4 Simple Ways to Calm Anxiety

Therapy in a Nutshell

Practice Format: Video

Duration: 15 mins


Why we love: Anyone who has tried thinking their way out of anxiety and stress would know that this always fails. A much more effective way to calm yourself is to intercept the mind-body feedback loop through bodily calming techniques.

Therapist Emma McAdams from ‘Therapy in a Nutshell’ gives a useful explanation of how this works. You can also check out our summary further down.

For who: Simply anyone who would like to get a sense of calm and openness.

How it works: When we’re feeling stressed, anxious, or other activated state, the sympathetic nervous system (our body’s smoke detector) causes physiological changes like increased heart rate, short & shallow breathing, and narrow, focused vision preparing us to fight or run. We can tap into and reverse these responses to send calming signals from the body to the brain, activating the parasympathetic nervous system (our body’s calming system). 

Helpful Hint! It can be really hard to think of these tools in a stressful situation, so try to practice them often to make them available when you need them. Also, put some post-it notes around the house as a regular reminder.

Summary of 4 Key Calming Techniques:

  • Deep Breathing: Take deep, slow breaths into the belly (and keep going for a few minutes). Envisioning a sense of softening/relaxation in the body on the exhale.
  • Widen Vision: Try to widen your field of vision by including the periphery and as best you can softening the gaze (i.e. not focusing on anything). Looking up at the sky can be helpful.
  • Valsalva Maneuver: Inhale for 5 seconds and hold your breath, and bear down as though you’re straining to do a poop. Hold this for 5 seconds. Then breathe out to release the breath. Resume normal breathing. Do it once or twice. (This is used by doctors to help lower a fast heart rate condition.)
  • Yawn! Open mouth and make a big ARRR sound or try fake yawn to trigger a real one.

    Bonus tool:
    Every time you sense anxiety or panic on the rise, try not to fight it. Instead try to say to it “Oh hi anxiety, come and sit down, this is a great opportunity to practice my calming tools“, it will disempower it.
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