Stress Reducing Tips for Seniors

9 Ways to Reduce Your Anxiety Right Now!

Published: July 28, 2015

When you are feeling anxious, you might feel stuck and unsure of how to feel better. You might even do things that unwittingly fuel your anxiety. You might focus on the future and get carried away by a slew of 'what-ifs.'

What if I start to feel worse? What if I fall? What if they make fun of me? What if I don't fit in? What if I don't get the care I need?

You might judge yourself for your anxiety. You might believe your negative, worst-case scenario thoughts are indisputable facts.

Thankfully, there are many tools and techniques you can use to manage anxiety effectively. Below, experts share healthy ways to cope.

1. Take a deep breath. "Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful anxiety reducing technique because it activates the body's relaxation response. It helps the body go from the flight-or-fight response of the nervous system to the relaxed response of the nervous system," said Marla W. Diebler, PsyD, clinical psychologist and director of the Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, LLC. "Try slowly inhaling to a count of four, filling your belly first and then your chest, gently holding your breath to a count of four, and slowly exhaling to a count of four."

2. Accept that you are anxious. "By reminding yourself that anxiety is simply an emotional reaction, you can start to accept it. Acceptance is critical because trying to change or eliminate anxiety often worsens it. It just perpetuates the idea that your anxiety is intolerable," said Tom Corboy, founder and executive director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles. Accepting your anxiety, he said, "just means you would benefit by accepting reality as it is - and in that moment reality includes anxiety. The bottom line is that the feeling of anxiety is less than ideal, but it is not intolerable."

3. Realize that your brain is playing tricks on you. Psychiatrist Kelli Hyland, M.D. has seen first-hand how a person's brain can make them believe they are dying of a heart attack when they are actually having a panic attack. She recalled an experience she had as a medical student. "I had seen people having heart attacks who looked this ill on the medical floors and it looked exactly the same. A wise, kind and experienced psychiatrist came over to the patient and gently, but calmly reminded him tht he was not dying, that it will pass and his brain was playing tricks on him." Today, Dr. Hyland tells her patients the same thing. "It helps remove the shame, guilt, pressure and responsibility for fixing yourself or judging yourself in the midst of needing nurturing more than ever."

4. Question your thoughts. "When people are anxious," Corby said, "their brains start coming up with all sorts of outlandish ideas, many of which are highly unrealistic and unlikely to occur." And these thoughts only heighten an individual's already anxious state. Ask yourself these questions when challenging your thoughts:

  • Is this worry realistic?
  • Is this really likely to happen?
  • If the worst possible outcome happens, what would be so bad about that? Could I handle that? What might I do?
  • If something bad happens, what might that mean about me?
  • Is this really true or does it just seem that way?
  • What might I do to prepare for whatever may happen?

5. Use calming visualization. Find a happy place. Hyland suggested practicing the following meditation regularly, which will make it easier to access when you're anxious in the moment: Picture yourself on a river bank or outside in a favorite park, field or beach. Watch leaves pass by on the river, or clouds pass by in the sky. Assign your emotions, thoughts and sensations to the clouds and leaves and just watch them float by.

6. Be an observer - without judgement. Practice observing your own thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, judgement with compassion. Write down thoughts, feelings and emotions and review them at a later time.

7. Use positive self-talk. Anxiety can produce a lot of negative chatter. Tell yourself positive coping statements. For example, say to yourself, "I can do anything I put my mind to doing," or "I am not going to fall," or "I am not having a heart attack."

8. Focus on right now. When people are anxious, they are usually obsessing about something that might occur in the future - the 'what-if' thinking. Instead, pause, breathe and pay attention to what is happening right now. Even if something serious is happening, focusing on the present moment will improve your ability to manage the situation.

9. Focus on meaningful activities. When you are feeling anxious, it is also helpful to focus your attention on a meaningful, goal-directed activity. Do not let your anxiety stop you from doing what you love to do. We must push ourselves to keep going, even when we are feeling anxious.

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