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Originally published on 7/1/2015.
As a mental health therapist and sufferer of anxiety I understand the grips of anxiety all too well.
- I have never met an elephant but I understand the feeling of an elephant sitting on your chest.
- I have no explanation for the numbness and tingling that takes over my hands and feet in an instant.
- I wish there was a reason to explain why the body decides to go into a panic AFTER a stressful situation has subsided.
My clients have mentioned symptoms where they completely freeze, their bodies shake, their heart feels like it’s going to pound through their chest and it’s difficult to slow their breathing.
Since the symptoms of anxiety manifest strongly in the body, researchers have tapped into using natural, or mindful, practices to manage them. Jon Kabat-Zinn is known worldwide for his mindfulness programs focusing on different meditation practices. Nevertheless, some people’s anxiety is so extreme that it may be necessary to use pharmacological interventions in conjunction with meditation/mindfulness practices.
In my experiences, personally and professionally, it is easy to remember anxiety reducing techniques by thinking of the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. Here is a brief rundown of ways to reduce anxiety using your five senses.
Guided imagery: Imagine your anxious or fearful thoughts as clouds in the sky or leaves on a stream. Instead of avoiding these thoughts, pay attention to them and then let them pass by. If your anxious thought is about your health, it doesn’t suit you to worry without action. Place the thought on a cloud or leaf and imagine the thought floating by. I find it helpful to actually look at clouds outside as I practice this type of guided imagery.
Different types of music can affect our moods. I have mentioned this in previous posts but music can be extremely helpful when dealing with anxiety. Pay attention to natural sounds in your house or in your environment: the hum of the dryer, the sound of typing on the laptop, the dog itching its collar. Music, sounds from nature and apps with soothing sounds can even help in the midst of a panic attack.
Use apps that produce white noise, babbling brooks or the sound of rain. This may also aid in insomnia.
There is a popular mindfulness practice that teaches you to focus and be mindful of what you eat. This practice asks you to examine a raisin in your mouth before chewing it. Examine its texture and roll the raisin in your mouth in a calm manner. As you examine the raisin pay attention to your breath. Bringing attention to your food before you eat and while you chew can help bring attention to your breathing, ease digestion and lower your heart rate.
I have recommended to my clients with frequent panic attacks that they carry something small to chew on at all times. Gum, mints, Starbursts or sunflower seeds for example, can provide a necessary distraction from anxiety attacks and can help a person focus their energy on the treat and re-center their breathing. I use gum as a method to reduce anxiety or to thwart a panic attack.
I recently learned about a technique called a “butterfly hug” when dealing with clients with trauma. In order to bring a person’s heart rate to a more “normal” pace, it can be helpful to lightly tap on your arms at the pace you want your heart to beat.
Try it. Gently cross your arms over your chest with your hands resting on your upper arms. Lightly tap back and forth and notice your breathing. If it’s uncomfortable to embrace yourself tap your hands lightly on the side of your thighs. This type of autonomic regulation can be very helpful if a person feels symptoms of anxiety creeping up. This type of practice can be done at work, while in traffic, while waiting in line….you get the picture.
In addition, having a tangible object that you can rub when you feel nervous or anxious is important as well. This is why children have teddy bears and special blankets. We provide soothing techniques to children but forget how they can help adults! It can even help to turn a ring around your finger, rub a keychain or fiddle with a bracelet or hair tie on our wrist.
This is where your favorite scent comes in. I spray my office with lavender Glade in between therapy sessions. I also use lavender scented lotion or essential oils at home and at work. Some people find that vanilla, lavender or citrus flavored scents can be uplifting. If you keep a soothing scented lotion on hand, no one will need to know that you’re really easing anxiety while moisturizing your hands!
(I recently wrote a post on the use of essential oils and aromatherapy in my home and office. Catch up here.)
The recent boom of mindfulness books and articles have increased our library of resources on this topic. Mindfulness goes hand in hand with anxiety and the practices can be low-cost, low impact and very beneficial.
Book recommendation: One of my favorite books on this topic is, “The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems” by Ronald D. Siegel, PsyD..
(Purchase below directly from Amazon!)
Which of these techniques would you try?
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