• Andy Melton, PhD.

Four Quick & Simple Ways to Decrease Anxiety

Anxiety happens. Everyone feels anxiety sometimes. You may have heard that if you’re feeling fear or anxiety, you must be doing something wrong. Not true. Fear is a natural part of the human experience. Like other emotions, fear is meant to be felt to some extent all the time.


Feeling Fear is Normal

Fear is one of the four basic human emotions: glad, sad, mad, and fear. (I wish it rhymed with the others.) Fear, in it of itself, is neither good nor bad. It is simply part of your person-hood. Ever considered if your left foot is good or bad? Probably not. Your left foot is just part of your physical self as one of your extremities. You would likely never question the goodness of your left foot. In a similar way, you do not have to question the goodness of the feeling of fear. It is not bad or wrong to feel it. Like a foot, fear is just one of the many parts of your emotional self.


Fear is meant to be felt everyday to some extent. Many people feel fear and automatically assume that the fear is bad or that they are bad for feeling it. This is faulty thinking that can, funny enough, lead to more fear. Compounding fears can contribute to feeling fears that are too extreme.


Keeping Fears in Check is Important

Imagine a heart monitor as an example. The green line on the monitor moves up and down as it shows the natural movement of the heart. Movement is a sign of good physical health. Concerns begin when one of two things happen. Either the green line shows too much movement (too high or too low) indicating increased stress on the heart. Or the green line stops moving (flat line) indicating that the heart has stopped beating. Similar to the heart monitor, experiencing the daily ups and downs of fear is a sign of good emotional health. Problems begin when your fears exceed their normal limits.


Anxiety is the name given to fears that are extreme or out of control. If you feel anxiety, you’re not alone. All people feel anxiety sometimes. Just like any other emotion, we sometimes feel things in the extreme. Some people, however, are better at calming their anxieties than others. How do they do it? How do they do it quickly? Let’s consider a few ways to decrease anxieties when they come around.


Quick and Simple Ways to Decrease Anxiety

1. Notice Your Fear

Take a moment to notice what your feeling in a given moment. If you’re feeling fear, consider whether your fear is typical or extreme. Remember, all people experience fear on a daily basis. It is not a bad thing, it’s what people do. Sometimes those fears are more extreme and kick up anxieties. Take a moment to ask yourself, “Is this fear or anxiety?” Becoming aware of your fear and acknowledging your fear can decrease it, and sometimes eliminate it. Ever had a friend validate your emotion and the emotion calmed down? By noticing your fear, you can actually validate your own emotion and help yourself to calm.


2. Breathe

When you notice your anxiety, pay attention to your breath. Breathing is one of those constantly running bodily systems. If you’re thinking, you’re breathing. Paying attention to your breath can take the anxieties floating around in your head and focus them on a more tangible act. Anxiety is abstract. Breathing is concrete. Intentional breathing can help focus your thoughts and bring down the intensity of your anxiety. I recommend the 4-Second Breathe Box. Breathe in for four seconds. Hold for four seconds. Breathe out for four seconds. Rest for four seconds.


3. Body Scan

When you notice your anxiety, pay attention to your body. While your sitting or standing, start by crinkling your toes. Hold for four seconds and release. Do this twice. Then move up and stretch your ankles. Hold for four seconds. Do this twice. Slowly move up your body, flexing and releasing each muscle group. This exercise can help focus your confusing anxieties on something less confusing, using the muscles in your body.


4. Sensory Scan

When you notice your anxiety, pay attention to your senses. Your five senses (taste, touch, smell, hear, and see) are the ways your mind takes in information from the physical world. Take a moment to cycle through each if your five senses and pick up on whatever you notice. Start with your hearing. Notice four things you hear no matter how faint each sound may be. For your sense of taste, slowly take a drink or taste a mint or piece of gum. Slowly noticing each of your five senses can help calm anxious thoughts and feelings.


All of these quick and simple strategies can be use on your own or in a crowded room. Remember, fear is part of the daily experience of healthy human beings. Feeling fear is natural and keeping your eye on it matters. When your fears increase and kick up your anxieties, these strategies can help you to slow things down and decrease those uncomfortable, anxious moments.

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