Anxiety Self Help

Learning anxiety self help techniques is part of your recovery process.  

Using anxiety self help strategies is something positive you can do which distracts from the anxiety. 

In turn, this will show how you are able to take control over anxiety as opposed to anxiety controlling you and your life.  It is important though to recognise that not all techniques will work with everyone.   We all have different styles of learning to control our anxiety.  

Some people ask others for advice or support or attend sessions with a professional counsellor to deal with their unhappiness depression, anxiety or stress.  Whereas others try to make sense of their anxiety on their own by learning anxiety self help techniques or self-hypnosis to ease anxiety and stress responses.  Any self help tips to reduce your anxiety can be helpful as you can learn at your own pace how to feel more relaxed mentally and physically. 

Self Help Strategies for Anxiety 

Any self help tips to reduce your anxiety can be helpful as you can learn at your own pace how to feel more relaxed mentally and physically.  Find out more about each anxiety self help strategy on the following links:

Grounding Techniques
Abdominal Breathing
Body Scan Relaxation
Practice guided imagery, meditations or visualisations
Practice physical body exercises
Practice subtle body exercises
Make a self soothing kit
Longer term self help strategies for anxiety

Grounding Techniques

  • Mindfulness Senses Grounding Exercise 5-4-3-2-1 
    Find for example 5 different things to see (objects, colours, shapes); 4 different sounds you can hear; 3 different things you can touch; 2 different things you can smell; 1 thing you can taste. 
  • Mindfulness Senses Grounding Exercise 3-3-3-3-3
    This is similar to above but you could become aware of 3 things to see, 3 things to hear, 3 things to touch, 3 things to taste and 3 things to smell.  You can change the order of the items to different numbers if you prefer.

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Abdominal breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) 

Abdominal breathing is a very quick and effective anxiety self help strategy that gives very quick stress and anxiety relief and increases your own control immediately.  Regular deep abdominal breathing can make breathing slow and deep which lengthens brain waves resulting in relaxed and calm feelings. 

Abdominal breathing also has many advantages over chest breathing during crises situations such as firstly, to control negative emotions or thoughts and secondly, to act as distraction technique.  Thirdly, chest breathers, not only use a lot of effort by moving their shoulders upwards to get air into their lungs, but as they take shorter and shallower breaths it means they have to take more breaths per minute which in turn can increase anxiety and tension because it shortens the brainwave pattern.  Before you can learn the coping strategy of controlled breathing you must know how you breathe normally.

relaxed & anxious  at the same time

How do I know if I am a chest or adominal breather?

  • Place your right hand on your stomach/waistline and left hand on your sternum/breast bone in the centre of your chest. 
  • Then breathe in and out without changing normal rhythm.
  • If your stomach rises highest on the in-breath you are a deep abdominal breather 
  • but if hand on your chest rises highest you are a shallow breather.    

How to practice abdominal breathing

The idea is to practice this technique several times a day until you can do it automatically in order to prepare to use it during a crisis. 

  • Find a comfortable count and rhythm and comfortable position to sit or stand.
  • Place one hand on your stomach and place the other hand on your chest.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose and follow the breath down your throat and into your lungs
  • Ensure the hand on your stomach rises and not the one on the chest. 
  • Then slowly breath out through your mouth
  • As the air leaves your lungs the hand on your stomach will lower.

Practice Breathing

If you are not a regular deep breather 

  • start by breathing in for a comfortable amount of seconds and then try to breath out for two seconds longer.   For example: breathe IN to the count of 3 or 4 seconds and breathe OUT for 5 or 6 seconds.
  • once you have mastered that, you can then work your way up to the popular 7 - 11 breathing technique where you breathe in for 7 seconds and breathe out for 11 seconds.

Also, keep record of:

  • your feelings and thoughts during each practice.  For example: how you used it in actual situations to counter any crisis or triggered thoughts; and 
  • how your breathing pattern changes when you become anxious, worried or stressed and compare to how you breathe when relaxed or in non-threatening environment e.g. does your breath become deeper, shallower, faster, slower, irregular, hyperventilate, anxiety hiccups, breathlessness or stress asthma symptoms. 

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Body Scan Relaxation

Listening to a body scan relaxation gives direct attention to particular areas in the body.  Alternate awareness of tension and relaxing bridges the mind-body gap to feel united in complete self-awareness.  We often live in our minds when for example holding our breath or holding a posture like sitting or twisting our necks for lengthy times creating discomfort and stress. Tension and stress are creeping into your muscles throughout the day and night without your awareness until either: 

  • someone points out that you look stressed
  • or you do not recognise the person with the big frown in the mirror
  • or you have unexplained pains in your jaw, shoulders, neck or back to name a few places

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Practice guided imagery techniques, meditations or visualisations

Visualisation, mindfulness meditation and mental imagery are powerful practices as these can change stressful and anxious thoughts and their consequential negative images in our minds.  Negative images and thoughts manage and control emotional and behavioural responses. By visualising a relaxing scene you can change the way you think about yourselves, others and the world around you which in turn can change your actual life participations such as relationships with ourselves, others, our emotions and behaviour by becoming relaxed. 

Feel like you need to take a break from your worries and stresses?  This deeply relaxing 15 minute guided imagery practice will transport you mentally to an Island in the Sun.

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Practice physical body exercises

Physical exercise that increases the heart rate is beneficial for clients complaining of low mood, anxiety and upsetting cognitions.  The science behind it is that, after, at least 30 minutes exercise, the body releases its own natural “feel good” and anti-depressant hormone Serotonin which helps to maintain positive and stable moods.  

Feeling stressed right now?  Getting out into nature and going for a walk will reduce adrenalin levels leaving most people more relaxed and calm.  If the weather is bad why not try learning how to do subtle body exercises (described below) that you can do in a very small space in your front room or even corridor.

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Practice subtle body exercises

Subtle body exercises like Yoga and Martial Arts (including Tai Chi, Aikido and Kung Fu) use deeper resources of “internal energy”, breathing techniques, strength, health, vitality and endurance to balance bodily functions.  Their aim is for freedom from physical distress and perceived limitations and to connect with the Universal Energy Field and all living beings.  These exercises could also affect your psychology deeply with potential to break down old psycho-physiological patterns and stimulate spiritual practice.  Subtle body exercises highlight fluidity, meditation, suspension of posture and concentration of specific slow movement.  They could empower and open your mind with clarity and insight as well as stimulating inner harmony and well-being of the body and mind simultaneously. 

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Make a self soothing kit

Another useful anxiety self help techique to take control over your anxiety is to self-soothe.  When we are distressed and anxious it becomes more challenging to think rationally in order to make decisions on how to help ourselves.  This could lead to self-destructing or self-sabotaging behaviour. It is for times like those that a personalised self-soothing kit is a useful and healthy coping strategy.  

Gather together things that boosts positive memories or make you feel good and are meaningful, inspirational, calming, soothing, motivating, empowering, positive, making you feel confident and composed to be carried in your kit.  Some items might have sadness linked to an event or loved one and YOU will have to make a decision if it is appropriate to include such item in your soothing kit.

A small Self Soothe Kit could be kept in your purse, handbag, backpack or glove compartment in your vehicle.  Alternatively, it could be a larger box you keep at home or a few objects placed around your house or stashed in your car or kept on your work desk.  Or it could be a recording or photo on your phone or music or a recorded message on your iPod, mp3 player.  You can even decorate your kit any way you want to.  

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Longer-term Anxiety Self Help strategies

  •  improve your understanding about anxiety and how anxiety and stress affect your physical body, emotions and behaviour.  It is also important to know that decreasing caffeine intake, getting sufficient sleep and good nutrition could ease your anxiety.

  • face your fears.  Anxiety grows when you avoid the situations or scenarios that you dread.  Often our fears are linked to our beliefs and thoughts.  

  • develope the skill to identify and challenge negative, unhelpful or destructive thought patterns could make it clear to you how those thought patters affect your feelings and behaviour.  In turn, learning how to change automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) into helpful and positive thoughts often give us a different perception of our situation. 

  • improve how you solve your problems.  As your knowledge about anxiety grows and you learn to see things from a different perspective you might notice that you become more able to solve your own problems or are more influential in your own decision making which in turn could lead to improved confidence.

  • seeing your situation from a different angle could decrease the periods you are ruminating, pondering or worrying about situations that would have caused a great deal of anxiety before learning these anxiety self help strategies.
  • ultimately, by having more freedom and spare time without worrying and feeling anxious there is more time to relax or doing the things you have always wanted to do.

Anxiety Self Help techniques can be beneficial, however a useful tip is to learn one strategy at a time as opposed to learning them all at once. 

It is not a race or a competition to know everything as that in itself would increase your anxiety and has potential for self-sabotage and setting yourself up for failure. 

What anxiety self help strategies have you found useful?

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