The Challenge: Life can make us anxious, and we don’t know what to do.
The Science: Research shows there are ways to work yourself out of that state.
The Solution: Apply these 3 techniques anytime to help relieve you of stress.
Have you ever been so stressed you forgot your exit, spilled coffee on yourself, or stuttered? Have you ever been so anxious you couldn’t sleep or burst into tears? It’s happened to all of us. Life has a way of throwing curve balls (chaos theory, anyone?). So it’s a good idea to prepare for those moments.
If you’re stressed and having a panic attack in the airport, for example, it’s good to know about a few options to help you get through your anxiety. There are always the typical methods of dealing with stress, but one of those suggestions is to “remove yourself from the stressor.” Well, that’s not really possible when you’re traveling, so what are some alternatives?
Shift the focus
There are a few ways to re-shift your focus away from the stressor. The best method that works for me is called the “5 senses countdown.” There are five senses in your body, and using this technique, you can name something that is interacting with each of your senses. It’s pretty easy to remember, and you can order it in whichever way you choose. Here’s an example:
- 5 things you hear
- 4 things you see
- 3 things you feel
- 2 things you smell
- 1 thing you taste
This technique relies on the ability to re-center your focus on your body instead of your “mental chatter” or anxiety. It is recommended by psychologists, relying on the importance of keeping in tune with our five senses.
A friend of mine recommended a similar practice that relies on your sense of sight. From where you are sitting, start counting everything that is a specific color. How many red things do you see? Now orange, now yellow, now green, now blue, and now purple.
If you want to prepare ahead for any possible stress, try bringing a coloring book with you. The adult coloring book craze has sparked a whole slew of beautifully intricate designs that you can color to your liking. Coloring, in general,l has been shown to lower stress and boost creativity, as well as distract your brain from whatever environment is stressing you out. This is known as the flow state in psychology. That’s what makes coloring the perfect solution for stress relief on the go.
Breathing techniques are a common solution for a lot of anxiety sufferers, but there are specific ones that work better than others. The most successful breathing exercise I came across was the 4-7-8 breath, also known as the Relaxing Breath. Dr. Andrew Weil breaks down this strategy:
- Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there throughout the entire exercise.
- Exhale completely from your mouth, making a “whoosh” sound
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four
- Hold your breath for a count of seven
- Exhale completely from your mouth, making a “whoosh” sound to a count of eight
- This is one breath. Now, inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Dr. Weil also advises that you do this cycle only once when you’re first starting out, and if you feel light-headed, it will pass. When I asked my group of 20-something-year-old friends what best works for them in times of stress, this was the overwhelming majority of their response. The 4-7-8 breathing exercise triggers your body into relaxing and is helpful for falling asleep or slowing your heart rate.
Question the panic
This was another popular response I received from my friend group. The term used in psychology is “Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy,” but patients know it as the ABCDE Technique. The trick behind this strategy is to convince the mind that nothing bad will happen on your current trajectory. When we panic, our mind often jumps to the worst possible outcome, and it’s hard to break from that idea. By asking the brain the questions of the ABCDE technique, we can rationalize what is happening to us and think our way out of the panic. Here are the questions:
- Activating Event: This is the real-world event activating your anxious thoughts
- Belief about the Event: Identify the negative thoughts that popped into your head. (You want the absolutes, so statements that start with “I must” or “I can’t”)
- Consequences of those Beliefs: How are those beliefs influencing your actions and emotions? What are you doing as a result of these actions, and what further activating events are occurring because of it?
- Dispute your Beliefs: This is the important step. Take every emotion you identified in step B and cross-examine them. Use logic and not emotion, and the farther you can remove yourself from those beliefs, the better the results.
- Effect: How well did this exercise work for you? Did questioning your beliefs result in a new, more rational, belief? This will help you determine if this is an effective exercise, as well.
It’s helpful to write down each step of this process to really evaluate your emotions, as well. There are other thought analysis questions if the ABCDE Technique doesn’t do the trick. The website Anxietybc.com put together this helpful print-off that you can keep with you to try to think your way out of a panic. The idea behind these questions is similar to that of the ABCDE, but they are less analytical. Thinking your way out of stress doesn’t work for everyone, so try it on a smaller case of stress before you really rely on it for a panic attack. One of the most common myths about stress is that the best technique will work for you every time. Don’t fall for this misconception!