulders, arms/hands, neck and head.
Remember to breathe throughout, and focus on those sensations that you feel throughout your body, feeling your muscles and overall body relax when finished. Stretch your muscles when done if need be.
Cognitive Grounding Exercises
Think in categories (e.g., colors, movies, types of candy)
Think and describe your favorite place in detail
Count backgrounds from 100, in increments of 1 or 3 (e.g., 100, 97, 94, 91…)
Draw, listen to music, talked to a friend/loved one
List positive things about yourself/life, either out loud, in your head, or write them down
This is not a full list of every coping skill or relaxation technique that can help to ease anxiety. But these are a few that you can try at home or wherever you are, to decrease any overwhelming feelings, any stress, any anxiety, and/or intense feelings in your body. Be open to new techniques, and be kind to yourself when coping and dealing with yourself and your anxiety. It’s not always easy to manage, and you are doing the best you can!
Emily Blair, ALMFT