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5 techniques for calming anxiety

Calming anxiety can feel near to impossible at times, particularly in moments when it seems out of control. But there are techniques that you can learn, practise and use to provide you with relief and stop your anxiety from reaching levels where it is damaging to your health and your lifestyle.

Within this blog, we will look at five techniques that can be useful for calming anxiety. If you feel that professional treatment would also be useful, we have outlined the support and therapy that is available here at Priory Group, which can help you to manage your anxiety going forward.

Advice for calming anxiety

1. Focus on your breath

When you feel anxious, your breathing becomes rapid and shallow. This can impact your body in the following ways:

  • Your heart rate increases
  • You feel dizzy and lightheaded
  • You experience nausea
  • You begin to sweat

By working to get your breathing under control, this can reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, which can be incredibly frightening to experience.

Below, we have outlined a simple breathing exercise that can be useful for calming anxiety:

  • Take in a slow deep breath through your nose for four seconds. Imagine filling your lungs from the bottom right to the top, making them as full of air as possible. You should feel your stomach rise as you do so
  • Hold the breath for another count of three
  • Exhale gently through your mouth for another count of six. Try to focus on relaxing any tense muscles when you do

When you breathe in, this raises your heart rate slightly, and breathing out lowers your heart rate slightly.  So, by breathing out for slightly longer than you breathe in, this can help you to lower your heart rate.

You may want to practise this breathing exercise a number of times a day. The more you do it, the more you will feel comfortable using it when you need to calm and quieten your anxiety.

2. Count backwards

Whenever you are experiencing anxious thoughts, doing something that ‘fills your mind’ and needs complete focus can be a good distraction.

One technique that some people use when calming their anxiety is counting backwards.

When trying out this technique, find a quiet place, close your eyes and count backwards until you feel your anxiety subside. If you don’t find that this helps, try something a little more complicated, like counting back from 100 in 3s. For many people, they find that they can’t continue to worry when they are focused on subtracting the numbers.

This is a technique that you can then use to calm your anxiety when you’re out and about, whether that is at the shops, at work or on the train.

3. The 5,4,3,2,1 rule

Another way to calm your anxiety and stop it from spiralling out of control is by doing the following:

  • Name 5 things that you see - this can include big objects like buildings, trees or houses as well as small objects like pens or a pair of glasses
  • Name 4 things that you can feel – recognise four things that your body is touching, including your socks against the skin of your feet, the feeling of your denim jeans or the arm of the chair that you’re sitting on
  • Name 3 things you can hear - focus on the ambient sounds you may not usually focus on, such as birds chirping, children playing outside or the sound of wind through the trees
  • Name 2 things that you can smell – while this one may seem difficult at first, try walking around until you find 2 scents, which may include the laundry, the bathroom soap or the flowers outside
  • Name 1 thing that you can taste – this may be the after-taste of a drink, meal or chewing gum. Or have a sip of a drink, and focus on the flavour

This grounding technique, which encourages you to focus on your senses, will help to bring your attention back to the present, distract you from your worried thoughts and calm your anxiety.

4. ‘Burn off’ your anxiety

When you’re anxious, it can sometimes be too hard to perform a technique like deep breathing, as your adrenaline makes it difficult for you to concentrate.  

In these moments, try doing something that rids your body of this adrenaline, which could include:

  • Chores that need a lot of energy to complete
  • High intensity exercise
  • Dancing around the house to loud music
  • Any aerobic exercise

These activities can calm your brain and body, helping you to focus and think rationally. You may then choose to move onto something like deep breathing or the 5,4,3,2,1 technique to quieten any anxious thoughts that are still present.

5. Question your thoughts

If you don’t get a text back from your friend, do you feel anxious because you think that they’re angry at you? Or if you get an abrupt email from your boss, do you start to feel worried as you believe you’re about to get fired?

When our mind focuses on these types of unhelpful and irrational thoughts, rather than being rational and healthy, this causes anxiety.

A useful technique to help calm anxiety is to learn how to pause and move past these destructive thoughts, before they have a chance to take hold. Learning this technique may take some practice but is a strategy that is well worth mastering.

When you feel yourself having an unhealthy thought, pause and really think about the following:

  • How is this thought going to make me feel?
  • Is it a fact or an opinion?
  • Is it a rational or irrational thought?
  • What are other outcomes to think about?

You may find it difficult to do this technique automatically at first. So try keeping a journal in the evenings, where you jot down any unhealthy thoughts that you had during that day which made you feel anxious. Take the time to consider these thoughts and answer the questions above. By practising this, you will then start to feel able to pause and move past unhelpful thoughts as you have them.

Seeking treatment for anxiety

If your anxiety symptoms seem to be staying the same or even getting worse, regardless of any techniques that you try, and if you are finding that your anxiety is having a damaging impact on your quality of life, you may need a bit of professional support to help you manage your symptoms.

At Priory Group, we are able to provide you with treatment, and for people experiencing anxiety, this will typically include a form of therapy. When you first come to one of our hospitals or wellbeing centres, you will meet with one of our doctors who will assess your symptoms, provide you with a robust diagnosis and work with you to determine the most effective treatment programme, which may include medication and therapy.

Our expert multidisciplinary team will then support you through your treatment programme so that you can begin to better manage your anxiety symptoms and improve your health and wellbeing for the future.

Blog reviewed by Alexander Ingram, Therapist at Priory Hospital North London

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