Anxiety. The word itself can make one experience its symptoms.
If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. Over 18 percent of U.S. adults report experiencing at least a 12-month prevalence of anxiety, and nearly 23 percent of these reported cases are categorized as “severe.” Perhaps the most disturbing trend of all is the average age of onset: 11.
But how do we know when we need help with anxiety? When, for example, do we begin consulting our favorite search engine to learn more about relaxation exercises and breathing techniques? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” presents with the following symptoms:
- Extreme or ongoing worry (lasting for months) that’s difficult to control
- A general feeling of restiveness or being on edge
- Becoming easily irritated and/or fatigued
- Inability to concentrate, bordering on “going blank”
- Tense, tight muscles
- Sleep issues ranging from trouble falling asleep to not feeling rested upon waking
Since these can also be self-perpetuating indicators (e.g. being on edge can cause fatigue which often results in irritability and so on), it’s easy to appreciate how the 12-month prevalence comes into play. Now that you have a little better understanding of anxiety, let’s consider some empowering personal methods to address this condition.
At first, this may appear counterintuitive. How could something we do unconsciously all day, every day, help with anxiety? But it’s precisely this familiarity that makes it work. While anxiety may make us feel out of control, breathing is something we can regulate. It’s also a form of self-care that can be tapped into almost anywhere at almost any time.
Count for Balance: Find a place where you can sit in comfort (however you define that). Take a deep inhale to the count of 4. Hold for a beat and then fully exhale to the count of 4. Do your best to think only of the counting with the aim of increasing the number to 6. After a long series of symmetrical, 6-second inhales and exhales, you may begin to experience a calming sense of balance.
Breathe Away Tension or Pain: Often times, anxiety seems to emanate from a particularly tense or painful part of one’s body. If possible, lie flat on your back and take a few minutes to identify the location. Inhale deeply and visualize your breath being specifically directed to the source of pain or tension. Feel the healing inhalation circulate there and then use it to breathe away the discomfort as your exhale.
Yes, there are traditional, proven methods, but the criteria for what falls under this label is often up to you and your imagination. (Translation: more control!)
Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong: These and other ancient practices have long been lauded for their blend of the physical with the emotional and spiritual. Finding a class or a meet-up for any or all of them has never been easier, but if you’re not a joiner (or you don’t have the time/money to take a class), there are no shortage of quality instructors and videos online. Why not create a safe space in your home where you can reclaim your balance?
Wildcard: Here’s where relaxation and control combine. What activity makes youhappy? Brings you joy and peace? Some might like to punch the heavy bag. Others prefer knitting. Maybe you’re the type to take a walk in nature or volunteer at the local nursing home. Whatever brings you a calming sense of relief is, by definition, a good relaxation exercise for you!