“I CAN’T DO IT!!! I JUST CAN’T GO!!!” She sobs mournfully while gasping for breath. “My heart is racing, my chest feels like an elephant is sitting on it, and I can’t breathe! I think I’m having a heart attack!” “Sweetie, everything is gonna be alright. Remember your breathing exercises. You are healthy and strong, and this is your anxiety.” “You don’t understand!!!” She screams angrily “You just don’t understand!!! I am gonna die!!! I am so scared!!!”
Anxiety is the sensation of fear in the absence of a real threat. Our brain responds to both fear and anxiety in the same way. In fact, all negative emotions shift the brain into survival mode, creating the illusion that our life is in danger, and then our brain prompts us to fight, run away, or mentally check out until the threat is gone. During this process, our thoughts, words, and actions are limited to those associated with enduring while under the threat of mortal danger. This is why states such as anxiety and depression are so tricky. When we begin feeling them, our brain shifts into a process that reinforces and intensifies the emotion (on a physiological level, emotionally and instinctually, we believe our life is in crisis when it is not). Within this state of urgency, we become unable to access all thoughts, possibilities, and courses of action except those related to escaping danger. Since our brain believes we are under threat, such emotions and instincts as anger, aggression, fear, leaving, and avoidance are intensified; while everything else, like truth, happiness, hope, factual information, and a balanced perspective; is temporarily blocked, until the brain believes the threat is gone. So, in order to reduce our anxiety, we must show the brain that we are safe. All anxiety reduction techniques ultimately demonstrate to the brain that the perceived peril has passed. When it is convinced, we will again gain access to our full range of thought, possibilities, and courses of action. With this physiology of anxiety in mind, let’s take a look at some practical routes to its reduction.
25 Routes to Safety
1. Deep Breathing: Whether alternate nostril breathing, focusing on your breath, 4-7-8 breathing, or another inspirational method; deep breathing will slow your body down, informing your brain that you are safe (breathing is rapid and shallow when you are under threat, and slows down when you are out of danger). Deep breathing can reduce anxiety.
- A Simple Breathing Technique To Reduce Stress In Minutes (Video)
- A Breathing Exercise To Help You Live In The Moment
2. Sufficient Sleep: Physical, mental, and emotional systems are more stable and balanced when we get enough sleep. When we are fatigued, these same systems experience depletion, instability, and imbalance; paralleling the conditions generated while under threat. A fatigued state is more likely to cause the brain to shift into survival mode, because of the physiological (adrenals, thyroid, hormonal), psychological (cognitive distortions), and emotional (shorter fuse or over-reactions) effects from the tiredness. The brain sees fatigue as weakness, and a possible sign of vulnerability to danger. When combined with other things like restlessness, racing thoughts, and worry; the threat indicators will eventually add up to danger to the brain; and the brain will then kick us into survival mode, which will increase the anxiety even further. To master this mischievous little mind trap, it is important to deeply grasp this concept (but don’t grip it too tightly). Sufficient sleep can reduce anxiety.
- How to Get Better Sleep (and Need Less Every Night)
- 12 Tips To Sleep Soundly Every Night
- Sleep Hacks: 10 Ways to Take Back Control Over Your Sleeping Habits
- Cuddlers, Rejoice! Science Proves That Sleeping With Someone Else Is Good For Your Health
3. Eat Consciously: Eating regular meals of fresh, organic food each day, whether hungry or not, will help us regulate the utility of our bodily systems. When our dietary decisions help balance functions like our pituitary, adrenal, thyroid, and hormones; our brain knows that we are safe (because these functions would be either spiking or depleted if we were in danger). The better our nutritional balance, the less likely the brain is to believe that our eating habits represent a risk to our survival. With this factor addressed, we can check munching off our threat indicator list. Conscious eating can reduce anxiety.
4. Meditate Daily: According to decades of scientific research, and millenia of spiritual practice, meditation is the single most effective method for reducing anxiety. Most forms of meditation slow the body down. In such states of calmness, our brain believes we are safe. Therefore, along with its numerous other health benefits; meditation can reduce anxiety.
- Choose the Right Form of Meditation for Your Needs
- What Happens to the Brain When You Meditate (And How it Benefits You)
5. Make Love Regularly: Researchers have recently discovered that “meditation and sex” are the same to the brain. Since meditation may be the single greatest angst buster, draw your own conclusions, while getting naked and grabbing your honey. If you are comfortable enough to share a little gourmet sex, then your brain realizes there is no threat to your safety. Love making can reduce anxiety.
6. Ditch the Drama: Drama is an exaggerated, distorted, and misleading misrepresentation of something; and it is a lie. Whether intentional, accidental, or habitual; such dramatic renderings can create the illusion that there is something very wrong. Drama can cause the brain to believe that we are in danger, shift us into survival mode, and then our histrionic thoughts and strong emotions do the rest. Drama causes anxiety, and our reactions to it maintain and increase the stress. Stick to the facts, hold to the truth, live in the moment. When you examine your thoughts, while experiencing anxiety; you will see that you are either worrying about some future thing, or dwelling on the past. Live peacefully in the present. Ditching drama can reduce anxiety.
7. Self Awareness: Greater self awareness will help us realize what, when, and how we are thinking, saying, and doing; revealing higher level steps toward growth and change. From such an elevated vantage point, it is easier to see the truth, the facts, the evidence around us; and harder to get sucked into the game. When we balance our perspective based on truth and understanding; then irrational beliefs, destructive drama, and exaggerated emotions will be revealed, and fade away. Self awareness makes us calmer by revealing truth, diffusing irrational beliefs, and proving to the brain that all is well. Self awareness can reduce anxiety.
8. Natural Supplements: Getting to know our body, mind, and spirit; and learning what they really need; will improve our health and happiness in every way. When we have the natural resources we need to deal with life’s stressors; then we will cope more effectively, have more energy and endurance, and experience less distraction and dismay. When we have less anxiety because we are mindfully consuming needed natural supplements; then our brain knows we’re safe, shifts us out of survival mode, and decreases rather than raising our anxiety. Such supplements could include the maintenance variety (e.g. multi-vitamins, C, choline, inositol, ginko, iron, aminos, fermented cod liver oil, calcium, etc.) or relaxers (e.g. passion flower extract, valerian root, kava, etc.). Natural supplements can reduce anxiety.
9. Genuine Smiling: If we are smiling genuinely (as opposed to painting a plasticky fake grin across our visage), then our brain knows we are safe (because we would not be capable of smiling genuinely if we were in danger). Genuine smiling can reduce anxiety.
10. Practice Yoga: Throughout the ages yoga has been known to create balance, stability, and improved health. When experiencing these benefits, our brain realizes that we are safe. Therefore, yoga helps prevent (benefits stop development of anxiety which keeps brain from shifting into survival mode) and decrease (benefits convince brain that we are not in danger and then it shifts out of survival mode) potential angst. Yoga can reduce anxiety.
11. Exercise: Weight training, cardio, and yoga improve physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual functioning; convincing the brain that we are safe and well. It also provides structure and focus, reducing stress and distracting our mind from perceived problems. The many health benefits of exercise; greater strength, stamina, endurance, concentration, and longevity, to name a few; will create conditions that are incompatible with angst. Exercise can help reduce anxiety.
- Exercise for Stress and Anxiety
- Calming anxiety with exercise
- Eat, Meditate, Exercise – Treating Anxiety Naturally
12. Refocusing: If we become anxious and start worrying, overthinking, or obsessing about our perceived problems; then our anxiety will increase and grow into panic. If, at these times, we find something else to focus on; then we will no longer be able to think about the anxiety, or the invisible danger that produced it. So, jump into familiar routines, work out, talk to a supportive friend, play a musical instrument, or begin writing that happiness article; and the stress will melt away into the day. Refocusing can reduce anxiety.
13. Accept Yourself: When you stop judging, criticizing, and blaming yourself; when you accept who you really are; when you respect, understand, and love from within; you will glow with the light of a star. After accepting yourself; you will no longer struggle with the acceptance of other people, places, or things. Acceptance tells the brain that life is good. Self acceptance can reduce anxiety.
14: Accept Mistakes: Some people would rather die than admit they made a mistake, spend their entire life pretending to be a know-it-all to defend against their fears of inadequacy, and fail to learn the lessons or see the light. They spin endlessly within the recurrent cycles of delusion, and twist the truth to fit their dark, distorted views. When we have issues with being wrong, we have continuous anxiety; because we cannot live without making mistakes. Errors are as common as eating, and without them we will rarely grow or change. When we welcome our mistakes, and find the value in their vestige, we will learn, evolve, and normalize their range. Accepting mistakes can reduce anxiety.
- The Magic of Making Mistakes: 3 Tips to Lead an Exciting Life
- How to Identify and Learn from Your Mistakes
- 7 Reasons Why Not Making Mistakes Is The Biggest Mistake
15: Accept the Unknown: If you have a high need to know what will happen; if without it anxiety rules; then you are trying to live by controlling; so take charge, of yourself, with your tools. Control issues cause anxiety because we cannot control everything, and because of the problems that develop when we try to. When we get upset when something happens differently than we wanted it to; and experience the resulting anxiety; our brain believes we are under threat; and this drives up the angst even further. If this feels familiar, work toward greater flexibility, self awareness, and self control. Accepting the unknown can reduce anxiety.
- Use Your Vulnerability and Accept the Unknown to Improve Your Overall Well-Being
- 5 Ways to Let Go and Embrace an Uncertain Future
16. Accept Anxiety: When we accept our anxiety as a normal part of life, then it will not shift the brain into survival mode and drive it even higher. If we can stop ourselves from reacting to anxiety with more anxiety; then it will dissipate instead of turning into panic (the brain will realize we are not in danger). Accepting the normality of anxiety can reduce it.
17. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This technique is a scientifically proven method for lowering anxiety and improving sleep. When our muscles relax, our brain knows we are feeling peachy; since they would be tense and tight if a threat was really there. Progressive muscle relaxation can reduce anxiety.
18. Don’t Overthink: Thoughts generate emotions generate thoughts generate emotions generate thoughts generate emotions generate thoughts generate emotions… Get the picture? If you have a thought (including your interpretation of an experience) that causes anxiety, then accept the experience and the anxiety; and then let it pass. The average emotion lasts 3-5 minutes unless you keep it alive by thinking again about what caused it. If you continue focusing on what happened (or what you originally thought), then you will create the anxiety again. If you respond to this second round of anxiety with more thought about it, then you will generate a third. If this continues, then this repeating loop may expand and pull in other causes of angst; broadening the anxiety-producing thought process and intensifying its emotional grip. Eliminating overthinking can reduce anxiety.
- How to Stop Overthinking Everything and Find Peace of Mind
- Why Overthinking Is The Root Of All Your Problems
19. Be Present: Mindfulness is a view that shows the brain that we are safe. If we are present in the moment, if the moment is secure; then our neural net will know that we are well. Being present can reduce anxiety.
- 5 Steps for Being Present
- 9 Ways to Reduce Anxiety Right Here, Right Now
- The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety
- Feel Happy and Stress-Free: 7 Simple Tips to Stay in the Now
20. Get Organized: Maintaining a familiar structure, keeping your life in its usual order, and putting back in place the things you often use; will help your brain believe you are safe, and not abused. Being organized can reduce anxiety.
21. Healing Work: Therapy or spiritual teaching can help us learn to rise above the storm and stress. When, through CBT, relaxation training, vibrational healing, or higher consciousness; we learn to put anxiety in its place; our brain will know that we are safe and fears erase. Healing work can reduce anxiety.
22. Essential Oils: Essential oils help with healing, foster peace and understanding, and lead to higher thought which shows the brain we’re safe. Essential oils can reduce anxiety.
23. Incense: Incense encourages higher thought and truth. While relaxing to your favorite smoky fragrance, your brain will know that danger doesn’t visit you (if you are calm and enjoying the odoriferous pleasures of sandalwood, you are safe). Incense can reduce anxiety.
24. Music and Sounds: Music and relaxing sounds can produce a state of calmness deep within. This will help the brain realize that we are not in danger (if we were under threat, we could not be relaxed). Music and sounds can reduce anxiety.
- Music Therapy, Anxiety Relief, Stress Reduction, Calming, Sleep, Stress Release
- Stress Relief Songs: Music That Reduces Anxiety
- Certain Types of Music Can Help Lower Anxiety
25. Crystals: Gems and minerals can decrease distress and show the brain that we are safe and well. Crystals can reduce anxiety.
Many of these routes to safety, ways to lower our anxiety, are old news although they still can work so well; but my focus is a new one, linking all to neural function, their connection to the brain is what I tell. When we understand the physiology of anxiety, then we will naturally begin thinking of things that produce states of calmness, happiness, hope, safety, and peace. When created, our brain will either realize that we are safe, preventing the survival shift; or kick us out of it when seeing that we are well. This is the process underlying the relative effectiveness of all anxiety reduction methods. Since everyone is unique, each of us will probably benefit from a different combination of these and other routes to safety.
Photo Credit: Flickr