Anxiety attacks can shut us down. By convincing us that we have no control and that the situation is bleak, our anxieties paralyze us and prevent us from moving on. Luckily, there are ways to defeat it.
Mental exercises are a great way to deal with anxiety. Here, we’ve classified it into three different categories: behavioral, cognitive, and physical. Behavioral techniques shape the way you respond to anxiety, cognitive reframing helps you rethink the outcomes, and physical comfort guides your body into releasing natural chemicals into your brain.
Changing the way we behave during an anxiety attack can greatly dictate the way we respond to anxiety triggers in the future. By changing our behavioral responses, we create a healthier way of dealing with stressful events. Some things you can do to change your behavior:
- Fix your stuff: Often, the sight of chaos can create a feeling of unease. By creating order in our physical world, we also create order in our psyche, thus helping our brain relax and come down from an anxiety attack.
- Take a day trip to somewhere with natural wonders: Scientists in Barcelona and Chicago studying the psychological effects of nature on people have seen startling results. By exposing people to just one-hour of greenery, their patients cited an immediate increase of positive emotions, positive views of health, and a decrease in stress.
- Let it run in the background: Sometimes, actively trying to solve a problem puts us in even more stress, especially if it feels like there’s no solution. This makes the anxiety attack worse, as it creates a feeling of hopelessness and frustration. Consider taking a step back and focusing your energy on something else. Your brain will continually work on the larger problem in the background, but the rest of you can focus on more constructive tasks.
- Cut out the negative vibes: If certain events trigger your anxiety, just cut them off. For example, if the news or social media are stressing you out, shut off the TV and close your laptop. Often, we forget to extract ourselves from easily controllable situations, and being reminded to do so is a much-needed push.
- Try Mindful Meditation: Even just three-minutes of mindful meditation has people reporting improved mental performance, better moods, and less stress. Mindful meditation is the practice of focusing your mind on present events, and can involve breathing exercises, self-awareness techniques, and muscle relaxation.
Cognitive reframing is an NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) technique that involves focusing your thoughts on possible positive outcomes to otherwise negative situations. This is a powerful technique that helps people deal with trauma but can also help those going through anxiety attacks. Some of the things you can do to reframe your cognitive attention:
- “What’s the worst that could happen?”: Ask yourself this question, and then figure out how you would respond to that particular situation. Often, this is enough to jar us into being more aware of our current situation, not to mention creating a feeling of hopefulness because it reminds us that there truly are worse things that could happen, and they’re not happening right now.
- Write down an action plan: By focusing your mind to come up with solutions rather than focusing on a problem¸ you are training yourself to be more prepared and providing yourself with a much-needed ego boost. After all, if you already know how to deal with a problem, it makes you feel in control, thus negating a lot of the hopelessness in an anxiety attack.
- Changes are not threating: People with anxiety often see changes to plans as an inexplicable threat to the order they’ve created in their heads. Instead, try to see changes as opportunities for growth and practice your improvisation skills. Remind yourself that, regardless of the change, you can always be in control.
- Count your blessings: A cliched, but still effective, anti-anxiety technique is counting your blessings. This works because it re-focuses your mind into the positive aspects of your life, which ideally makes your negative triggers small and insignificant in comparison. Find the positive anchors in your life and focus on how to access them.
- “What if…?”: Ask yourself this question, only this time, think about all the positive outcomes that could come from it. Anxiety attacks often trick our brain into seeing only negative outcomes to a particular situation. Remind yourself of the many positive ways a situation can end and figure out ways to get to that.
Touch is a very powerful sensation that more often than not grounds us as jars us back into reality. Physical triggers can be used to anchor a person to a positive emotion or bring them back from the brink of a breakdown. Here are some things to try:
- Deep Breaths: Slow, deep breathing sounds simple, but is in fact a very powerful anti-anxiety tool. By taking deep breaths, your muscles start to relax and signals your brain to release gamma-aminobutyric acid, a natural tranquilizer. A relaxed body really does lead to a relaxed mind!
- Give yourself a hand: There’s a reason nervous people wring their hands; massaging your hands releases oxytocin, a powerful hormone and neurotransmitter that helps us feel loved and connected to other people. This naturally creates a sense of fulfillment and peace in our brain, thus counteracting the negative chemicals that stress releases.
- Take a long bath: A hot bath is not only relaxing, it helps us to mentally recharge. The temperature of the bath raises our own body temperature, relaxing our muscles and helping our brain slow down. In doing so, we’re able to view our anxiety triggers at a distance and solve our problems without the negative emotions that come with it.
There are plenty of strategies that a person can employ to beat anxiety, but the most important aspect is to remember: You are in control. Be mindful of this, and focus your energies on possible solutions rather than negative outcomes, and you can soon train your brain into beating any anxiety attack.