3 Simple Steps to Alleviate Anxiety & Stress
Diagnosed anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, and women are twice as likely to be affected than men. These statistics are based on those who actually sought medical attention. In reality, these figures are much higher.
The good news is people who have chronic or occasional anxiety and/or panic attacks are often highly intelligent, passionate, caring, thoughtful, creative human beings. Your wonderful, creative mind that causes your anxiety is the very one that will lead you to a more relaxed, joyful life. The bad news is fear doesn’t go away, nor does anxiety magically disappear. There are no magic wands to wave over you, however, you are more powerful than you realize!
Three Important Steps:
1. You Are Healthy If you have a clean bill of health from your physician, other than being told that you need to relax and/or that you need to handle stress better, then don’t talk yourself into an illness. Believe what your doctor has told you. Your words are powerful, and they can be used as weapons or healing tonics. These feelings are just unpleasant, not dangerous.
2. Breathe. I know you’ve read and been told many times to, “take a deep breath” and all will be well, and it is that easy. Here’s a quick trick: imagine a baby’s chubby little belly rising up and down, natural and relaxed. A baby knows how to breathe correctly and so did you at one time. It’s the way we’re designed to breathe. You just forgot how to do it along the road of life. Keep the image of the relaxed breathing of a baby in your mind. Now, relax your stomach muscles as if you were that baby or a Raggedy Ann Doll, limp and loose all over. Take in a breath through your nose keeping your mouth closed. When you see and feel your stomach rising, slowly exhale through your nose again. Practice keeping your mouth closed, using only your nostrils to breathe in and out. When you do this, your brain automatically registers that there’s nothing to fear; therefore, no adrenaline or cortisol is pumped through your body in preparation for a “fight or flight” reaction. Your body does not know the difference between actual fear and imagined fear. If you breathe rapidly, your brain registers that something is wrong; alerting you to do something. When you start relaxing your breath, and belly breathe, your brain registers that all is well.
3. Stay in the Present. I’m sure you have heard the expression, “live in the moment,” but what does that really mean? Well, not staying in the present means that you are dealing with classic anticipatory fear and that you’re living in the unrealistic future. For example, you’re afraid of entering an elevator for fear it might get stuck, and then you begin to worry about feeling claustrophobic. You are concerned with the “what ifs” in life. What if you feel dizzy, faint, scream or even die of lack of air! If you change that to a “so what” and say it, even if you don’t believe it at first, your mind will soon accept that attitude and you just may find yourself traveling through life much easier.
Your mind conjures up all of these fearful thoughts, even before you step into the elevator. The problem is that your mind does not know if this event is really happening or if you’re just thinking that it may happen. On a cellular level, when you go through these future catastrophic thoughts you put your body through a lot of stress.
Staying in the present means just that – stay in the present moment. Let’s use the same elevator scenario which you can change to a plane, car, or whatever you fear most. Look at where you’re standing. Are you really trapped? No. Are you breathing? Yes! By focusing on what is happening right now, you can train your mind not to race forward. Notice the floor numbers as they light up and think of this as an interesting experience. Stay in the moment. Notice a person standing near you. Observe the colors and the sounds, and be glad that you’re alive and that you can feel and see. By diverting and focusing your mind on things other than your fears, before you know it, the experience is over. Should you run into a bout of “what ifs,” try this: “What if I enjoy my life? “What if I can handle everything that life sends my way?” Haven’t you been doing that all along anyway?
Joyce E. Logan, Ph.D., Metaphysical Philosophy, Director of Communications @ The Graduate Institute, learn.edu. Joyce is also a Certified Hypnotherapist specializing in anxiety disorders and stress management; Motivational Speaker and author of Starving Your Fears. Contact: joyceloganproductions.com.