how to calm your anxiety

How to calm your anxiety

Have you experienced moments where you have thought that something bad is going to happen? It could have been in reaction to an exam, workplace issues, a health issue, or a relationship problem.

You may even have experienced faster breathing, restlessness, dizziness, rapid or irregular heartbeat.

All these are signs of anxiety. According to WHO, anxiety is one of the leading mental health concerns worldwide and an estimated 4% of the global population report anxiety-related disturbances, of which, approximately 62% are female. In the Indian context, 38 million people experience anxiety-related issues. This high prevalence makes it vital to understand anxiety and tools to help cope with it. 

When unmanageable, anxiety can be debilitating and it can interfere in one’s day-to-day functioning. In more severe cases, it can also manifest as a churning feeling in the stomach, sweating, hot flushes, nausea, hyperventilation, gastrointestinal issues.

Quick coping strategies to deal with anxiety

  1.  The first step is to recognise that what one is experiencing is anxiety and to name the emotion, e.g., saying to oneself, ‘I am feeling anxious.’ It is difficult to manage an emotion when we do not know what it is. Naming an emotion is an important step towards managing that emotion.
  2. The second step towards dealing with anxiety is to put into practice self-regulation techniques. These include:                                                                                                              a) Muscle relaxation: When one is anxious, certain muscles in our body tense to prepare our body to fight or flee. If the body remains tense for a long period, stress hormones continue to release, amplifying feelings of anxiety. In such moments, it can help to do a quick internal body scan to notice muscles which are tensed and to consciously relax them several times, since it is difficult to sustain anxiety in a relaxed body.
    b) Square breathing: Breathing techniques also allow the body to relax and to step out of fight – flight survival mode.  Square breathing entails breathing in for four counts 4, holding one’s breath for four counts, breathing out for four counts and holding one’s breath again for four counts – and repeating the same 4-5 times.
    c) Diaphragmatic breathing: When we are anxious, our heartbeat often escalates and we tend to breath shallowly from our chest. Breathing from the diaphragm instead of the chest allows our breathing to deepen, which is known to ease anxiety.
    d) Positive imagery: Bringing up an image of a happy or positive memory can also help to relax one’s body and calm the anxiety in that moment. 
  3. The third step towards dealing with anxiety is to remind oneself what anxiety is – essentially, an overestimation of the threat we perceive (e.g., a job interview, an exam) and an underestimation of our ability to deal with this threat. This means affirming that one can manage difficult situations as one likely would have done several times in the past.

In Conclusion

It is important to practice and rehearse the above 3 interventions as much as possible so that one can remember to recall and put them to use during the moments of anxiety. While these techniques will help manage anxiety in the short term, they are not a replacement for a therapy, but rather meant as an additional toolkit. A trained psychologist can help you cope with anxiety in a sustained manner. 

About Author – 

Sarika Pandit – 

Psychotherapist, Advanced level in REBT, AEI, NY

Sarika Pandit has completed her MBA and worked for 15 years in the corporate world with organizations such as Unilever, Nielsen and L’Oreal, before opting to pursue counseling. She has also completed MA in Counselling Psychology, and PG Diploma in Counseling (TISS). She has trained in Advanced level in REBT with the Albert Ellis Institute, New York and in Single Session Therapy (SST). She is the Co-founder of an NGO that works in the area of creating safer spaces for children and adults.