How To Overcome Anxiety? Free Tools From A Psychotherapist

In my last blog I talked about what anxiety is on a physiological level, and why it gets triggered in each of us. That’s all super interesting (well, I think so!) and it’s important to understand if you want to be the boss of it rather than be bossed around by your anxiety – but what most people want to know, like, yesterday, is how do we actually stop anxiety?

Well, we start by unwinding some of the stress reactions and anxiety responses our body goes through when we get triggered. There are a couple we can take back control of – obviously we don’t have the power to stop our liver releasing glycogen in response to our nerves, but we can take conscious control of our breath, our muscles and our thoughts and use these things to send signals to all the other parts of our brain and body that it’s “all like super coooooool dude” and they don’t need to freak out on us anymore.

So here’s the number one way to start unwinding your anxiety…. It’s really simple, are you ready? 

You’re going to take back conscious control of your breathing. Simple.

It might even sound too simple if you haven’t yet discovered the intense power our breath has over our mind and body, but give it a try and see…

When we are in our body’s anxiety response we tend to take short, shallow breaths and this style of breathing is sending full-on panic vibes back to our body and brain. The opposite of 'panic breathing' is longer, slower, fuller breaths. When we make longer exhales than inhales we also typically slow our heart rate a little and lower blood pressure.

So here's the deal....try breathing in through your nose for a count of three, pausing at the top of your inhale for a second and then sighing that breath out of your mouth for a minimum count of 4 (or longer until you feel you've completely exhaled). Then take another second pause before you again inhale. Do this ten times. Go on, do it right now and notice how you feel… I’ll wait right here.

Done? Good. 

You may have noticed a sense of calm or relaxation come over you as you completed these breaths but even if you didn’t, know that this is the message your brain and body is getting when you do this breathing exercise, so it’s going some way to calm ourselves down (even if at first it’s too subtle for us to consciously notice, I promise your nervous system is ‘noticing’). Practice. Not just when you’re stressed or anxious, but also when you’re not – build your ability to do this style of breathing and the habit of doing it. Do it daily just because and then you'll be ready to use it when you really need it - when you feel yourself getting stressed out or anxious and want to be the boss of it.

Please let me know how you get on!

In my next blog we’ll pair this breathing style with another technique I love for an even more powerful anxiety buster!

Kim Hollingdale