5 Easy Steps To Alleviate Anxiety On The Spot

image via Unsplash/Volkan Olmez

Anxiety is both a physical and mental phenomenon. Regardless of where you are on the spectrum — from minor stress to extreme panic — these tips are universally helpful. If you’ve ever looked at a happy-go-lucky friend with envy, wondering how they manage to be so carefree, consider that they may just be dumb. However, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are using the five steps below to stay mellow all the time.

1. Relax Your Body

Your nervous system is sensitive to the level of tension in your body, so while it may not feel like crouching over your computer all day is an issue, your body probably disagrees. Although it may not seem like much, stretching is a habit that really does induce relaxation. Change out of restrictive clothing, as accessories like belts can keep you feeling cramped. You may also need to pay extra attention if you unconsciously tense your shoulders, clench your jaw or perform other habits that keep your body stressed.

2. Breath Properly

Correct breathing can make or break your ability to calm down in the face of stress. When we start feeling anxiety, our bodies tend to take in air less efficiently. If you’re really stressed, you may feel like your breathing is out of your control, leading to more overwhelming feelings. This is how the vicious cycle of a panic attack begins.

The best indicator of shallow, stiff breathing is if only your shoulders and chest rise. This will generally worsen stress, or at the very least keep you from relaxing. When we breath properly our stomachs expand, causing the parasympathetic nervous system to activate. If you’ve ever seen anyone hyperventilating, that is an extreme example of shallow breathing, which activates the sympathetic side of the nervous system.

To calm yourself, make your exhales slower and longer than your inhales. It may feel uncomfortable at first, or even as if it is getting worse, but keep breathing right and your body will have no choice but to slow down. Breathing is the simplest and most accessible tool at your disposal.

3. Thought Control

If your anxiety is mostly induced by worrying and negative thoughts, this method will be the most effective method for you. If you’ve ever been put on hold, you’re probably familiar with the boring elevator music and the silent waiting game that ensues; it almost has a sedative effect. This is the mental landscape you want to create in your mind when you’re stressed. When you feel the thoughts creeping in, put your mind on hold and revert back to the crappy elevator music. You may feel bored or restless at first, but eventually you’ll let go if you keep going back to that blank state. Essentially this is vipassana meditation, but you don’t have to be a spiritual person to practice it effectively.

4. Connect With Other People

Depending on your idea of relaxation, spending time around close friends or family members may help calm anxiety… or it could induce it. So the key is to choose someone you trust — someone who won’t nag, judge or otherwise stress you out further. If you feel the urge to vent about minor annoyances or things you can’t change, try to distract yourself instead. Unrelated conversation could help you forget what you were even worrying about in the first place.

5. Switch Up Your Environment

Some of us develop negative perceptions about certain situations, even when they aren’t negative. At the extreme end, this will take the shape of a phobia, such as a fear of elevators or large crowds. It could also be a person or something at work that consistently gets under your skin. Once you become agitated in these environments, it’s pretty tough to turn things around, so your best bet is to leave if possible or take a break from that environment. If you have no idea what would relax you, aim for less noise, light and stimulation.

Alleviating anxiety is like a battle of wills with yourself. Part of you may want to keep stressing or working, but the other part of you knows it’s time to calm down. In the end, your body and mind will do what you tell it to, whether it’s stressing or relaxing. So practice the five steps above and you’ll have no problem making the right choice.