9 Quick Things You Can Do to Alleviate Anxiety in the Moment

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9 Quick Things You Can Do to Alleviate Anxiety In the Moment

Anxiety is a function of your survival circuit. In the ancient and dangerous past, people who worry, who always triple-check their gear, and who respond with a strong fight-or-flight response to danger tended to live longer. Ancient anxiety helped our ancestors get through uncertain and lethal time periods. Today, however, fight-or-flight is rarely the right response to a situation - even a dangerous one. Many people find that their anxiety circuit triggers at the wrong time, making them nervous, energetic, and even terrified when facing simple challenges like public speaking or rush hour driving.

When anxiety hits, it's not always the right time. You don't need a pounding heart, racing brain, or hyperventilating lungs in that moment. You may need mental clarity and to regain your composure, fast. Fortunately, living with anxiety doesn't have to mean being controlled by it. There are several ways to help you alleviate anxiety in the moment and reclaim your control.

1. Identify an Anxiety Attack for What It Is
Anxiety attacks or episodes often fixate on something. Your thoughts become "Did I leave the stove on?" to the nth degree. Whether you are worried about an event about to happen, a detail that has become your whole world, or you are raking yourself over the coals about a recent conversation, identify an anxiety attack for what it is.

  • Uncontrollable worry
  • Unease and restlessness
  • Fatigue and avoidance
  • Muscle tension
  • Inability to focus
  • Headaches
If you can learn to spot your anxious thought patterns or physical responses, you can start treating anxiety and not the thoughts caused by an anxious episode. By taking a mental step back, you can help free yourself from the anxiety effects.

2. Take Control of Your Breathing
Don't let anxiety breathe for you. Start breathing intentionally and slowly. Consider how you breathe when you are falling asleep. Close your eyes and think about slow breathing instead of your anxiety. There are many breathing exercises and you may have a favorite. Box breathing is a popular method for calming anxiety. The technique is simple. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and breathe out for 4 seconds, and repeat as necessary.

3. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the art of sitting quietly and simply observing the world around you. It is a way to empty your mind of all unnecessary thoughts and is used as a mental clarity method in professional circles. Mindfulness is also a great way to clear your mind of anxiety. Sit with your back supported and start by closing your eyes, just listening to and identifying every little sound. Then open your eyes and just see everything around you. Then examine the situation and just observe the facts. 

One version of this is the 5,4,3,2,1 or 3-3-3 type exercise. This is where you identify five things you can feel, four you can feel, three you can hear, two you can smell, and so on. The mental emptiness and clarity of mindfulness can be very useful

4. The Cold Neck Trick
Hold something cold like an ice pack or a chilled soda against the back of your neck. This sharp physical sensation can help shock your anxious mind back to reality and interrupt the physical symptoms of anxiety.

5. Change Your Body Posture
Anxiety tends to give you a posture. You may hunch or curl with tension, or pace with anxious energy. Purposefully change how you are holding yourself. Roll your shoulders back. Stretch out, and move around. You might consider a small amount of yoga or aerobics. Just like breathing intentionally, if you purposefully change your posture and help yourself to relax from anxious clenching, then you can reduce the amount of anxiety you physically feel.

6. Walk Around or Exercise
We mentioned that anxiety is part of your fight-or-flight response that is mis-firing at the wrong moments. The best way to burn off an anxious episode or anxiety attack is with physical activity. A burst of exercise has been found to be very beneficial in getting rid of anxiety in a positive and helpful way instead of losing hours to stomach-clenching tension.

Even a walk or pacing around can help relieve anxiety in the moment, if you don't have the space or privacy to exercise. Walking around the building, going up and down stairs, or pacing a hallway can help you to achieve calm.

7. Sip Water Slowly
Sitting down with a cool cup or bottle of water can also help reduce anxiety. Sipping water is a classic way to help someone begin a breathing exercise. Alternate slow sips with slow breathing to help take control of your body's autonomic functions. Cool water is also refreshing and many adults are mildly to moderately dehydrated. Improving your temporary hydration can ease the overall stress on your body.

8. Write Down Your Worries
If you are having anxiety-fueled thoughts that won't stop, try writing them down. Your brain is worried, often mistakenly, that these are vital issues that you might forget. So assure yourself that they won't be forgotten by writing it out. If anxiety is keeping you up at night, writing yourself a note can help your anxious brain allow you to go back to sleep.

9. Conduct a Reality Check
Finally, you can conduct a mental reality-check. Listen to your worries and then rate them on a percent chance of happening. Remind yourself that anxiety comes with intrusive thoughts, and that these thoughts don't have to define you. Assure yourself that your worries are not as big a deal as they seem, and that generally you will be OK from one day to the next. 

You may prefer an affirming mantra, or a sharp-shooting look at your worries once you take a mental step back. The reality check is an essential part of helping yourself not just calm down, but also move past the anxious episode.

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