Feeling anxious and not sure how to overcome it? Has the cloud of depression closed in and you can’t see the light? Dealing with a traumatic brain injury and feeling overwhelmed that there’s no help? Having anxiety coping mechanisms in your tool belt is helpful for anyone. Learning to cope with these feelings and ultimately to overcome the weight of anxiety is so important to getting your life back. You can be a resource to your loved ones if they experience anxiety, you can demonstrate the anxiety coping mechanisms.
If you’re having thoughts of suicide or self harm, please consult a professional or call 911. Your life is valuable.
If you’re finding these techniques for the first time today and you are in the midst of an anxiety storm, you’re not alone. Help is available. Reach out to a professional if you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
Grounding techniques to combat anxiety
What are early signs of anxiety for you? Do you feel your temperature increasing, heart-rate increasing, the sweatiness and blurry vision of anxiety washing over you like a tsunami? Having practiced these anxiety coping mechanisms you’ll have tools to combat the anxiety attack at its earliest signs. You can practice these grounding techniques anytime.
Engage your 5 senses to reengage yourself in reality.
Use your hands to help you count as you identify things in your environment.
- 5 things you see in the room or space around you
- 4 things you can touch around you
- 3 things you hear.
- 2 things you smell.
- 1 emotion you feel. (Or something you taste.)
Deep-breathing is a useful anxiety coping mechanism since it increases oxygen levels in the brain.
“I don’t feel like I can even think straight.” When you are experiencing anxiety, the blood in your brain is being sent more to your hypothalamus (the fight or flight region of your brain) instead of your prefrontal cortex (the cognitive and behavior thinking and function part of your brain). Breathing deeply and slowly helps increase the oxygenated blood going to the prefrontal cortex helping you return to reality and reason.
It’s helpful to practice deep breathing when you’re not in a crisis so it will be more natural to do it at the first sign you might be feeling anxious. Find a method that works for you. It’s okay if some of the methods don’t speak to you!
Diaphragm deep breathing maximizes lung capacity more than normal breathing.
Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. Inhale deeply in your abdomen. Feel your abdomen expand as you inhale. Exhale slowly counting to five. You can exhale through your mouth. You should feel your whole body relax as you exhale. Try doing six breaths in a minute or about one breath every 10 seconds. The hand on your chest shouldn’t move. Sometimes lying down with a pillow under your head and your knees can help you relax and focus on slow, steady, deep breaths.
Imagine blowing up a balloon.
Imagine you’re blowing up a balloon with a big breath in, slowly blow up the imaginary balloon with your exhale. Do three long puffs to fill the balloon. Then slowly release the balloon while you exhale. If this helps you focus your breathing, then practice blowing up the balloon and releasing it multiple times.
Blow out candles on an imaginary cake.
Pretend you’re blowing out a cake full of birthday candles. You’ll inhale deeply, then exhale as you imagine moving across the cake to blow out every last candle.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional or counselor. The information and ideas presented here are intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Days for Learning and the authors are not responsible for your health and outcome if the information presented is applied. Use your judgement and consult a professional before beginning a new health regiment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on this site. If you think you may have a medical emergency or you are having thoughts of suicide, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
Interested in reading more about how the brain functions when we experience anxiety?
Check out these studies:
Hailer, G., Fromm, S., Alvarez, R., et al. (2007). “Cerebral blood flow in immediate and sustained anxiety.“ Journal of Neuroscience 27 (23), 6313-6319. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2713601/
Park, J., Moghaddan, B. (2017). “Impact of anxiety on prefrontal cortex encoding of cognitive flexibility.” Neuroscience 345, 193-202. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5159328/