Article written by Dilvin Yasa
Can’t stop catastrophising? Here are some tried-and-tested tips to reduce anxiety you need to add to your mental health toolkit.
If you’re feeling more anxious than usual, you’re far from alone.
According to Beyond Blue, one quarter of Australians will experience an anxiety condition in their lifetime – a statistic that doesn’t take into account the global pandemic we’re all currently living through.
Although there’s little you can do about the world’s “big ticket items”, you can help calm your anxiety by observing the following tips.
Allocate worry time
Rather than trying to distract yourself, schedule a specific time and duration each day for “worry time”, recommends Dr Mary Spillane, clinical psychologist and Headspace App’s Mental Health Expert.
“Any time you experience a worry outside of this period, note it down and remind yourself you can worry about it during the specific ‘worry time’,” Dr Spillane explains.
“Rather than feeling anxious and nervous throughout the day, ‘worry time’ helps you feel more in control of your mind and creates space for you to detach from worry.”
Control your breathing
It’s something we’ve been doing since day dot, but studies show how you breathe can play an important role in your anxiety levels.
One study found diaphragmatic (deep) breathing to be a useful tool for reducing anxiety and stress.
Paced breathing, where you inhale for 2-4 seconds, and exhale for 4-6 seconds can help active stress reduction mechanisms in your body by promoting a harmonious state between respiration and your heart.
Go for a run
While exercising may not be seen as “relaxation” by many, getting your blood pumping flushes the adrenal cortisol out of the body, says Dr Amanda Ferguson, the psychologist behind the Psych for Life podcast.
“Not only does exercise restore balance between an overactive brain and our body, but rigorous exercise produces endorphins which restores and protects our mental health,” Dr Ferguson says.
Running through green space can offer extra relief for your anxiety.
Meditating 20 minutes a day for just 21 days in a row is all you need to build a critical link between your conscious and subconscious mind, says Dr Ferguson.
“This will give you more capacity to cope and more resilience,” she says.
Whether it’s going for a walk around the park or relaxing in a hot bath, taking time to pay attention to your five senses can help anchor you in the present – a process that can halt anxiety about the past or future.
“Mindfulness trains us to be more present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at that moment, free from distraction or judgement,” Dr Spillane says.
“In this space, we are less controlled by our thoughts and feelings, which is particularly helpful when faced with situations that make us anxious.”
GIve yourself permission to spend time each day doing something for the fun of it, whether it be reading a book in the park, getting a massage or even doing a jigsaw puzzle.
Many studies show self-care can be useful in reducing anxiety.
Making time to incorporate self-care into your routine gives your mind and body a chance to rest and rejuvenate, says Dr Spillane.
“This can reduce stress and anxiety, but additionally, practising regular self-care creates an important emotional buffer, helping you to better manage the stressors of daily life.”
Face your fears
If you feel it is safe to do so, take time to gently break down your feared situation into small steps or chunks, starting with the easiest step first, and then moving up the scale to more challenging tasks, recommends Dr Spillane.
“When you have anxiety or anticipate feeling anxious, your natural response is to avoid what is making us anxious,” she says.
“Whilst this avoidance can make us feel better in the short term, it can lead to reduced self-confidence and lead to more avoidance in the future.”