Anxiety can get to the best of us, often at the most frustrating moments. It can be completely crippling, and is often misunderstood by those who can’t relate. The good thing is, there are steps you can take to refocus your energy, slow your heart rate, and get back to enjoying life.
First things first: What is anxiety?
When you're approached by a threat, your sympathetic nervous system – and that famous flight-or-fight reflex – kicks in. You physically react: sweating, increased pupils, higher metabolic energy. Mentally, it often registers as fear, and compels you to react. This is totally normal, and can be life-saving when, say, you're nose-to-nose with a grizzly bear. It’s not quite as helpful when you’re meeting the in-laws or have a big night of socializing ahead of you.
It’s important to note that anxiety, depression, and stress are not mutually exclusive. They often band together in destructive duos to wreak havoc on our mental health. Yes, stress and anxiety are symptoms of depression, but they can also be an increasingly common result of packed schedules and our “do-it-all” culture.
There’s just something about having a plan. You can see exactly what you need to tackle, and how you’re going to do it. You get clarity on what really matters, what takes priority, and what doesn’t need to happen. To get things moving, we’ve created an anxiety-reducing plan of action for when things start to feel impossible. See what works for you and make this plan your own. There’s no “right” way to find relief – but there are a ton of approachable options.
Don’t forget to breathe
Breathing is a surprisingly simple and extremely effective tool when it comes to reducing anxiety, depression, and stress. You’re breathing right now, right? The key is in how you breathe. Find the technique you like and try to stick with it for a month.
Developed by NAVY Seal Mark Divine, box breathing has four steps.
- To begin, exhale all the breath out of your body.
- Before you take your next breath, count to four.
- Inhale through your nose for four counts, then hold that breath for four counts. Remember to stay as relaxed as possible (the tendency is to make your whole body rigid).
- Release your hold and exhale smoothly through your nose for four counts.
Divine recommends repeating this for at least five minutes, and developing a practice where you breathe in the morning or at night for 10-20 minutes. Once you get the hang of it, you can use a few minutes of box breathing any time you need to refocus your energy.
Sounds nice, right? The 4-7-8 technique, also called the relaxing breath exercise, starts, as most breathing exercises do, with you seated in a comfortable position. Then:
- Gently place the tip of your tongue just behind your front teeth and slowly inhale through your nose for four counts.
- Hold your breath for seven counts.
- Keep your tongue in place and open your mouth ever so slightly as you slowly exhale for eight counts.
- Repeat four times.
About that longer exhale
We talked briefly about the sympathetic nervous system earlier. The sympathetic system is triggered when you inhale, drawing blood from your heart to fuel the rest of your body. This increases your heart rate –– and your anxiety often follows. Its counterpart, the parasympathetic nervous system, is triggered when you exhale. It’s responsible for pumping the brakes in terms of your heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety. The more you pump this "biologicial brake," the less stress and anxiety you’re likely to have.
In short, a longer exhale has the power to completely relax your entire body. You’ll notice these exercises involve counting your breaths. Though it might seem silly, the mere act of counting your breaths shows great promise in enhancing mindfulness, physical health, and general well-being.
A beacon of consistency
This all sounds well and good, right? But it’s so easy to get distracted with busy days and packed schedules. So it’s comforting to have something that helps keep you on track. Enso’s glowing lights guide your breathing and shift colors as you relax, helping you breathe calmly without much effort.
Another helpful anxiety-fighter is meditation. The simple act of being mindful in the present moment can have a profound effect on your mental state. It can also be a recipe for distraction, so it’s helpful to have something to focus your attention on, like your breath, your heartbeat, a candle, or your Enso. Simply draw your attention back to that focal point any time your mind wanders.
Not sure if it’s working? There’s no “good” or “bad” meditation, but it’s human nature to want some kind of feedback. With Enso, you can literally see and feel as your heartbeat slows. If your mind wanders and you land on tomorrow’s presentation, your heart rate will speed up and you’ll immediately feel Enso’s pulse shift. This brings your focus back and allows you to leave that anxiety-inducing thought behind.
Enjoy the moment
Easier said than done. But by living in the present moment, being mindful of what’s going on, and living right now, you’re engaging the body and mind in one powerful, anxiety-busting unit. You’re not worrying about what’s happened or what’s going to happen. You’re simply living.
These breathing and meditation exercises can really help you live in the now. The more you practice, the more second nature they become.
Let it go
Letting go is hard. Whether it’s an old t-shirt or grudge between friends, we often associate “caring” with “hanging on” to things we think matter. Hanging on to worry and stress does nothing for you. It’s like carrying around a huge suitcase full of clothes that no longer fit. That doesn’t help anyone. The more you carry, the more stressful it is to lug everything around. And carrying stress around can have a huge impact on your health.
Call a friend
We’re social creatures by nature, and even if it doesn’t seem like it, reaching out to others helps. It doesn’t even have to be a friend. It could be a community support group. Therapist. Your local barista. Being vulnerable and talking through what’s going on can shed some serious light on what you need or want to do. By connecting with someone, you increase your chances of feeling better, which in turn gives you a greater sense of self-worth and independence.
Once you connect with someone, it’s hard to live without them. This is where Enso can be especially comforting. By simply sharing your heartbeat with someone, you can stay connected on a new level. Even if they’re miles away at work or across the country, you can hold their heartbeat in the palm of your hand. You can replay a loved one’s heartbeat through Enso. The simple act of feeling their heartbeat can have a profound effect on your stress and anxiety.
We all know about the impact of adrenaline and endorphins, but exercise can also reduce the symptoms of anxiety, promote relaxation, and increase your sense of optimism. Exercise also complements the rest of your anti-anxiety arsenal: You can make a plan to workout, workout with a friend, and focus all your attention on the task at hand.
Try one or try them all. Find out what works for you and stick with it. You may still have scary, frustrating moments, but you’ll know how to react – putting you in control of your anxiety. Not the other way around.