If you suffer from anxiety, you aren’t alone. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that more than 40 million adults have some form of anxiety disorder, and that isn’t even including the young and the undiagnosed.
Anxiety is more than just a distraction, too. It can be a genuine health hazard that impacts you in physical and psychological ways.
Here are just a few common symptoms of anxiety:
- High blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal (GI) distress
- Heart palpitations
- Inability to regulate mood or emotions
If you suffer from anxiety, it’s recommended that you seek professional help. However, self-taught tips and tricks can also have their place in managing your anxiety at home. Consider the following anxiety exercises to help you feel better.
1. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
This is a breathing exercise that requires conscious thought and coordination, so it can take your mind off whatever anxious thoughts are swirling in your brain. For the best results, time your breaths to be long, deep, and steady. Deep breaths have been scientifically proven to be a stress reliever.
Check out our article about other breathing techniques for anxiety.
2. Count your breaths and slowly increase their length over time.
What if you’re in the middle of a panic attack and you can’t take deep, fortifying breaths? Try using the “start where you are” method.
Time your inhales and exhales to be identical, even if you can only do them for 1 – 2 seconds at a time, and slowly increase their length as you gain more control over yourself. It’s okay if this takes awhile. You aren’t trying to beat any speed records. You’re just breathing.
3. Visualize something serene.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “go to your happy place,” you should know that it’s a real thing.
It’s a self-soothing visualization technique that can take you from dark thoughts to lighter, calmer and more peaceful ones. The key is to be very detailed in your visualizations. If you’re imagining a field of flowers, for example, imagine every drop of drew on their petals and every chip of paint on their white picket fence.
4. Clutch something cold.
Have you ever tried to distract yourself from your anxiety? It doesn’t work for everyone, but you can try it at home with nothing more than an ice cube or a cold-soaked rag.
Squeeze it in your hand like a stress bell. Focus on the sensations. You can even try cataloging them in your mind: “It’s dry and cold. It’s melting. It’s getting slippery. My palm is going numb.”
5. Drink a glass of water.
Water is a miracle elixir with many positive benefits for the body. On top of that, people often get dehydrated without even realizing it, which can worsen mood disorders with symptoms like headaches and digestion problems.
Do yourself a favor and drink some water when you’re feeling out of sorts.
6. Breathe from your diaphragm.
This is a trick that can help you take deeper and longer breaths.
Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Then, try to breathe in a way that moves your stomach more than your chest. You’ll notice quickly that short, shallow gasps move the chest while bone-deep breaths are felt more in the diaphragm, which is the muscle that pulls air into your lungs.
7. Indulge your anxiety for five minutes.
Known as the “five-minute rule,” this can help with intrusive thoughts that demand attention.
You can give it to them, but they don’t get more than five minutes. Allow yourself to fully inhabit the fear, the stress, the doubt or the anxiety, but after their time limit is up, you have to move on. You can also use this tip for emotional regulation in general since it will let you feel and process your negative emotions without dwelling on them.
8. Flex your muscles.
Tensing and relaxing your muscles can be used as a “mindfulness” technique that goes along with things like breathing exercises.
To use it, just flex the muscles in your body one at a time. Start with your feet and work your way up. Not only can this center your attention, but it can also help you feel more present in your body if you’re prone to disassociation during anxiety attacks.
9. Empty your mind.
Think about nothing, or think about something blank, empty or clean that reminds you of nothing.
This is easier said than done, of course, but one of the tricks to doing it right is not to punish yourself when you notice your thoughts drifting. It’ll take practice before you can empty your mind on command, so don’t get annoyed or frustrated when you’re first starting out. Just gently re-direct your mind back to the snowy field or the white sheet of paper that you were visualizing before.
10. Engage in a repetitive activity.
Repetition can be used to calm anxious thoughts by providing a sense of stability within your immediate surroundings. Your brain will be soothed by it, which will soothe your body in turn. Try something like coloring, counting, messing around with a fidget spinner or even playing scales on an instrument. Anything works as long as it’s repetitive with a minimal amount of concentration required.
11. Go outside.
Fresh air and sunshine can help to soothe anxiety symptoms.
They aren’t a magic cure, but they come with many mood-boosting properties linked to mental and physical wellness, including better circulation, deeper breathing, and the release of happy hormones in the brain. If you’re up for a little exercise, physical activity can help you sleep better, too.
12. Use the 3-3-3 technique.
The 3-3-3 is a popular coping mechanism for anxiety. It asks you to:
- Look around and name three things that you can see.
- Close your eyes and identify three things that you can hear.
- Move three parts of your body. Do this one at a time.
By focusing on something other than your anxious thoughts, you can break out of their self-destructive cycle while also grounding yourself in the present. This can also be a useful technique for preventing anxiety attacks before they even begin.
13. Do something productive.
It doesn’t have to be a big, monstrous task from your to-do list. It can be something simple like brushing your teeth or finally cleaning up your Netflix queue.
It’s another distraction technique, and it has the added benefit of actually accomplishing something and giving you a sense of relief and purpose. With any luck, you can keep riding that wave of productivity into additional tasks.
14. Sit up straight.
Many people hunch over during moments of anxiety. It’s an instinctive response to protect vital areas such as the heart and lungs.
Studies have shown, however, that strong, self-confident body language can have an positive impact on the brain, so it might be worth the effort to improve your posture.
15. Interrupt your anxiety.
Do you have anxious thoughts that play on a loop in your head? It can help to explicitly identify and call them out, especially if you replace them with positive thoughts.
Try something like this: “I’ve already thought about this. I’m done. There’s nothing more that I can do. I’m choosing to focus on something else now.”
16. Sing a song.
This is an unconventional trick, but it plays into several anti-anxiety measures that are already listed here, including repetition and redirected focus. Don’t worry if you aren’t “American Idol” quality. Just sing for catharsis and stress relief. Here are some great songs to help with your anxiety.
17. Try some mindfulness-based stress reduction.
Last but certainly not least, try your hand at mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). It’s been proven effective in clinical settings for treating things like stress, anxiety and depression. It can take many forms, so you might have to experiment for a while to figure out what’s right for you, but it’s worth researching.
These are just a few anxiety exercises that can help you navigate your way into a better headspace. Some will energize you; some will relax you. The most important thing is that you keep trying different things until something sticks. Good luck!