Anxiety Exercises & Coping Techniques

By Joli Ayala

Although anxiety is a normal response of our bodies to certain situations, it can sometimes get overwhelming and difficult to control, especially around exam period. Anxiety makes the body to be in a constant state of alert, releasing stress hormones -such as adrenaline- that cause some physical symptoms like chest pain, dizziness, fast hear rate and short of breath. We can also experiment alterations in our thoughts, like constant and uncontrollably worrying; and in our behaviors, like procrastination, avoidance, constantly checking on something and having repetitive behaviors.

So, in order to reduce anxiety, there are some exercises that you can do to control your physical symptoms, thoughts and behaviors.

1. Breathing

By controlling our breathing, we can slow down and relax. Diaphragmatic breathing is a technique that helps us communicate the brain that there is no danger. To try this, follow the next steps:

  • Sit in a chair with your feet in the floor, make sure to be comfortable. You can also sit on the floor.
  • Put a hand on your ribs and the other one on your stomach.
  • Start inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. You should take long and deep breaths and the hand on your stomach (not the hand on your ribs) should move out as you inhale and exhale.
  • Inhale during 5 seconds and exhale during 5 seconds too. They key is to be comfortable, don’t try to force yourself to breathe deeply, let it flow.
  • Repeat from 3 to 10 times, until you start to feel more relaxed.

2. Muscle Relaxation

With this technique you will learn to recognize the difference between tension and relaxation, something that you can easily forget when you struggle with anxiety.

  • You need to tense and release different muscle groups in sequence, it is important that you focus on the sensations that tensing and relaxing your muscles produces in you.
  • Hands and forearms: Clench your fists as tightly as you can.
  • Upper arms: Bend your arms at the elbows and try to make your wrists and shoulders touch.
  • Back of your arms: Straighten your arms as hard as you can.
  • Shoulders: Shrug your shoulders into your neck very tightly.
  • Neck: Pull your chin down toward your chest but avoid it to actually touch your chest.
  • Face: Raise your eyebrows as high as possible, clench your jaws, and grind your teeth, press your lips together very tightly.
  • Chest: Take a deep breath and hold it.
  • Stomach: Make your stomach as hard as if you were expecting a punch.
  • Hips and lower back: Arch your back and clench your buttocks.
  • Legs and feet: Straighten your legs and point you toes down.
  • Now, relax all your body completely, let the feeling of calmness and relaxation to flow through all your body for 10-15 minutes.

Remember: if you have pain in any part of your body, avoid tensing that part.

3. Be in the Moment

Whenever negative thoughts start to appear way too fast and your internal dialogue gets so chaotic that you feel like you are losing control, try these techniques to redirect your thoughts to the present moment.

The 333 Rule. This requires you to focus on various external stimuli, so look around and:

  • Pay close attention to 3 objects you see and name them
  • Identify 3 sounds you can hear
  • Move 3 parts of your body -like your arms, your legs or your fingers.

The 5-4-3-2-1 Method. For this one, you also have to look around and notice:

  • 5 things that you can see
  • 4 things that you can touch or feel
  • 3 things that you can hear
  • 2 things that you can smell
  • 1 thing that you can taste

These easy techniques will help you center your mind and manage your anxiety by keeping you away from the thoughts that are causing it.

4. Change Your Thoughts

Our thoughts create emotions, so if we are having anxious thoughts, they will create anxious feelings. Follow the next steps to change your thoughts:

  • Recognize the thoughts that cause anxiety.
  • Evaluate if these thoughts are rational or realistic.
  • If you find your thought is unrealistic you can follow:
  • Use an alternative thought: For example, if you are thinking “everything always goes wrong” try “sometimes, things don’t go out the way I want but that doesn’t mean that everything goes wrong.”
  • Coping statement: This is a statement that helps you reduce your anxiety. For example, change “I can’t do this” to “I can do this, I’m just feeling anxious, I’m going to try breathing and then I’ll continue.”
  • Thought-stopping: Here you have to try to stop the flow of thoughts in your mind. For this, you can try to say “stop” out loud or just in your head, to visualize a stop sign or even to hit your hand against the table.

This practice is called cognitive restructuring and it is a fundamental part of the psychological treatment for anxiety.

5. Change Your Behaviour

Anxious people tend to procrastinate and avoid doing important things because of the anxiety they cause to them. One thing that is very effective is to stop thinking and just do it. Once you have completed your tasks, you will notice the amount of anxiety has reduced considerably.

Another common behavior is to constantly check on things. This could happen in the middle of a test, when you constantly check your answers. So, whenever this happens, breath, you already checked once and that is enough, trust yourself.

6. Get Help

These techniques will help you manage your anxiety but they won’t treat it. Treatment can include psychotherapy, medication and lifestyle changes, it is different for everyone. To find what works best for you, you should start seeking for professional help.

Try using these methods whenever you feel anxious for any reason, they have helped many people to handle anxiety and they will definitely help you too!

About the Author

Joli Ayala is a freelancer, passionate for writing, who is currently studying to become a doctor. She openly shares her struggles with mental health and wants to work hard to spread awareness about it, and for that purpose, she has many upcoming projects. She hopes she can help students all around the world with her writings, spreading messages of hope to those who need it.

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