Simple Ways to Help Lower Your Anxiety

Everyone can feel anxious now and then. From tense social situations that make your stomach clench to the nervous sweat some may get going into a dentist or visiting the doctor, in the current culture, there are many situations where we can expect that wave of anxiety. And for many, sometimes it's for no particular reason at all.

Thankfully, there are many interventions available to us to alleviate that burden. There are some simple steps you can implement immediately to help yourself relax and relieve the stress. Rachel Kaplan, LCSW, a clinical social worker at The Mount Sinai Hospital, shares three tools you can use anywhere—without signaling your distress to everyone around you.

Breathe mindfully

Mindful breathing is a very basic yet powerful mindfulness meditation practice. The idea is simply to focus your attention on your breathing—to its natural rhythm and flow and the way it feels on each inhale and exhale. However, mindful breathing is more than just holding your breath.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness involves being aware of the moment and not judging yourself. Just notice how you feel and allow yourself to feel that way. Try not to force yourself to be relaxed as that can backfire and make you feel more stressed. You want to remind your body that you are safe

When you’re anxious, you tend to take shallow breaths. This is part of our ‘fight or fight’ response that kicks in when our brains sense a threat. To counteract this and help relax the body, try a technique called belly—or diaphragmatic—breathing. Start by placing one hand on your chest and one on the lower stomach area. Take a deep breath, inhaling through your nose, for four counts. Hold your breath for three counts. Then exhale slowly, through your mouth, for six counts. Deep breathing helps to ground us and signals to our brains that we are safe, lowering our anxiety level.

As you breathe, watch to see which hand is rising and falling—you’ll want it to be the hand on the belly. Take another deep breath and imagine that you’re pushing air into that lower hand. Repeat this exercise 10 times.

Focus on your senses

One of the simplest ways to practice mindfulness and calm your mind is to connect with one of your senses. Use all your senses to focus on small details of the here. This will help you ground yourself and will take your mind off your anxious thoughts.

Think about the details of your surroundings:

By focusing on the exercise, you don’t have enough brain power to analyze and worry. Your concerns drift away, and you feel calmer.

Use your peripheral vision

This isn’t easy and requires concentration. A regular practice of soft eyes creates a way to manage moving oneself out of stress and into relaxation. Soft eyes utilizes working with peripheral vision, which is paying attention to the outside edges of your field of vision. Practicing calms you down, returns mind and body to balance, and boosts the immune system.

Start by looking straight ahead (not on a phone or computer screen) and pick one spot to stare at. It can be a mark on the wall, a doorknob, a tree branch—whatever jumps out at you. Focus your gaze on that spot for 5 to 10 seconds. Keep that focus, then widen your field of view without looking away from your focal point.

Notice what you see in your peripheral vision. Start on the right side and observe what you can see without moving your head or straying from your focal point. You may just see colors and movement or you may see objects. Do this for about 10 seconds. Then, for about 10 seconds, notice what you see on the left without looking away from your focal point.

By focusing on your peripheral vision, rather than your anxiety, your breathing will slow and your face muscles will relax. When you feel calmer, you can bring your attention back to the view straight in front of you.

Orig Story:

Dr. Mark L. Meyer Dr. Meyer graduated from Haverford College with a Bachelor of Science, High Honors, in cellular and molecular biology, Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude. He attended the Yale University School of Medicine, where he also completed a categorical residency in Internal Medicine, served for one year as an Emergency Department attending physician, and held the title of Clinical Instructor in the Department of Surgery. During this time, Dr. Meyer obtained a J.D. from the Yale Law School, concentrating on medical ethics, scientific research law, and FDA law. He then completed a fellowship in Cardiovascular Diseases at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he obtained Level 3 Nuclear Cardiology training.

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