Anxiety busters: 7 expert-backed tips to calm your mind
Stop fear and worry from ruling your life with these simple anxiety-reducing strategies.
Anxiety can manifest as a tightness in the chest, an awkward hot flush or a crippling fear of social situations.
It is the most common mental health issue in Australia – experienced by more than a quarter of us in our lifetime – and the symptoms are wide and varied.
For most people, anxiety is a normal and fleeting response to stressful scenarios, such as Year 12 exams or a job interview.
But for those with an anxiety condition, it can persist and become problematic, playing havoc with even the simplest daily interactions.
The good news is anxiety doesn’t need to rule your life. Here are a few simple strategies to help combat anxiety in all its forms.
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1. Tune out your negative voice
When caught up in a whirlwind of anxiety, you are not thinking clearly.
“You are living in the ‘what if’/’fear’ mindset,” clinical psychologist Dr Kirsten Hunter says.
“Usually this is not reality that you are seeing – but your catastrophic way of thinking.
“Ask yourself if you were calm, how would you normally view or deal with this situation?”
2. Press pause on big decisions
Now is not the moment to quit your job or tell your mother-in-law what you really think of her.
When full of anxiety, Dr Hunter says it’s important to put important decisions and actions on the backburner.
“This is a time to focus on self-care and distraction techniques, to soothe the storm in your head,” she says.
“Put off responding to others or setting your opinions in stone on the matter you are dealing with.
“When your mind calms you will be capable of more reasonable and balanced thoughts and choices.”
3. Step out of your head – and into downward dog
Mindfulness techniques and therapies like yoga, massage therapy, meditation and acupuncture are lauded by experts for helping distance yourself from invasive, calamitous thoughts.
“Meditation is one of the most effective anxiety moderators, because over time, regular meditation practice weakens the links between the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for feeling afraid) and the decision-making frontal lobes,” Sage & Sound psychologist Lana Hall says.
“If the frontal lobes can’t ‘hear’ the fear signals, you worry less.”
4. Get physical
Psychologist Rucha Lele, of online platform Lysn, says pulling on the sneakers for a bout of exercise can provide fast relief from anxiety.
“Thirty minutes of physical activity can really boost our mood by releasing feel-good endorphins, and counter our stress and anxiety hormone production,” she says.
“If you’re at work or in a place that might make it difficult to do some exercise, try a brisk walk around the block or practice some discrete desk exercises.”
5. Healthy body, healthy mind
When we are physically healthy, we are better equipped to handle life’s bumps – particularly during times of immense stress.
“Getting enough sleep, eating healthy meals and exercising are wonderful ways to reduce fatigue, help us concentrate more and enhance our overall cognitive functioning,” Rucha says.
Cutting back on stimulants like booze and coffee can also be beneficial.
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6. Just breathe
“If you can’t drop everything to exercise, a great way to alleviate feelings of anxiety is deep breathing exercises,” Rucha says.
“Conscious breathing allows for an increased awareness in our breathing patterns.
“When we breathe deep into our abdomen, we better normalise our heart rate, reduce muscle tension, letting those anxious feelings dissipate.”
Start by gently breathing in through your nose, with your mouth closed, for several seconds.
Then, exhale for several seconds, allowing your breath to leave your body slowly and gently.
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7. Rewire your brain
For those with severe anxiety disorders, the above strategies may not work.
The Australian Psychological Society says cognitive behaviour therapy is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders, because it helps change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours that can contribute to it.
Psychologists and counsellors can perform CBT.
Written by Elissa Doherty.