Anxiety is an emotion and, according to the American Psychological Association, is characterized by feelings of worry and tension. Anxiety is also accompanied by a host of physical symptoms as well, including increased heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and suppressed digestion. Experiencing anxiety can be appropriate given specific contexts and situations, but, it’s important to know how to handle it when it rears its head.
Ahead, more on what causes anxiety, plus quick techniques to reduce it.
What Causes Anxiety?
Anxiety can be caused by many things. Commonly, it can be triggered by an impending event that is meaningful, like a final exam or work deadline, for instance. It can also be caused by major life events such as loss of a job, a family member, or a pandemic. You can also experience feelings of anxiety when your blood sugar crashes or go too long between eating meals. Everyone is different when it comes to the experience of anxiety and what causes them to feel it in the first place. I suggest becoming mindful of when you experience anxiety to help you understand what your specific triggers are.
5-Minute Techniques to Help Reduce Anxiety
Diaphragmatic breathing, otherwise known as belly breathing, encourages full oxygen exchange by taking full deep breaths from your belly instead of your chest. This type of breathing engages our relaxation response by slowing our heart rate and blood pressure.
Start by lying down on your bed or the floor and place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. As you inhale, slowly breathe through your nose, focusing on drawing the breath from your belly. As you exhale, feel your belly falling as you slowly and consciously breathe out through your nose or pursed lips. You will know if you are doing it right if you can feel or watch the hand on your belly rise and fall while your hand on your chest stays still. Practice this for a few minutes each day to help you understand how to utilize this important skill. It is important to practice anxiety-reduction techniques when you aren’t feeling anxious so that you understand how to do it. That way, you can use these skills in the moment when you are feeling anxious to help manage feelings of anxiety and nervousness.
Grounding Technique: 5-4-3-2-1
Grounding techniques are ways in which we can use our senses to help us activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and relaxation. Start by taking a couple of deep diaphragmatic breaths. Then, acknowledge 5 things that you see in your environment and describe them to yourself. Next, acknowledge 4 things you can touch around you and describe how it feels to you. Then, pick out 3 things you can hear and describe how they sound to you. And then, acknowledge 2 things you can smell and one thing you can taste and describe these sensations as well. Do this exercise slowly and mindfully to help your brain and thoughts engage and get into the present moment.
Rational Coping Statements
Rational coping statements are statements you can use to help you practice rational thinking during times when you are feeling anxious. When anxiety takes over, it is common to experience various irrational thoughts that lead to increased feelings of anxiety and worry. To manage this, write down some statements that will help you get through difficult moments when you are feeling anxious.
For example, “anxiety isn’t dangerous, it’s just uncomfortable, and this will pass” or “I can get through this; this has happened to me before.” You can write these down on a piece of paper or on your phone to have them accessible and easy to read during times when you start to feel anxious.
Mindful Body Scan
A body scan is a technique that allows you to mentally scan different parts of your body from your head to your toes, acknowledging different sensations and sensing any physical discomfort or tension. This allows you to be present and aware of how different parts of your body are feeling. You can begin this exercise by taking a few deep breaths and closing your eyes. Start by bringing your attention and awareness to your feet. Begin observing any sensations that are in your feet, and if you feel tension or strain, gently breathe through it and visualize the tension releasing. Continue this practice with your calves, thighs, buttocks, and so on until you get to your head. Notice how you feel after the exercise. Practice this once a day to get the most out of this practice.
For a guided practice, try this FitOn Body Scan meditation with Vytas.
Additional Tips to Relieve Anxiety
Keep Your Blood Sugar Levels Stable With Nourishing Food
Keeping your blood sugar level stable between meals is important to prevent blood sugar swings from leaving us feeling extra anxious and jittery. Eating a wholesome and nutrient-dense diet is also important for supporting not just physical wellbeing but mental wellness as well. Research shows a strong connection between the food we eat and our mood.
Consider eating plenty of nutrient-dense foods like fatty fish, berries, dark leafy greens, zinc-rich foods like pumpkin seeds, cashews, and legumes, as well as eggs, turmeric, and green tea.
We know how important exercise is for physical health, but exercise also plays a role in supporting mental wellness too. According to research, exercise may help the brain better cope with stress, and research found that for some, regular exercise helped reduce feelings of anxiety.
Find the type of exercise that works best for you, as consistency is key. If you haven’t joined the FitOn community yet, sign up for free and get access to unlimited free workouts, including various fitness categories and classes for every fitness level.
Get Enough Sleep
Ever wake up after a night of poor sleep and feel on edge and extra anxious? Research shows that a lack of sleep can affect mood and emotional health, which may increase anxiety for some.
And, not only can a lack of sleep increase feelings of anxiety and low mood, but anxiety can cause poor sleep. To help support better sleep, consider a before-bed meditation, avoid scrolling through your phone or watching the news before bed, and establish an evening ritual and bedtime you stick to every night.
The Bottom Line
Anxiety is all about management since it is an experience that we cannot avoid. In addition to the techniques above, engaging in regular exercise as well as focusing on a nutrient-dense whole foods diet with limited consumption of alcohol and processed foods will help you manage feelings of stress and anxiety. Understanding what triggers your anxiety, as well as ways to manage these feelings, such as the techniques listed above, will help you cope in a healthy and positive way.
If you are dealing with anxiety, don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional or get in touch with your primary care provider. There are many treatment options available, and professionals ready and able to help.