Experiencing symptoms of anxiety and anxiety disorders can be all consuming and extremely frightening, especially if they catch you off guard in your day. To support with these unpredictable moments, we offer our easy and practical tips to help alleviate anxiety – so you can return to a calmer state of peace.
To start, it’s important to recognise that feeling anxious in an anxiety-provoking and stressful situation is a normal response. Feeling our feelings (including stress and anxiety) and remembering that things pass with time supports our emotional growth and nurtures resilience in the process.
In anxious moments, our bodies respond to our emotions in the way it understand to protect us and keep us safe – by activating the sympathetic part of our nervous system, which is responsible for the “fight or flight” experience. This is when cortisol floods our body and we get ready to physically defend ourselves or run away as fast as possible.
You can identify if you’re in this state because it is often associated with high anxiety, jitters, restlessness, panic attacks, lack of sleep – basically any embodied experience that keeps you in a state of high alert and hyper-arousal.
Once the fight-or-flight chemical reactions have begun, it can take our bodies 10–20 minutes to return to our pre-fight/pre-flight state and through long exposure to stress or trauma, we can in fact get “stuck” in this state and remain highly sensitive to external stimuli.
However, once we have an inner awareness of us shifting into this sympathetic state, we can start to work with our bodily response and gradually de-escalate from a state of panic and tension.
Orri’s Accredited Senior Supervisor and Psychotherapist, Clive, offers three gentle tips that may prove useful for you when things begin to feel a little overwhelming…
Hold your head central and straight, and look up
To provide you with a subtle dopamine kick (a hormone associated with providing pleasure and reward), he suggests to keep your head level and still and to raise your gaze upward. Do this for a slow count of 5 and then return your gaze. This activates the dopamine and relaxes your face muscles, reminding your body that you are safe and ok.
Immerse your face in cold water
Cold water is great for activating dopamine and releasing endorphins!
A helpful way to switch off the sympathetic nervous system is to close your eyes and to immerse your face in cold water, for a slow and comfortable count of 10. Then, gently tap your face dry and carry out a body-scan – to check in how you feel. If you can feel the anxiety still there, repeat this process.
Raise your hand if you are guilty for walking and looking down! Don’t worry, most of us do.
When feeling insecure or anxious, we understand that recoiling our bodies to turn inward feels comforting (or even safe). Though, this can be seen as a slight oxymoron – for keeping active and walking encourages our brains to reward our bodies, yet the tension kept in a rigid posture also restricts the soothing of the nervous system.
What Clive recommends to confront this response is to practise walking with our shoulders back, heads up, and to look out over the horizon. With the raise in posture and release of of bodily tension, endorphins are triggered and your body is rewarded. This serves as a reminder to literally “keep your head up” when feeling anxious.
The more relaxed your head, the more relaxed your body.