Learning to dance with stress and anxiety

If you are reading this, you know what it is like to be anxious and stressed. Many people with anxiety are highly distressed and often feel that nobody can understand how they are feeling.

The good news is that you’re not alone. Anxiety and stress are the most common reasons that people come to see a psychologist. People with severe anxiety certainly benefit from treatment, but almost everyone could do with a few strategies to manage their anxiety.

I’m not going to spend too much time talking about anxiety, because I think that it would me more helpful if I give you a couple of strategies that work.

Why these strategies work

The human mind and body are closely connected. When we have stressful thoughts such as “I can’t do this” or anxious thoughts such as “what if something bad happens”, our bodies respond to this. Feeling of anxiety are uncomfortable, but our bodies are trying to be helpful. They think that we may be in danger and are getting us prepared to respond.

However, most of the dangers we face in modern times aren’t physical dangers, they’re psychological. Our bodies can’t tell the difference between the two, so that they prepare for a physical emergency just to be safe. By reducing the amount of anxiety in our bodies, we can teach our mind to relax. I’m going to show you two strategies that help with anxiety. If your anxiety is the most anxious you’ve ever been (10 out of 10) they won’t bring you straight down to a zero, but it could be enough to bring you down to a 7 or an 8. Most people find them helpful, but everyone is a little bit different. Sometimes, it is a matter of finding what works for you.

Breath out to breath in?

The first strategy uses a natural reflex that we all have. Quite often when people are anxious they are told to take three deep breathes in to calm down. And this is true. But it can be difficult to breath in if you are feeling stressed and your chest is tight. A neat little trick to get around this to breath out, and then let go.

Try it now. Put both of your hand on your stomach and gently press your belly in as you breathe out through pursed lips…and then let go.

Hopefully you noticed that as soon as you let go, your belly filled with air. Now do this three times, emptying your lungs completely. Pay attention to what your body feels like, before, and after the exercise.

Kind of cool isn’t it.

Just relax?

So, you might be on board with the idea that relaxing your body will help relax your mind, but if it was that simple you would be doing already, right? Here is a strategy that you can use to trick your body into relaxing.

Just like the breathing exercise, this technique uses our bodies natural reflexes to help it to relax. When we become anxious our muscles become tight. You might notice that yours hands automatically turn into fists, your shoulders become stiff, or you get headaches because of the tension in your neck and face. An effective way of reducing this muscle tension—and reducing our anxiety—is to contract your muscles, one at a time, and then release them.

Why does this work? If our bodies had no method of releasing muscle contractions, we would slowly become stiff and roll up in a ball. This method works because once a muscle has been contracted and then released, the state that the muscle returns to has less tension then before the contraction. As you do the exercise, notice what it feels like for your body to be relaxed.

What you are effectively doing is training your body to remember this relaxed state as your “new normal”. I’ve posted a link to an MP3 from the University of Melbourne below. Allow 20 minutes for this exercise, and practice regularly.

http://services.unimelb.edu.au/counsel/resources/audio/progressive_muscle_relaxation

Need a little more help?

Many people receive some benefit from using these two tips. You might find that these are useful, but you need a little extra help?

Consultation with a psychologist can help you explore additional strategies and get to the root of your stress and anxiety. Identifying and changing unhelpful thinking patterns and counterproductive actions often reduces the influence that stress and anxiety have on your life.

Darius frequently works with people experiencing chronic stress and anxiety. He has the clinical knowledge and skills to help you find relief from your distress.

Book and appointment now, or contact us for further information.

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