These days, it feels like just being alive qualifies as a stressful situation. Now more than ever, we all need to learn how to calm anxiety to give our overtaxed bodies and minds a much-needed rest.
So what helps with anxiety in challenging moments? If you’re feeling stressed, try these 11 scientifically proven ways to calm anxiety, especially in difficult or stressful situations.
1. BREATHE DEEPLY.
When anxiety or panic arise, breathing becomes shallow. You may start to breathe into your chest (thoracic breathing) rather than your diaphragm (diaphragmatic breathing). A rapid, shallow breath cycle causes physiological changes in your body, some of which feel just like the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Deep breathing helps calm anxiety in the body, relieving uncomfortable symptoms. Here’s a breathing exercise for anxiety that you can try anytime, anywhere.
- Inhale and exhale deeply. Breathe through your nose. Your belly should rise with the in-breath and fall with the out-breath, but your chest won’t move much.
- Breathe in for 3 and out for 6. Use any 1:2 inhale-exhale ratio that feels right.
- Focus on the out-breath. Place your attention on the exhale and lengthen it as much as you can.
Long, slow exhales are linked to the body’s relaxation network, the parasympathetic nervous system. When activated, it relaxes muscles, slows heart rate, and lowers blood pressure.
2. MOVE YOUR BODY.
Exercise has an immediate positive impact on the brain, including benefits to mental health. Studies show that right after moderate or vigorous exercise, people experience a reduction in anxiety and depression. Regular exercise improves cognition, quality of life, and sleep.
There’s a well-established negative correlation between exercise and anxiety. This is true in part because physical exertion triggers the release of endorphins in the body. These neurotransmitters, which act as the body’s natural pain killers, also relieve stress.
That’s why just 30 minutes of brisk walking a day can help you learn how to calm down anxiety—no need to overdo it, either. Just aim to be breathing more heavily than usual and feel warmed up by the end of your chosen activity. That’s all the physical effort needed to reap the mental health benefits of exercise.
3. ANCHOR YOURSELF TO THE PRESENT.
Anxiety takes you out of the present moment. When you worry, it’s usually about the future or the past—but often the present moment is actually okay. That’s one way you can use the present moment as a natural remedy for anxiety.
Techniques like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which focuses on embodied present moment awareness, can actually relieve stress and anxiety.
You can use grounding techniques for anxiety to bring your body and mind into the present moment in a calming and soothing way. The 3-3-3 grounding exercise below is especially beneficial for people who want to learn how to stop a panic attack.
- Look around for 3 objects. Maybe you see a rug, a tree, and a lamp.
- Name the objects one at a time. Use an adjective in combination with the object, like its color. So you might say, “blue rug, green tree, silver lamp.”
- Repeat these descriptions 3 times in order. Look around as you repeat the words and let your senses guide you.
- Repeat the process 3 times. If you’re still feeling panicky, repeat the whole exercise again.
By gently bringing your mind back into physical reality with sense-oriented relaxing exercises, you can interrupt moments of panic and anxiety. You’re reminding yourself that at this very moment, you are safe, you are okay, and you can be with what’s happening.
4. BE MINDFUL.
Mindfulness is the practice of observing your feelings and thoughts without judgment or commentary. When you do mindfulness meditation, you train your mind to watch how it thinks.
Human beings have a fundamental capacity for awareness that holds experience in a broad and spacious way. When you tap into this kind of expansive awareness using meditation, you create space between yourself and your thinking.
Over time, this distance can allow you the space to change the way you interact with your thoughts, especially those associated with anxiety. It can also help increase your distress tolerance.
Victor Frankl said it best: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
If sitting still with your mind feels like too much, trust yourself. Try yoga for anxiety or other mindful movement-based practices. You can also check out this anxiety-sensitive meditation guide for more helpful recommendations.
5. ACCEPT YOUR ANXIETY.
Accepting anxiety doesn’t mean you like it. It doesn’t mean you’ve resigned yourself to living with it forever or that you’re helpless to change it. Accepting your anxiety can be as simple as an attitude of “okay, this is here right now.”
It’s natural to dislike feeling anxious. But did you know that anxiety is an adaptive part of the human brain? It’s actually trying to take care of you. Understanding why we experience anxiety can be one pathway to accepting it.
So try this attitude: Thanks, Anxiety, for working so tirelessly to help protect and take care. I couldn’t have made it this far without you! Even though you’re unpleasant, I accept that you’re here, and I recognize that you’re trying to help.
6. TRAIN IN COMPASSION.
For this reason, practicing empathy and compassion can change the way you think and act.
And guess what? This practice helps you feel good. The more you practice self-compassion, the better your ability to regulate your mood.
By regularly extending compassion to your own suffering, you can change your brain’s neural pathways, reduce anxiety, and increase emotional well-being. In fact, compassion-focused therapy has proven effective in treating several anxiety disorders.
Try using a loving-kindness meditation to cultivate self-compassion. Offer empathy to the parts of yourself that are struggling or hurting.
Forgive yourself for the painful experience you’re having. And offer the wish or intention that you may be contented and at peace with yourself and the world around you
- If you’re experiencing anxiety, there is help and hope available.
- Learning to manage anxious feelings is a process, and these anxiety coping skills can help.
- If you need even more support, you may want to consider therapy, medication, or both.