Helene, a Work It Out Coach, explains what happens in our body when we feel anxious and shares 7 ways we can manage our anxiety.
As a coach at Young Women’s Trust, I speak to many young women experiencing challenges with their mental wellbeing. Luckily, there are simple things we can do to help take care of our mental health and wellbeing during difficult times.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is the alarm system that alerts the body to danger. Anxiety activates the release of hormones that causes the heart to beat faster and move blood to where it is most needed. This helps the body focus solely on survival, shutting down everything that it deems unnecessary including our rational thinking.
The activating response to anxiety
The activating response causes the body to go into fight-or-flight; this is our body’s way of alerting us to physical dangers. Activating response is not so useful when the threat is psychological, such as a job interview or difficult thoughts about an uncertain future.
The good news is that we have a helpful counter response called the parasympathetic or calming response. This response reassures us that we are safe by slowing our heart and breathing rates, lowering blood pressure and bringing rational thoughts to the front of our mind.
We can train and strengthen our calming response through regular grounding and wellbeing exercises. The more we practice activating the calming system throughout the day the stronger it gets and the quicker we can activate it in the moment.
How to activate your calming response to anxiety
1. Observe your senses
If you are feeling anxious, the 5 4 3 2 1 technique can help to bring you back into the moment, as our 5 senses anchor you to your body and the present.
When you are feeling anxious notice
- 5 things you see around you
- 4 things you can touch around you
- 3 things you hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste.
2. Control your breathing
You can use the 478 technique to activate the calming response, if you are feeling anxious. All you need to do is
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4
- Hold your breath for a count of 7
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of 8.
The fight-or-flight response is meant to be followed by a burst of activity. Exercise is therefore a simple and effective way to calm the nervous system. It uses the energy created in the body and it breaks down those hormones and quickly activates the calming system.
Yoga was never intended as an exercise program. It was designed to calm the mind by uniting the body, mind and the breath in the present moment.
There are lots of free videos on the internet you can follow if you have never tried yoga before that are perfect for beginners.
5. Set a routine
During the pandemic, we have lost so many of our routines and rituals. These are crucial to give the mind a sense of security and stability and increases a sense of certainty.
To begin with, try to set times for going to sleep and waking up. Then try to set aside regular times for meals and light exercise.
6. Practice gratitude
At times of uncertainty, developing a gratitude practice can help you to connect with moments of joy, aliveness, and pleasure.
At the end of each day, take time to think about what you are thankful for today. This will encourage the mind to start looking for reasons to be grateful rather than reasons to be fearful.
7. Talk about your anxiety
Surround yourself with people who are good listeners. You could also look for services that might be able to support you.
Spend time with friends and don’t forget to laugh. Laughing releases endorphins and lets the brain know we are safe.
We offer free coaching sessions for young women aged 18 to 30, who are living in England and Wales. Coaching can help you with anything from managing anxiety to helping you make a plan for your future.