Read through and test out each example to see which one works for you. Every body and brain is different so not all will work for everyone, but they are good tools to keep on hand and experiment with as you find coping skills that are right for you.
Wellness specialist, Erica Spiegelman, shares, “Let’s face it, experiencing anxiety can feel debilitating at times for some, to just feeling like a nagging annoyance for others. From the constant rumination and ‘what if’ scenarios, to the physical toll it takes on your body—getting a break from the symptoms of anxiety is difficult but possible. As an addiction counselor and wellness specialist, I know that anxiety is common and can be managed with healthy coping and tools! We all deal with anxiety to some degree, and you are certainly NOT alone. Here are a couple of anxiety hacks that are effective for my clients, and I am happy to share these with you!”
For Your Breath and Body:
Pause and Take Deep Breaths
Erica reminds us, “When we get nervous or upset, our breathing gets shallower, our heart beats faster, and it’s harder to get a deep breath. And if you’re already prone to anxiety then you know how critical it is to breathe correctly. Breathing exercises help slow down your thoughts, reduce stress, and alleviate anxiety.
Put one hand on your heart and one hand on your stomach.
Feel your feet planted firmly on the ground.
Take a deep breath in, hold it for five seconds, then breathe out every drop of air.
Repeat until you feel grounded in the present moment.”
Anxiety coach, Amanda Huggins, adds to the breathing conversation. “The physical experience of anxiety is connected to our fight-or-flight response. When we’re anxious, our body tells our mind that we are unsafe. The heart rate increases, the body is flooded with cortisol, and the mind begins searching for more validation for our anxiety.
The first place to cut in on that ‘spin cycle’ is the breath! I know how annoying it is when someone tells you to ‘just breathe’ when you’re anxious, but it’s actually great advice. When we take deep, conscious breaths, we can activate the vagus nerve, which regulates our stress response. As we deeply exhale, the vagus nerve is triggered and a tranquilizing substance called vagusstoff is secreted—vagusstoff tells the heart to slooooow down, and when our heart rate subsides, the fight or flight response lessens.
I call this ‘triage’: get the most activated part of your anxiety under control first. When we start with the body, sorting through our thoughts becomes a little bit easier.
You don’t have to go into a full-blown, crystal-laden meditation to stimulate the vagus nerve. A few deep, concerted breaths is an excellent start. Here’s my favorite exercise, called box breathing.
A simple, ‘eyes-open’ meditation that you can practice without anyone even noticing. If you need a visual, the breathing pattern is in the shape of a box: four even sides to the breath.
What to do: Inhale for four seconds, hold the breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold the breath for four seconds. Repeat 12-15 times or longer, as needed.
When box breathing is practiced, it’s normal for negative thoughts to still pop up at first—watch them, and allow them to pass. This is a practice of ‘getting back into your body,’ which will ultimately help you to respond differently when a foreign feeling (a pit in the stomach, racing heart, heat, etc.) comes up. Noticing the foreign feeling, giving yourself a moment (a breath, a beat, even a filler word like ‘well…’ to pass a second or two) will help you to recollect and come back to your center.”
For Your Mind:
Get Out of Your Head and Put Your Thoughts on Paper
Erica shares, “The thoughts circling in your head need an interruption. One way to interrupt that cycle of worry is to get the thoughts out of your head, and writing is such an important and effective way. When I hear my clients cycling through worries, I tell them to write a list of everything that’s making them feel anxious and worried.
I then ask them to ask themselves:
‘Is this true?’ If it is, then ask yourself, ‘What can I do about it?’
If there’s nothing they can do about it, then they can focus on what they CAN let go of in the situation.”
Practice Truth vs. Story
Amanda has a similar approach: “When we’re experiencing anxiety, a lot of our thoughts are likely not grounded in reality. They’re stories, often grounded in a misperception of our worth … and those stories can be pretty sneaky. In order to engage fully in self-inquiry and anxiety management, we’ve got to start with asking the right questions of ourselves.
Getting into a practice of ‘spot-treating’ anxiety via Truth vs. Story is a great way to get more honest with yourself about the root of your anxiety. In its simplest form, Truth vs. Story is gut-checking your emotional response: is what I’m reacting to true? What is the story I’m adding? It may sound simple, but anxiety tells us to skirt over truth—when we make it a point to consciously check in with ourselves, we get an opportunity to begin depressurizing.
If you want to go a little deeper (and can spare a few extra minutes), here are four questions that you can use to ‘spot-treat’ anxiety when it comes up via Truth vs. Story. For these questions, I encourage you to journal on them (or use the Notes app on your phone!).
What’s triggering my anxiety right now? Get super-specific. Was it an interaction that reminded you of something from your past? Was it a specific person?
What story am I adding here? Did you go down the ‘OMG that person totally hates me’ rabbit hole again? Or did you maybe make an assumption about something (aka ‘future-trip’) and now that false narrative is affecting your day?
What is the truth instead? Come back to the truth, baby. It’s already in you.
What simple action can I take to change my current state? Sometimes, it’s as simple as choosing different thoughts. Sometimes, it might be a location change, a job change, a relationship change … but start looking for action steps.”
Clearly Call Out Your Anxiety
Amanda also adds, “When you feel anxious, take three minutes to stop, breathe, and see if you can identify the root emotion. You don’t have to know what to do about it or ‘fix’ it yet, just put your awareness on what you’re feeling. For example:
‘I’m experiencing impostor syndrome.’
‘I’m having a day of relationship anxiety.’
‘I’m experiencing shame and self-judgment right now.’
Notice those two words? ‘Experiencing’ and ‘having.’ When you clearly call out your anxiety, separate it from yourself. YOU are not your anxiety. You are an incredible human having a big emotion—don’t get it twisted! Calling out your anxiety can begin paving the way for the next steps.”
For Mind and Body:
Practice Positive Thinking and Move Your Body
Erica’s last tip reminds us to actively move our body during waves of anxiety. “If you’re feeling anxious, don’t sit still … move. Go outside and get some fresh air. Put on your earbuds and start listening to your favorite relaxing music while going for a brisk walk. Try to take your mind away from what’s bothering you. Focus as you walk on positive thoughts that will make you feel safe, accepted, loved, and honored. When we create a practice of gratitude, we allow positive thoughts to follow, which will, in turn, rewire your brain for healthy, positive thinking habits. When you’re feeling balanced, reflect on how fortunate and blessed you are.”
Another way to distract your anxious thoughts and get the blood flowing throughout your body is to practice the feet up pose. Our managing editor, Michelle Scanga, has done this for years. “Sure, you’re not moving your body, but there’s something about elevating your feet and hugging your legs tight to your body during a spurt of anxiety that feels so calming and relaxing.”
Michelle also adds, “I haven’t tried these fidget rings yet, but I saw them and I’m very intrigued. If fidgeting helps relax your mind from getting to a place of high anxiety, give them a try.”
“Anxiety isn’t a life sentence—it’s a call to create loving, long-term change. It’s a call to embrace nurturing *you* into the fullest expression possible … but you can’t do that if you’re not actually acknowledging what’s coming up,” Amanda ends us with.