By Jenn Bovee, LCSW, CRADC, CCHt, EMDR Trained
Many people live with anxiety, which can be such an intense experience that people may have trouble with normal day-to-day functioning. Common symptoms of anxiety include excessive worry, fatigue, feelings of agitation, feelings of restlessness, irritability, tense or painful muscles, avoidance of social interactions, shallow breathing, difficulty catching one’s breath, stomach aches, and panic attacks. People may be able to cope with some symptoms if they are fairly mild, but oftentimes, anxiety seemingly comes out of nowhere, and people are blindsided with excruciating and debilitating experiences.
The causes of anxiety are as different and varied as the people that experience it. In fact, a recent study showed that over 40 million people live with anxiety and panic disorders. There are a number of anti-anxiety medications that can be helpful. However, there are several other techniques and strategies that have proven to empower people to effectively cope with the anxiety in their life. These approaches are likely ones that you are not familiar with, but they work.
- Deep Breathing: For many years now, I’ve witnessed people who have varying degrees of anxiety. The thing that they all have in common is the experience of shallow breathing. When you are experiencing anxiety, deep breathing feels counter-intuitive, especially when you are fighting your body to remain in control. However, by actually engaging in some deep breathing, it releases the stress hormones that are flooding your brain and body.
- Positive Smells: When working with kids who have anxiety, we often recommend putting their favorite smell on a cotton ball and sticking it in their pocket. Smell is one of the strongest triggers from a subconscious mind perspective, and if it’s a smell tied to a positive and safe experience, it can help people to re-center.
- Massage Your Hands (or other parts of your body): The act of simply physically massaging your hands can release oxytocin. This is the same hormone that’s released when you hold a baby, hug someone who loves you, or play with a puppy. This hormone is also responsible for lowering stress in women. Oxytocin is a calming and soothing hormone when it’s released, and typically, the higher stress you are carrying, the lower the oxytocin you have.
- Take Action: If the dishes are undone, then do them. If the living room needs vacuumed, get that done. If the bathtub needs scrubbed, then have a great time! Many of the people that we work with have absolutely changed their living environment as a result of coping with their anxiety. They have eliminated the clutter and undone projects that can stimulate their anxiety. Cleaning can become a way to minimize and simultaneously cope with anxiety.
- Self-Hypnosis: Unlike meditation, where the goal is typically to clear your mind of thoughts, with self-hypnosis, we are teaching people to give themselves suggestions for change, which can happen in a deeper, more suggestible state of mind. One of the best benefits to engaging in self-hypnosis is it can operate as a reset button from a body and brain perspective. Some people have completely changed how they interact with and respond to anxiety as a result of their self-hypnosis. Many people who engage in self-hypnosis report that it gives them a greater sense of control.
- Do Something Creative: Singing is said to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and the vagus nerve. Because of the positioning of your central nervous system when you are singing, it automatically sends a signal to your brain that says you are safe and allows you to connect with other people socially. The same thing is true if you suck on hard candy. When you begin to feel anxiety creeping in, pop a piece of hard candy into your mouth and watch anxiety slink away.
No matter the severity or depth of your anxiety, know that help is always available. We always encourage our clients to keep a list of successful coping skills when they experience anxiety. When you keep a detailed list, it becomes an anxiety prevention tool. Many of our clients keep it on their memo app on their phone. They talk about how after adding a few things to it, the list becomes their first line of defense when the anxiety reappears.
For more information on any mental health related issues, please contact The Mental Wellness Center, Inc. at 309-807-5077 or email us at info@TheMentalWellnessCenter.com.Our office is located at 202 N. Prospect Road, Suite 205, Bloomington, IL 61704. We are invested in helping you achieve—or return to —a complete state of mental wellness.