- Mental Health»
- Anxiety Disorders
Reduce your Anxiety in 3 Easy Steps
Freedom from Anxiety
For most of my life now, I have suffered from terrible anxiety.
There have been long, painful stretches of days (...weeks, months...) where this became such a problem that I have found myself unable to leave my home, let alone be productive.
Anxiety no longer rules my life. So what changed? How did I do it?
There was no magical potion to cure my anxiety. I spent years soul-searching, seeking the aide of both Western and Eastern medicine. Here is what I have learned, what works for me.
Now, a little disclaimer... I am no doctor. If you are having anxiety attacks like mine, getting help from a qualified professional is a pretty fantastic idea. This isn't medical advice. Simply the steps I take when my anxiety gives me sass.
My Big Three
1. Breathing exercises
2. Tai Chi
3. Learning something new
Did you notice how none of the above was “Meditation”? This is because, in a way, each of these is a meditation.
Breathing Exercises are kind of like a rescue inhaler for an asthmatic. In the middle of an anxiety attack, this is my go to.
First, still your body.
I have found that being physically comfortable isn't as important as being still. This is especially handy to keep in mind if you are somewhere very crowded, where sitting down or going somewhere quiet just isn't an option.
Next, imagine your anxiety as a colour. For the sake of this article, I'll say Orange. Your body, during an anxiety attack, is full of orange. Picture in your mind a silhouetted or outline version of yourself. That outline is full of orange.
Okay, now imagine the calm, peaceful opposite of anxiety is also a colour. Shall we say, Blue. Back to that picture of the anxiety riddled Orange filled you. outside, all around you, is Blue. Simple enough so far, right?
Here's where breathing enters into it.
Exhale out as far as you can, all the while watching that mental image of yourself. Imagine the Orange flowing out of you with your breath. Try pressing your belly button into your spine with your breath, to really make sure all of your air is exhaled.
Inhale in, as deeply and calmly as you can. You are now breathing in the Blue. Blue is gradually replacing the Orange in that lovely self-image.
Repeat as many times as you wish, ideally replacing every last bit of the Orange with Blue.
A few things to note -
The picture you create in your mind, with the outline of yourself and the two colours, will eventually come quickly and easily. I found that practising this during times of calm helped me kind of ready the visualization for instant reference.
There is no set number of deep breaths. Just do as many as you need to. I can generally crush an anxiety attack within 4 breaths now, but it was not always so! You are not weird if you need 16 breaths, and then another 12 ten minutes later. Anxiety is like a wave, after all.
It helps to slow your breathing down a little when you are upset. Just don't force your breathing into an unnatural pattern, that isn't good for you either. I like to count when I first start slowing my breath, something like out for 6, in for 4. Listen to your body and do what feels best.
Does this help? Do you use other breathing techniques? Share a comment!
I can only speak from personal experience, but my experience echoes that of many others I have had the privilege to speak with.
(In other words, it is definitely worth trying)
Tai Chi is a series of deceptively simple movements. Each movement is actually a series of smaller movements, giving your mind so much to consider that you become more or less unable to continue the thought processes that are perpetuating your anxiety.
Tai Chi is also exercise. The gentle flow of movements are only a part of it. These, combined with the challenging stances, which place great emphasis on how you distribute your weight between your feet.
Improved grace and strength are certainly wonderful, but that isn't the best part for me. Practising Tai Chi helps to redirect the energy my body and mind are using for anxiety, to instead produce a calmness and serenity.
There are many ways to learn Tai Chi. From a book, from a video, in person... Although in person, especially when you are first starting out, is best.
My advice is to seek out and attend a class before you check out the books and videos.
Classes come in both group form, and one-on-one. I have spent time practising in both situations, and honestly prefer the group. It always feels like the effects of Tai Chi increase when there are more people participating. Even just sitting back and watching seems to settle me down a lot.
However, this is a personal preference. Do what feels best to you!
It is worth noting that I have met a lot of fantastic, health-minded people through Tai Chi classes. Befriending people who have the kind of temperament you want is a great way of absorbing their powers AND BECOMING THE ULTIMATE ZEN MASTER! Mwahahahaha!
...Okay, that was kind of, sort of, a joke. But not really.
Your personality is a small percentage of your upbringing, and a large percentage of the people you surround yourself with. Thus, hanging out with a bunch of super chill folk will very likely rub off on you.
Have you had any experiences with Tai Chi, good or bad? Share a comment!
I am rather fond of this book, if you are looking to do a little reading on Tai Chi
Finally, I want you to imagine, a can of beans. This can of beans is your mind, and each bean is a bit of your attention.
There are a lot of beans in a can, but not an infinite amount. You can say the same said of your mind – You are capable of paying attention to a lot of thoughts, but only so much at any given time.
I have come to understand that anxiety, at least for me, is a greedy bean thief. It takes up as many beans as it can, leaving all other thought processes unable to compete for space in my mind.
This is where the last item on my list comes in to play.
Learn Something New
When you throw yourself at learning something, you commit those aforementioned beans toward a purpose. The more intensely you concentrate on your task at hand, the fewer beans are available for anxiety to eat.
Pick a subject you are curious about, or perhaps something that would benefit your life to know more about. I tackled a challenging accelerated college course, with the theory that my employability would improve after.
The beautiful part of learning, though, is that it does not need money to learn something new.
We are living in a time where information is readily available to everyone, and free or inexpensive courses are everywhere.
Libraries and community centres are a great source of in person courses. Just last year, I learned to knit through a group in my local library. It did not cost me a cent.
Knitting not your thing? My local community centre offers fun opportunities, such as dance classes or (you probably saw this coming) Tai Chi. I usually get a bit of a mood boost when I take a class somewhere local, because I feel like I'm supporting my community.
Of course, colleges are another great resource for courses. While the price does jump up a bit, you usually walk away with something you can usually put on a résumé. I'm not talking exclusively about earning a diploma, either. Individual courses and certificates are also a thing.
If in person learning is just too much of a hurdle for you, there are a plethora of online courses available. The cost of Distance Education varies greatly from course to course, but so do the subjects. You can find obscure subjects to learn about online, such as building your own Tiny House!
The point isn't what you are learning. The point is to starve your anxiety by taking up more of those brain beans with constructive thought, than the anxiety can.
How do you consume your beans? Share a comment!