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3 easy tools for managing anxiety

Are you feeling tense? Afraid? Are you worried about what lies ahead? Anxiety can leave you feeling stuck and make life a struggle. Healthy Minds Lead Practitioner, Linda Gillham shares three techniques to help you cope.

Quick facts 

  • When you are anxious your sympathetic nervous system tells you that there is real mortal danger and puts you into a state of fight, flight, or freeze. It’s a survival response. 
  • Simple breathing, grounding and muscle relaxation techniques listed below will help you manage your anxiety.
  • Bringing yourself into the present can help you overcome continuously worrying about the future.

The physical symptoms of anxiety can include your heart racing, sweating, feeling short of breath, and in some people, sensations of physical pain. 

These are normal physiological reactions to a stressor.

Here’s three simple techniques which you can use in everyday life to stop anxiety in its tracks.

When you’re nervous:

Try: 5-4-3-2-1 grounding

This first technique is really good to use before you do something that you are maybe not looking forward to, or feel nervous about.

How to do it:

Before starting this exercise, pay attention to your breathing. 

Slow, deep, long breaths can help you maintain a sense of calm or if you are feeling anxious, it can help you to return to a calmer state. 

Once you find your breath, put both feet onto the floor and go through the following steps to help ground yourself: 

  • Acknowledge five things you see around you. It could be your computer, a bird in the garden, anything that is nearby.
  • Acknowledge four things you can touch around you. It could be your pen, a cushion, or the ground under your feet.
  • Acknowledge three things you hear. This could be anything from the radio, birds singing to a plane going overhead.
  • Acknowledge two things you can smell. Maybe you are in your kitchen and smell your favourite fruit tea. If you need to take a brief walk to find a scent, you could choose to smell your perfume, aftershave, or you may prefer to go outside into nature.
  • Acknowledge one thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like—toothpaste, coffee, or the sandwich you had at lunchtime?

When you feel overwhelmed or out of control

Try: Deep breathing

Deep breathing is a simple technique that’s excellent for managing anxiety. It’s effective, discreet and easy to use at any time or in any place.

How to do it:

– Sit comfortably and place one hand on your abdomen.

– Breathe in through your nose, deeply enough that the hand on your abdomen rises.

– Hold the air in your lungs, and then exhale slowly through your mouth, with your lips puckered as if you are blowing through a straw.

– Go slow, time the inhalation for four seconds, pause for four seconds and then exhale for six seconds.

– Practice for three to five minutes. 

When you need to relax or wind down

Try: progressive muscle relaxation

By tensing and relaxing the muscles throughout your body, you can achieve a powerful feeling of relaxation. 

Progressive muscle relaxation will help you spot anxiety by teaching you to recognise feelings of muscle tension.

How to do it:

– Sit back or lie down in a comfortable position. 

– For each area of the body listed below, you will tense your muscles tightly, but not to the point of strain. 

– Hold the tension for 10 seconds and pay close attention to how it feels. Then, release the tension, and notice how the feeling of relaxation differs from the feeling of tension.

  • Feet: curl your toes tightly into your feet, then release them.
  • Calves: point or flex your feet, then let them relax.
  • Thighs: squeeze your thighs together tightly, then let them relax.
  • Torso: suck in your abdomen, then release the tension and let it fall.
  • Back: squeeze your shoulder blades together, then release them
  • Shoulders: lift and squeeze your shoulders towards your ears, then let them drop.
  • Arms/hands: make fists and squeeze them towards your shoulders, then let them drop; make a fist and curl your fingers into your palm, then relax your fingers.
  • Face: scrunch your facial features to the centre of your face, then relax.
  • Full body: squeeze all muscles together, then release all tension.

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