Anxiety can be a helpful resource, but too much anxiety is too much. Knowing how to stop feeling so anxious is an important way to keep anxiety at a manageable level. I was very pleased to help out with this great piece for Health.
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Breathe anxiety away
When anxiety activates your fight-or-flight response, you know it; you heart rate accelerates, and you become shaky and flushed. The best way to counteract those panicky feelings is to slow your breathing.
Alicia Clark, PsyD, a Washington, D.C.-based psychologist and author of Hack Your Anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Work for You in Life, Love, and All That You Do, says deep belly breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from your brain to your gut and plays a pivotal role in calming your nervous system. Here’s how: breathe slowly and deeply, all the way down to your belly button, for up to four counts if possible, Clark tells Health. Then hold it for two counts and exhale: 4-3-2-1. Repeat the pattern for a few minutes.
Ride it like a wave
Imagine your anxiety is a wave in the ocean. “You don’t just stand tall and fight the wave,” says Clark. “You dive into it so it doesn’t knock you over.” In other words, instead of resisting your anxious feelings, remind yourself that they won’t harm you. Tell yourself you can handle it, she says, then let the wave wash over you. Stressing over your stress can make your anxious feelings even worse, and they’ll last longer, she adds.
Skip your afternoon Starbucks run
You crave that morning latte, we get it. But going back for another or multiple refills at your office coffee machine isn’t a great idea for managing anxiety. “If you’re anxious, caffeine can be a real anxiety accelerant,” Clark explains. Why’s that? Caffeine has a dose-dependent affect on mood. A little can perk you up—and too much can leave you anxious and irritable. Plus, some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Stick to one cup a day, maybe two, and watch how it affects you.
Exercise it out of your system
Exercise can be a great way to burn off stress that leads to anxious feelings. Working out boosts levels of endorphins and other mood-boosting brain chemicals, and it helps with sleep. Aerobic exercise also stimulates production of a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor).
BDNF is “like a brain fertilizer that bathes our neurons and makes our connections better and faster,” Clark explains. And that’s important, she adds, because a well-functioning brain is better equipped to understand, manage, and moderate emotions.
Remove yourself from the anxious environment
The brain chemical dopamine gets activated when we’re anxious, and that motivates us to take action to avoid a perceived threat, Clark explains. Instead of letting those anxious feelings swell up, channel that energy. Excuse yourself to the restroom to slap some water on your face, or just take a 10-minute walk outside or to another part of the building. Doing something that gets you away from the situation you’re in will help you mentally get away as well.
Limit your alcohol intake
We’re not saying you should skip happy hour; plenty of people drink alcohol to unwind and relax at the end of the day. But do so in moderation. “If you’re going to drink, less is more because too much of it can really give you an anxiety rebound,” says Clark. Plus, an evening of imbibing can mess with your sleep, and quality sleep on the regular helps keep anxiety in check.