Pounding chest. Sweaty palms. Dry mouth. It happens to everyone. Maybe it's before a big exam or before seeing a group of people. Maybe for you, it's when eating a big meal, or if you feel like you messed up at work.
In some way or another, anxiety is a part of life, and it comes from a good place. Having a part of our brain that releases chemicals when a saber tooth tiger is coming at us is a great thing! However, sometimes this tiger-fighting chemical gets released when we are not expecting it, or at times we do not think we need it. These chemicals are called Cortisol and Adrenaline. Together they help send energy to your cells and help you think quickly to make decisions. Often this process is called Flight Fight Freeze. On a smaller scale, these chemicals come on the scene when they sense danger or stress in the environment. Some of us tend to release these chemicals more frequently than others.
Okay, so now you understand what causes anxiety now let's talk about how to make it less distressing. I am a believer in toolboxes. I believe that everyone should have a toolbox or grab bag of coping skills that are easily accessible at any time. This might be in the form of a decorated shoebox with a journal in it. Some people have a metaphorical bag in their heads with ideas.
Below are my top 5 go-to's for your anxiety grab bag.
As with any good tool kit, take what you need, and leave the rest.
1. 5 senses
This one is great because it is easy, quick, and you can do it anytime and anywhere. In this, we will be using your senses to help ground you into the current moment. First, think of 5 things you can see. Then 4 things you can feel. Then 3 things you can hear. Then 2 things you can smell. And finally, 1 thing you can taste. I like to use my hands to count these. Do this as many times as you need to.
2. TIPP skills
TIPP (Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced Breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation) skills are great ways to reduce anxiety. They can be great ways to reduce panic as well. The goal of these is to short circuit your brain to stop the release of anxiety chemicals. TIPP can be used in any order or use the ones that work for you.
T- Temperature: In this, you can use temperature to shift your body's current state. Grab an ice cube to hold onto, take a cold shower, or grab a hot cup of tea. You are looking for anything that can change your physical temperature at the moment. My favorite way to do this is to put an orange, lemon, or lime in the freezer. That way, I have something cold, and it smells nice!
I-Intense Exercise: In this, you want to get your heart rate pumping and get a little sweaty. This is another way to change your body's temperature. If this is not a good idea for you- Pass on it! Or I recommend clapping quickly or doing jazz hands; any rapid movement of any part of the body will be great.
P- Paced Breathing: This one is a classic for anxiety reduction. Breathe slowly and consistently. Find a breathing YouTube video or use a meditation app for support.
P- Progressive Muscle Relaxations: Squeeze or tense and then release all the muscles in your body from the bottom to the top. I like to listen to an audio of this or follow a guide online!
3. Self Soothing Skills
Self Soothing with senses is a way to calm yourself down using pleasant activities in your environment. I recommend creating a toolbox (a theme emerges!) and filling it with at least 5 items that are soothing to you using your senses.
A few ideas:
Touch: Put in your favorite fabric, silly putty, a blanket, or a stuffed animal
Scent: Add your favorite lotion, candle, essential oil, or scratch and sniff stickers
Sight: Add a photo of your dog, mom, friends, or a favorite magazine
Taste: Add some yummy chocolate, tea, snacks, gum, or mints
Hearing: Add in a CD, a list of Spotify playlists, a music box, or finger symbols