No matter where you are or what is going on, there are things you can do to reduce anxiety in that very moment.

Sometimes, it is as simple as breathing. And yet, all too often, we fail to take care of ourselves in these small ways. The anxiety builds up, we feel worse and worse, and we react in ways that we don’t like.

This week, you’ll learn six different exercises to use for reducing anxiety symptoms: two breathing techniques, three physical body exercises, and one mindfulness practice. (if you missed week 1 of our Managing Anxiety eCourse, you can find it here)

 

Breathing to Reduce Anxiety

You might not even be aware of it but anxiety impacts the way that you breathe. For example, anxiety related to the fight-flight response causes you to take quick, shallow breaths. You can flip that around and use controlled breathing exercise to significantly reduce anxiety. Taking slow, deep breaths combats the anxiety.

The best thing about deep breathing as an anxiety tool is that you can discretely do it in almost any setting or situation.

 

In 2, Out 2 – 4-6-8 Breathing Method

  • Pause and focus on your breath.
  • Breathe in to the count of 2.
  • Exhale to the count of 2.
  • Breathe in to the count of 2.
  • Exhale to the count of 4.
  • Breathe in to the count of 2.
  • Exhale to the count of 6.
  • Breathe in to the count of 2.
  • Exhale to the count of 8.
  • Breathe in to the count of 2.
  • Exhale to the count of 10.

You always breathe in for just two seconds, exhaling longer and longer each time. Your anxiety should decrease.

 

Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise

This is a longer breathing exercise that you can practice for ten minutes per day to regulate your anxiety levels. However, you might find that ten minutes is too long to start with. People with anxiety sometimes find it triggering to focus on the breath, but it is ultimately healing, so you can begin slowly and work your way up to more time.

You might do the following exercise for just one minute only when you first start. Work your way gradually up to ten minutes per day.

Find a quiet place and begin by lying down with a pillow under your head and your knees (if this is comfortable for you; adapt according to your physical needs). Follow these four steps:

  1. Place one hand on your lower abdomen.
  2. Breathe in deeply and slowly as you count to five, pulling your breath into your lower abdomen until it raises the hand that is resting there.
  3. Release your breath slowly and smoothly as you count to five, exhaling all the air from your lungs until they are completely empty. If you get dizzy, exhale for two counts longer or pause for two counts at the end of the exhalation of your breath before you start to inhale again.
  4. Focus on your breath as you do this exercise. Aim to relax your mind and body. When you notice your attention drifting, particularly when you feel stress creep back into your body, simply bring your attention back to your breath. If the silence is challenging for you, try playing soft relaxing music or nature sounds.

If you try breathing exercises and they cause too much panic, it may be because you hold your breath as a means to avoid emotion. This is common among people with anxiety. Working slowly through the exercises should help. However, you might want to work with a therapist to control panic during breathing practice.

Tip for people who experience panic attacks: As soon as you notice the symptoms of a panic attack, begin slow deep breathing. If the panic attack has already begun, you may need at least five minutes of controlled breathing before the symptoms begin to subside. Remember, the panic attack cannot last forever even though it feels interminable. You can breathe through it.

 

Physical Body Exercises to Reduce Anxiety

Breathing is one way to utilize the physical body to reduce symptoms of anxiety. There are also several other techniques that you can use. Here are three:

 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This is one of the most effective techniques for achieving total body relaxation and thus reducing anxiety. It takes less than fifteen minutes. It is especially effective for people who experience physical anxiety symptoms including headaches, stomach problems, and muscle pain.

The general idea is that you will tense and then release every major muscle group in the body, “progressing” from the bottom of the feet to the top of the head. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position in a quiet place. Tightly tense your muscles and release them in the following order, noticing each time the difference in feeling between tension and relaxation:

  • Toes: Curl them tightly into your feet. Release.
  • Calves: Point your feet. Release. Flex your feet. Release.
  • Thighs: Squeeze thighs tightly together. Release.
  • Torso: Suck in your abdomen. Release.
  • Back: Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Release.
  • Shoulders: Lift and squeeze your shoulders towards your neck. Release.
  • Arms: Make fists and squeeze them up towards your shoulders. Release.
  • Hands: Tighten your fists. Release.
  • Face: Scrunch your face together. Release.
  • Finish by squeezing all of your body muscles together at once then releasing deeply.

To facilitate learning this method, here is a 12-minute audio file that will take you through the steps of progressive muscle relaxation.

 

Embrace Light Aerobic Activity

When you have anxiety, it can be hard to sit still. Breathing and progressive muscle relaxation might not feel right because sometimes what you need instead is exercise.

The physical movement of aerobic exercise helps with both short-term and long-term anxiety. In other words, it reduces your symptoms right then and also helps reduce anxiety in your life overall.

Here are your goals for light aerobic exercise to reduce anxiety:

  • Aim for 35-45 minutes daily at least three times per week. However, start with what you can comfortably do right now. That might be only five minutes per day, three times per week for the first few weeks. Build up to longer times gradually.
  • Make exercise easier by choosing something you like to do. Brisk walking is a good place to start because you can do it anywhere. Dancing, jogging, boxing … ask yourself what you think would feel good.
  • Buddy up with someone else who wants to exercise regularly. This holds you accountable and may make it more enjoyable.

 

Stretch Your Body

There is a halfway point between stillness and physical activity: stretching. Make sure that you stretch regularly. This loosens tight muscles. It gives you a moment of pause. This might be one of those things that you do during your daily “two-minute vacations” which we introduced in week one of this course. There are many small stretches that you can do even when sitting at a desk or in the passenger seat during a commute.

Tip: Incorporate aromatherapy into your breathing and relaxation routines. There are certain essential oils known to reduce anxiety including lavender, jasmine, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, bergamot, and rose.

 

Mindfulness Exercise to Reduce Anxiety

 

Noticing the Moment You Are In — Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to exactly what is happening in the moment, without judging the thoughts or experience. Mindfulness has been found to offer healing from a variety of ailments and challenges.

Mindfulness is a particularly powerful antidote to anxiety, because anxiety is all about not being in the moment.

Anxiety is usually worrying about the future or sometimes stress from ruminating about the past. In this exact moment, you are okay. Reminding yourself reduces anxiety.

Here is one simple, highly effective, mindfulness exercise. At first, you might wish to practice with a partner who can read the instructions to you. Eventually, you will know the process by heart and can practice it alone each day. Here are the instructions:

 

Sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Follow your breath into your body as you inhale through your nose.

  • Notice each sensation of inhaling.
  • Notice the coolness of the air.
  • Notice the pressure of airflow.
  • Notice how the movement feels through your nose, throat, trachea, and into your lungs.
  • Notice the feeling of your body shifting against your clothing and the chair you are sitting on.
  • Follow the breath out of your body, exhaling through your nose or mouth.
  • Notice the warmth of the air.
  • Notice the pressure of airflow reversed past your throat, sinuses, and nose or mouth.
  • Notice how the movement of air feels through your lungs, trachea, throat, and nose or mouth.
  • Notice the change in the feeling of your body shifting against your clothing and in the chair you are sitting.

 

Exhale your awareness to the world around you without opening your eyes.

  • Direct your awareness to every sound in the environment, paying special attention to location and intensity.
  • Shift your awareness to the smells in the environment.
  • Shift your awareness to the sense of movement in the environment if you are in a place with other people nearby.

 

Now, shift awareness back to your body, and inhale again.

  • Notice the coolness of the air.
  • Notice the pressure of airflow.
  • Notice how the movement feels through your nose, throat, trachea, and into your lungs.
  • Notice the feeling of your body shifting against your clothing and the chair you are sitting on.
  • Add this awareness: feel your heart beating.
  • As you exhale, notice the warmth of the air.
  • Notice the pressure of the airflow reversed past your throat, sinuses, and nose or mouth.
  • Notice how the movement of air feels through your lungs, trachea, throat, and nose or mouth.
  • Notice the change in the feeling of your body shifting against your clothing and the chair you are sitting on.

 

Now with eyes remaining shut, exhale your awareness into the room.

  • Direct your awareness to every sound in the environment, paying special attention to location and intensity.
  • Shift your awareness to the smells in the environment.
  • Shift your awareness to the sense of movement in the environment if you are in a place with other people nearby.

 

Now shift your awareness back to your body as you inhale

  • Notice the coolness of the air.
  • Notice the pressure of airflow.
  • Notice how the movement feels through your nose, throat, trachea, and into your lungs.
  • Notice the feeling of your body shifting against your clothing and the chair you are sitting on.
  • Feel your heart beating.
  • Add this awareness: feel the movement of blood or energy through your body or limbs.
  • As you exhale, notice the warmth of the air.
  • Notice the pressure of the airflow reversed past your throat, sinuses, and nose or mouth.
  • Notice how the movement of air feels through your lungs, trachea, throat, and nose or mouth.
  • Notice the change in the feeling of your body shifting against your clothing and the chair you are sitting on.

 

One more time, shift your awareness to the external world as you exhale.

  • Direct your awareness to every sound in the environment, paying special attention to location and intensity.
  • Shift your awareness to the smells in the environment.
  • Shift your awareness to the sense of movement in the environment if you are in a place with other people nearby.

Prepare to open your eyes by becoming aware of light coming through your eyelids. Gradually allow your eyes to open, taking in the color of the light and then the things you can observe with your vision as you become fully present and aware of the situation you are in. You are in this moment. All is okay.

All of these techniques are most useful when used on a regular, daily basis. It only takes a few minutes per day to practice these, but those minutes add up to train your body to calm down regularly. When you notice anxiety, you can breathe and remember this calm feeling, bringing yourself back to it more easily each time.