According to WHO, over 300 million people globally were living with anxiety in 2019. And these are just reported numbers. Anxiety is more prevalent than we’d like to believe.
As someone who suffers from anxiety on a regular basis, I have developed a toolkit that helps me deal with it to a certain extent.
My anxiety toolkit is simply a collection of tactics that I use to deal with anxiety and reduce its effects. Of course, this won’t treat anxiety, but only help you reduce its effects or gain some sort of control over the situation.
So, I’ll list 7 tactics that have helped me deal with anxiety and that you can add to your anxiety toolkit. You can choose a few or all of these tactics and start mastering them today.
Let’s get started.
1. 3-3-3 Technique
The first technique that you need in your Anxiety toolkit is the 3-3-3 technique.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed by anxiety look around you and:
- Name three things you can see
- Find three things you can hear
- Move three parts of your body
As you do these, focus only on the activity. When you are finding three things that you can see, really see each with as much detail as possible. What color is it? What’s its texture?
Similarly, when you’re trying to find 3 sounds, really listen to each before moving to the next. And when you move a part of your body, completely focus on how it feels. Is there any pain or stiffness? When you stretch a body part, do you feel relaxed?
Focus on each activity and you’ll become more grounded in the present moment. And when you live in the moment, all thoughts of the past and future that cause anxiety will be gone.
2. Controlled Breathing
The next technique you should keep in your anxiety toolkit is controlled breathing. I know, it’s a bit of cliche advice that everyone gives, but there’s a reason for that—it works.
So, how does controlled breathing work?
Well, there are many techniques that you can follow for controlled breathing. These require you to take long or fast breaths in a fixed loop.
For example, you can take a deep breath for a count of three and release it through the mouth for a count of three. Some also advise that you alternate between loops of deep breathing and fast breathing.
You can follow any form of controlled breathing that you like or practice. The point is to bring your focus to your breath and be in control of it.
Pro Tip: Deep inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth is the one that I find most relaxing. So, start with that if you don’t have any existing practice.
This is one of the more nuanced tools that you should have in your anxiety toolkit. It takes some practice to be able to visualize, so learning this tactic will take time and practice.
However, once you master it, you can calm yourself during the most intense anxiety attacks.
How does it work?
Just like controlled breathing, there’s no one way to use visualization to calm your mind and reduce anxiety. There are many visualization techniques that you can use, depending on what works best for you.
Here are a few visualization techniques to get you started:
- Surrounding Light: Visualize yourself surrounded by a big ball of light of a color that you find calming. Allow the light to fill your whole body. Identify the areas in your body where you feel the tension and think of them as black smoke that is being healed by the light. Let the light dissolve all stress and anxiety from your body.
- Serene Beach: Imagine yourself lying on a serene beach listening to the sound of waves and feeling the wind in your hair. Feel the warmth of the sun, imagine the touch of sand, and feel yourself sinking into the chair.
- Ball of Yarn: Imagine a ball of yarn that holds all your stress and anxiety. Imagine it unwinding slowly and getting longer with each breath. As the ball opens and becomes completely loose, you will feel more relaxed.
These are just some of the many visualization techniques that you can use to calm your mind when you’re feeling anxious.
4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This is a must-have technique for your anxiety toolkit and is simple enough to master.
All you have to do is tense and then relax every major muscle in your body from head to toe or vice-versa. As you relax each muscle, you will feel your anxiety fade away.
As your body relaxes, it tells your mind that there’s no imminent danger and this stops the fight or flight response.
This might not seem like much of a tactic, but the reason I have included it in my anxiety toolkit is that it really works.
One of the best ways to cope with anxiety or at least manage anxiety is to distract yourself with a fun and engaging activity.
It can be watching a funny video, practicing your self-care routine, journaling, or anything else. The idea is to keep yourself occupied until those unwanted thoughts go away.
Choose a fun activity that you really like and one that will completely engage you. If you just focus on distracting yourself instead of actively engaging in an activity, it won’t work.
There is nothing more effective in reducing the effects of anxiety and depression than physical exercise.
Because when you’re busy moving your body, your mind has less time to focus on negative thoughts. Moreover, exercising releases neurochemicals like serotonin that reduce the effect of anxiety and depression.
Does this mean you need to join a gym or work out for hours? Absolutely not.
Just start small and do any form of exercise for 15-20 minutes a day. If you start with a big target you’ll set yourself up for failure. So, start with the path of least resistance and choose an exercise routine that you can actually enjoy.
For example, you can add a 30-minute yoga and meditation session to your morning routine. Or you can play the music you like and dance for 15 minutes daily. Set a designated time and space for it to further solidify your habit.
Apart from your daily ritual, do this whenever you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
Just move your body in some way and release those feel-good chemicals and boost your energy levels.
7. Thought Challenging
This is the most technical and effective tool that you can add to your anxiety toolkit. It’s also one that will take the most practice to master.
So, what is thought challenging?
It’s a technique that you can use to check the validity of your thoughts and challenge them. Basically, you need to understand and identify cognitive distortions in your thought and reframe your thoughts to remove these distortions.
Here is an example:
Distorted Thought: I got rejected at my last job interview so I am a failure and I will never get a job.
Reframed Thought: Just because I didn’t get one job does not mean I am a failure. I will prepare better and get the next one.
How can you challenge your thought?
By providing evidence against what your negative thought is telling you. In the previous example, the evidence could be that you’re qualified and have got jobs in the past, so you’re clearly going to get one again. Also, one failure does not make you a loser.
Challenge your thoughts and look for evidence against them. Then reframe your negative thoughts into positive ones.
Start Building Your Anxiety Toolkit Today
Anxiety can be crippling to some people and can make you feel like you have no control over your negative thoughts. That’s absolutely not true!
You are in charge and you can take the control back by equipping yourself with an effective anxiety toolkit. Choose from the list of tools and tactics mentioned above and add the ones you find most relevant to your anxiety toolkit.
Remember, you’re not limited by these options. If you have something else that works for you, add it to your toolkit. If you feel it can help others, share your tips, tricks, and suggestions in the comments. Let’s overcome anxiety together!