Check out the Good Life Project Podcast- Episode 597 for the complete description of these tools. Below you’ll find added content for each of the 20 tools for overcoming anxiety.
There are thousands of research studies that support the impact of exercise in completing the stress cycle. Engaging your muscles use up the chemicals that your body releases. A 2014 study by Wegner et al., aggregated data of over 37 meta-analyses and research on 42,264 people and identified that exercise made a significant impact on anxiety.
Cardiovascular exercise like running is great as our evolutionary ancestors were often running from something when they were anxious. But, if you don’t have anywhere to run to escape the tiger in your mind, exercises such as progressive muscle relaxation can work too. Tense all of your muscles and hold for a slow count of ten and then relaxing.
Whether you’re petting an animal or receiving a hug… touch releases oxytocin. This feel good chemical is responsible for bonding, connection and a sense of trust.
The Harlow Monkey Experiments demonstrates the importance of physical comfort when soothing the nervous system. Check out a description of the experiments below.
Havening is a psycho-sensory therapy that utilizes physical touch to down-regulate the nervous system. Check out these videos which explain how Havening works and how to Self-Haven:
4. Butterfly Tap
This is one of my favorite techniques for creating calm utilizing bilateral stimulation of the brain. This is the use of visual, auditory, or tactile external stimuli occurring in a rhythmic side-to-side pattern which if frequently used as a core element of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.
5. Tapping & EFT
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), also known as tapping, is a novel treatment of stress related conditions using a step by step process of self-stimulating acupressure points throughout the body while repeating a statement. While research on EFT is in it’s infancy, the data is promising and the self-reported uses and impact is strong, including this research summary Medical News Today which offers the EFT steps, along with a summary of the most recent research.
6. Forward Folding
Benefit from the impact of gravity on blood flow to slow your beating heart with forward fold poses. Consider some of these simple possess for 5-7 breathes. Inhale and fill your body with breath. Exhale slowly and mindfully ease into the stretch.
7. Sing, Chant or Hum
The vagus nerve passes through by the vocal cords and the inner ear and the vibrations of humming is a free and easy way to influence your nervous system states. In particular, chanting the sound “OM” or anything with a “mmm” sound stimulates the vagus nerve as it is connected to the vocal cords. Consider the bumble breathe (bhramari), it’s one of my favorites. The first time I ever did bhramari in yoga class, was also the first time I had ever experienced a “silent mind.” (Even though it only lasted 2 seconds :-).
8. Water Therapy
As water flows, the crashing of water particles creates negative ions which when inhaled and felt on our skin has been shown to lift mood and decrease stress. And what’s better than listening to the sound of running water? Getting in! A 2018 study by Goto and colleagues examined the impact of showering versus bathing on the well-being of 38 participants. They found that while both are beneficial, bathing led to significantly lower stress, tension-anxiety, anger-hostility, and depression-dejection. According to the authors, “Immersion bathing, but not shower bathing, exerts hyperthermic action that induces increased blood flow and metabolic waste elimination, which may afford physical refreshment. Immersion bathing should improve both physical and emotional aspects of quality of life.”
Breathing is the only autonomic function that you have direct control over. Every inhale stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, your body’s gas pedal. Every exhale stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system. Use these techniques to drive the car of your body. To decrease the experience of anxiety and stress, make your exhale longer than your inhale. To stimulate the body, make your inhale significantly longer than you’re exhale. To relax the body, make your exhale significantly longer than your inhale.
The simplest and safest way to start is to notice your breath and count what a natural breath cycle feels like. Then try to match the length of your inhale and exhale. Then, to create calm, keep breathing with your inhale count the same but slowly extend your exhale count until the exhale is twice as long as your inhale.
Here are the many ways that breathing impacts your mind-body health:
10. Soft Belly Breathing
The vagus nerve is one of the primary nerves of the relaxation response. It innervates the most in the stomach region. When you practice abdominal breathing you slow the breath down and relax the muscles around your stomach, you further stimulate the vagus nerve. Check out the video below from the Center for Mind-Body Medicine to learn this simple practice.
1. Catch the Chatter
Set a timer to go off. When it does, write down your thoughts. Knowing what types of thoughts you’re working with will give you greater mastery over the process below. You may notice that there are a handful of core worries that you have and everything else is on loop.
2. Talkback to the Thoughts
Reminder yourself that you are not your thoughts. You are not worried. You are you, having the experience of worry. Reperceiving is defined as the ability to “disidentify from the contents of consciousness (i.e., one’s thoughts) and view moment-by-moment experience with greater clarity and objectivity” (Shapiro et al., 2006, p. 377). Mindfully witnessing your thoughts helps you separate yourself from the thinker.
3. Thank Your Protective Brain
Instead of wrestling your thoughts, recognize that they are trying to protect you. Appreciate your worrying mind doesn’tWhamean you have to give in to the thoughts. Remember that worrying interrupts long-term problem solving. If there is actual threat, then what you need is problem solving and action. Worry makes you want to run away instead of leaning and doing something about it.
4. Manage Your “What Ifs”
Your neo-cortex is the human, rational thinking part of your brain. It is the part of your brain that has the capacity to use reason and logic to make decisions about the future. Your emotional limbic system in your brain, is the part of our brain that is wired for survival. In a relaxed state, the emotional brain is aware of “what is happening” and the rational brain is capable of planning into the future of “what will happen” with “what if” scenarios. When you’re in threat mode your worrying brain decides it should be responsible for “What Iffing”. It does so with worst case scenario thoughts and makes you think it’s real. Remember, the emotional brain treats the “what ifs” as though they are happening now.
Check out this animation from www.GoZen.com that teaches this principle to children in their Anxiety Prevention program for children.
5. Designate Worry Time
Setting aside time to worry creates a container. I suggest picking a daily time and writing for at least 15-20 minutes. Most people find they max out around 5-10 minutes. Then when you’re brain offers worries at other times throughout the day, remind it that it can wait till the next time. Check out this Worry Box made by a school counselor for her students to create a container for their worry.
6. “I’ve Handled it Before. I’ll handle it.”
7. Worst Case, Best Case, Most Likely
Check out the step-by-step process at GoZen.com
9. 5 Senses & Nouns
10. Certainty Anchors
Check out Jonathan Field’s description of the Certainty Anchors and how to use them to find calm in a stormy world. Use these anchors to center you and calm the brain. Create rituals that bring meaning to the simple actions of day to day life.
Goto, Y., Hayasaka, S., Kurihara, S., & Nakamura, Y. (2018). Physical and mental effects of bathing: A randomized intervention study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2018.
Shapiro, S. L., Carlson, L. E., Astin, J. A., & Freedman, B. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness. Journal of clinical psychology, 62(3), 373-386.
Wegner, M., Helmich, I., Machado, S., E Nardi, A., Arias-Carrión, O., & Budde, H. (2014). Effects of exercise on anxiety and depression disorders: review of meta-analyses and neurobiological mechanisms. CNS & Neurological Disorders-Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets-CNS & Neurological Disorders), 13(6), 1002-1014.