Page medically reviewed by Alexander Ingram, Therapist at Priory Hospital North London, in May 2022.
Anxiety is a set of symptoms and feelings that everyone experiences from time to time. The sense of tension, nervousness and apprehension is our body’s response to a perceived threat, and can occur in anything from arguing with loved ones to worrying over a job interview.
As anxiety rises within our bodies, the idea of calming down can feel near impossible. Our emotions can seem out of control, but there are techniques that you can learn, practise and use to provide you with instant, in the moment relief from anxiety, helping you to remain calm in stressful situations.
How can I quickly calm my anxiety?
Try these quick and easy techniques if you feel a rush of anxiety building inside you:
1. Accept your anxiety
It might seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes the best thing we can do is accept how we feel and allow it to take its course. Feelings of anxiety are normal and natural; by accepting what’s happening to us we have sometime help to usher our anxiety on faster than we would if we fought it.
Plus, if every time you’re anxious or stressed you try to avoid these feelings, you’ll always be fearful of anxiety creeping up on you – which can often lead to a more intense panic attack. Learning to accept the realities of how we feel can be a positive first step is dealing with anxiety.
2. Adopt some relaxation techniques
When you feel anxious, your breathing becomes rapid and shallow and you muscle tighten. This can impact your body by increasing your heart rate and bringing about light-headedness, nausea and sweating, among other physical symptoms of anxiety.
There are plenty of relaxation exercises to help reduce anxiety. These focus your breathing and identify areas of tension in your body which you can then release.
Here is a simple breathing exercise one that anyone can pick up in the moment to help calm 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
- Introduce muscle relaxation as you do. Work your way up your body, tensing body pats for five seconds and releasing.
- You’ll feel the tension drift away as you do this process
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.
3. Avoid stimulants like coffee and alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol can often have the opposite effect to what you might think. Coffee for example has been proven to induce more anxiety – especially when drunk in high doses (source). Alcohol too can, on the face of it, help us to calm down if we’re feeling anxious. However, over time alcohol and anxiety don't pair well together and will worsen any symptoms of anxiety you're currently experiencing.
4. Distract yourself
Whenever you are experiencing anxious thoughts, doing something that ‘fills your mind’ and needs complete focus can be a good distraction.
Small things like leaving the room or going outside can be effective. One other 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.
Changing focus can be especially effective if you’re experiencing anxiety at night. Sitting in bed ruminating about what’s making us anxious will only prolong our feelings. Get out of bed and distract yourself.
Written and narrated by Priory Therapist Adele Burdon-Bailey, take 10 minutes from your day to ease anxiety and stress with this guided meditation.
5. Visualise peacefulness
Visualisation brings together aspects of mindfulness and breathing techniques to give you another way to calm yourself down and stop anxiety from spiralling out of control.
One example is the 5,4,3,2,1 technique. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths and:
- 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 you can follow step-by-step on our Instagram) will encourage you to focus on your senses, free you from distraction bring your attention back to the present. All of which will help to calm your anxiety.
6. ‘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
- Go outside and get some fresh air
It’s important to try and ‘release’ the anxiety you’re feeling. These activities can calm your brain and body, helping you to focus and think rationally. If doing something physical isn’t working, try writing your anxiety away. An anxiety journal can help get negative thoughts out of you head or be used as a way to think clearly about how you’re going to remain calm once you’ve finished writing.
7. Question and challenge your thoughts
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.
8. Share your feelings
The saying goes that a problem shared is a problem halved. You might be surprised how effective opening up to people about your feelings can be. They can offer you some valuable perspective.
The idea of opening up can even more daunting when it isn’t a member of your friends or family, like for example in your workplace. Take a measured approach when speaking to your boss about your mental health, and remember you’re potentially helping other people in your office by being brave enough to speak up.
9. Listen to some music
Science has shown how music can be great for offering an immediate and effective means of calming yourself down. A study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that music can be “ considered a means of stress reduction in daily life, especially if it is listened to for the reason of relaxation.”
If you’re able to break away from whatever is causing you anxiety, put on some classical or slow and soft pop - - or whatever works for you. This might be especially useful is you're experiencing workplace anxiety, as you can get back to your desk and switch off with a few minutes of calm music.
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, we are able to provide you with an anxiety diagnosis that sets you on a course for recovery. 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 for anxiety, 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.
For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here
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