Okay, first things first, folks. These practices are not meant to be any sort of substitute for the ongoing habits that help us ease our anxiety. And by that I refer to perennially unglamorous business of eating well, staying off the booze, going for a run now and then and sleeping long before Stephen Colbert launches into his opening monologue.
As profoundly unrock n roll as it may seem, these are the core practices that'll help us neutralise anxiety.
But for those moments when we find ourselves escalating, here's some simple and easy to access techniques that we can turn to when we want to ride through the fear.
In terms of great things that India has bequeathed to the world, yoga ranks only marginally behind the invention of the decimal point, arguably on par with Palak Paneer and doubtlessly ahead of the game of chess.
Among other things, it’s a brilliant way to lower your anxiety. But if it's not the right moment to break into a downward dog – and for some of us those moments seem to be lamentably rare - you could go a long way just by doing a bit of yogic breathing.
Why breathing exercises can help
When we are experiencing anxiety, it is because the central nervous system (CNS) has become overactive. This is the body's way of preparing us for an emergency, but unfortunately sometimes the body get its timing very wrong.
Breathing exercises activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is our body's system for calming and relaxing us and countering the CNS. But remember to breathe through the nose; because breathing through the mouth tells the body we might be in danger.
Pranayama is a body of breathing techniques that have been practiced by yogis for millenia. They are a great tool to use because they can provide rapid and effective relief from anxiety. But be careful, trying the more complex pranayama practices can be potentially dangerous when it's unsupervised by a teacher.
Stick to the three basic practices as demonstrated in this excellent Youtube tutorial;
Bumble bee breath – Block your ears and hum like a bee, and feel your head clear of all the other noise.
Alternate Nostril Breathing – A simple process of blocking one nostril and breathing through the other that seems to clear the head and calm the nerves.
Ujjayia Breath – Basically a seated Darth Vader impersonation. Sadly bereft of any lightsaber fighting.
Access video here
Basic Drawing or Colouring in
The value of turning to illustration during a bout of anxiety is that it takes your mind off the feeling of dread and attacking thoughts and allows your CNS to calm itself down.
You don't have to recreate the Mona Lisa. Which is probably for the best, because in your author's admittedly underqualified opinion, it was a pretty wonky drawing in the first place.
Instead, here's some basic drawing exercises that'll help you compose yourself.
Drawing lines across a page
Colouring in a mandala drawing
Taking anxiety out of your body by drawing what it looks like, and putting it on a page
Watch Comedy (or get someone to tickle you)
Some important things you ought to know about laughter:
Laughter is one of our body's natural antidotes to stress and anxiety. The simple act of laughing can reduce the stress hormones at work in your body, such as adrenaline, epinephrine and cortisol.
Not only that, it also triggers the release of those sweet endorphins that create a sense of wellbeing, contentedness and euphoria.
Furthermore, the increased oxygen we get from laughing can also lead to muscle relaxation for up to 45 minutes.
So in those moments when all you can feel is that unnameable sense of everything about to go wrong, the best mate you have might be a phone or tablet to fire up some Youtube.
Let a ten minute clip of Sarah Silverman, Bill Bailey, Amy Schumer or Chris Rock cracking wise help you ride through it all.
Or even better, get your partner to tickle you. What better way to trigger a good laugh than some intra-relationship horsing around?
Grounding is the act of calming yourself by focussing on individual senses to bring you back to the present moment. It is a particularly effective tool to have at your disposal, because by its very nature, anxiety stems from dread about events that may happen in the future.
Some useful grounding techniques:
Eating an ice cube – Focus intensely on the taste and feel of ice on your tongue to bring you safely back to the present moment
Modelling something with playdough – Similarly, you can ground yourself by playfully engaging your sense of touch.
Rub lavender oil under your nose – Not only does it ground you using your sense of smell, the anti-anxiety effects of lavender is now a fact accepted by doctors and scientists, and not just your kooky aunt who likes to wear the colourful pashminas.
The 5-4-3-2-1 technique- A trusty old all-senses grounding technique, where you anchor yourself in your environment and identify five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. A particularly handy piece to add to your grounding toolkit because it’s something you can do anywhere, in any moment, using all your senses.
The Butterfly Hug
The Butterfly Hug was first used by EMDR psychologists in Mexico in the late 90s to help hurricane survivors process the trauma of their experiences. It is now used by EMDR practitioners all over the world to help trauma survivors access painful memories.
However, leaving aside its uses for Bi-lateral Stimulation, it also serves as a very useful grounding tool.
Find a comfortable sitting position and touch your upper chest or shoulders with your hands crossed over each other.
Then touch your body by alternating your hands, imitating the wings of a butterfly
Observe what is going through your mind – the thoughts, feelings and sensations -without judgment or resistance
This video below provides an excellent demonstration
Access video here
For many more techniques like these ones, check out these two threads on the Beyond Blue forum where anxiety sufferers share strategies that they've used successfully in their own lived experience.
Link forum threads
Beyond Blue forum link 1
Beyond Blue forum link 2
Guest blog by- Aritro Abedin
BA Arts, Mcoun, GradCert AOD
Contactable via- Aritroa@gmail.com