Anxiety disorders affect 40 million people in the United States. When a person is confronted with anxiety, their body goes through several changes including the fight-or-flight response. The body prepares to fight or flee the perceived danger. During this time it is common to experience increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, dizziness and tense muscles. By using a variety of skills, you can learn to manage the fight-or-flight response before the symptoms become too extreme. These skills require practice to work effectively, so don’t wait to try them out. They can work for anyone having stress in their lives (which means everyone!) so let’s get started.
1-Deep Breathing – it’s a simple technique which is great for managing stress and anxiety. Not only is it effective, it is discreet and can be used anywhere and anytime. When our body is in fight-or-flight response, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. Deep breathing reverses that and sends messages to the brain to begin calming the body.
Here’s how it works: sit comfortably and place one hand on your abdomen. Breathe in through your nose, deep enough so your abdomen rises. Hold air in your lungs and then exhale slowly – as if you are breathing through a straw. The key is to go slow. Inhale for 4 seconds, pause for 4 seconds, then exhale for 5-6 seconds. Practice until you feel calm.
2-Imagery – our thoughts have the power to change how we feel. If you think of something sad, you will likely feel sad. When you think of something positive and peaceful, you will feel more relaxed.
Here’s how it works: think of one of your favorite places, a calming place. Some examples are a beach, your bedroom, a mountaintop, or even a concert. For 5 minutes use all of your senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) to imagine this setting in great detail. You can find free apps and online recordings of calming scenes – just make sure to choose imagery you find soothing and that has personal significance.
3-Progressive Muscle Relaxation – during the fight-or-flight response, the tension in our body increases. This can lead to stiffness, neck pain, back pain, etc. Progressive Muscle Relaxation helps us become aware of the tension and anxiety so that we can identify and address it.
Here’s how it works: find a quiet place free from distractions. You should sit or lie down somewhere comfortable. The idea is to intentionally tense each muscle and then release the tension. You might want to start in your toes and move your way up to your neck and head. If a person has any physical injuries or impairments, they should discuss with their doctor first. You can find free apps and online recordings of Progressive Muscle Relaxation which will guide you through each muscle group.