By Carla Capone, Centre Helps Hotline Volunteer
Anxiety is something that everyone in the world will experience at some time or another. It is a natural, biological trait in order to alert our bodies of dangerous situations. It is an inherently protective and inbred trait that helps us to survive and react in times of danger. Anxiety, a lot of times, can be also be a positive thing. For example, if we have a difficult test coming up, anxiety about doing well can motivate us to study harder. However, for many of us, this psychological and physical response will be present when there is no real danger, stressor, or impending problem. This can often times become problematic and cause issues with focusing, socializing, and over all functioning. It can also be extremely scary.
What many people are not aware of, is that physical discomfort is often times a psychogenic effect of underlying anxiety. What that means is that physical symptoms such as physical pains, dizziness, sweating, and rapid heartbeat are actually being cause by anxiety, and not by something physical like a cold, tiredness, or some other illness. In even more intense situations, the thought that these physical concerns are being caused by some greater illness—like cancer or a virus—can exacerbate the anxiety and make matters worse.
Personally, I experience anxiety in a very physical way. Rather than feeling on edge or worrying about various things, I can often feel physically sick because of anxiety. Many times, I am not even aware of what is causing the anxiety. Symptoms like lack of focus, dizziness, and nausea can be present even in the absence of a trigger such as a hard exam, fight with a friend, or applying for jobs. Fortunately, through Centre Helps training, my psychology classes, and therapy, I have learned some coping techniques that help to ground and relax me, bring me back to the present moment, and ultimately reduce anxiety.
Here are some techniques that work well for me:
1. Being mindful.
Mindfulness is simply being aware of what you are doing and using your senses to simply observe. For example, if you are eating, you may want to ask yourself: What am I eating? How does it taste? Is it hot? Cold? What does the food feel like in my mouth? What am I using to eat? A fork? What color is the fork? How does the fork feel in my hand? I have found that just observing these small things can help to focus my mind in the present, rather than on worrisome thoughts.
2. Touching something soft.
I personally love stuffed animals and think their cuteness and softness is extremely relaxing. Whenever I am feeling anxious, I give them a hug or squeeze them. They are comforting and familiar to me. If stuffed animals aren’t your thing, you can try rubbing your hands on your pants, adjusting your clothes, feeling your hair between your fingers, or scrunching your toes up in your shoes. Noticing these sensations can help relax a wandering mind.
3. Watching a funny video.
Watching something that makes me laugh helps to release tension and negative thoughts from my body. It is also a positive distractor from harmful thoughts and will put a smile on my face. I personally love to watch Seinfeld clips.
When I feel my anxiety increasing, counting things in the room can be calming and grounding. This could be counting fingers, posters on a wall, books on a shelf, people in the room, keys on your laptop, or panels on the ceiling. This will distract your mind from other, more negative thoughts.
5. Singing a familiar song.
Reciting the lyrics (in my head or out loud) to a song I know all the words to is one of my favorite things to assuage anxiety. By focusing my mind on the words and rhythm, I am taking attention away from hurtful thoughts and feelings. My favorite anxiety song is Country Roads, Take Me Home.
6. Chatting with a friend.
Sometimes I just need some outside validation that everything is going to be okay. Texting a friend just to say hi can really help me to feel safer.
7. Drinking ginger tea.
Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory which can release tension from our body that may manifest as headaches or an upset stomach. Ginger is also a treatment for vertigo and motion sickness, which symptoms of anxiety can sometimes feel similar to. Ginger tea can be made from ginger pieces at a coffee shop or by peeling raw ginger from the super market and steeping it in boiling water. I prefer it with honey :)
The most important thing to remember about anxiety, no matter how scary and unpleasant, is that it is not going to hurt you or kill you. It is important when experiencing anxiety to think to yourself, “This is an uncomfortable feeling, but it will pass and I am okay.”