Tools for your Anxiety toolbox

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If you’re like me, and have been keeping up with the horrific news of the violent homicides in New Zealand, then some self care tips are necessary!

My heart goes out to each and every person who has been a victim to horrible acts of violence. With my cellphone blowing up every hour with updates on a new homicide, physical assault, or children witnessing heinous crimes, I have had to really work hard to look after myself emotionally.

Things like this can bring up a lot of trauma for some people, and I think it is important to talk about some methods of looking after yourself. Here, I am only going to talk about tools that I have used personally, over the last three years to look after myself. I hope some of them work for you too!

HALT

H - Hungry?

A - Angry?

L - Lonely?

T - Tired?

For those of you who watch Jane the Virgin, you will recognise this. I saw it on the show when the episode first came out, and I have never been able to forget it. If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed, moody, upset, or sad, a good place to start is checking in with yourself. Often, when we are so busy with every day life, we forget to check in with what our body is actually trying to tell us. Take a moment to check whether you’re feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired - these are often mistaken for anxiety or distress. By addressing these needs, it can sometimes make your feelings more manageable and less overwhelming.

The brain works extremely hard to look after you, and sometimes putting a name to the emotion allows your brain to stop firing in an attempt to figure out what it is feeling, and instead by giving it a name, it can focus on what you need to do from here.

Water

Whether you have a bath or a shower, go to the river or the beach, being near the water or in it, is extremely refreshing and cleansing. Any time I’m having a particularly hard day, my partner tells me to go have a shower - to which I scoff at EVERY DAMN TIME. But there’s no denying it, I feel a million times better afterwards (let’s not tell him that though!).

Either that, or heading down to the beach and listening to the waves, smelling the saltwater, and letting the water tickle my feet, are all self care tricks that I live by.

Your emotions are essentially energy-in-motion, e-motion, so whatever energy you’re feeling, is what you’re putting out; your e-motions surround you. Ever heard people talk about whatever you put out, is what you get back? Well they’re actually not wrong. By being near the water, or being immersed in it, you’re helping your body to reach its natural equilibrium, and bringing yourself to a more neutral position. Help yourself to help you. It is also incredibly calming.

Walks in Nature

I am not a big walker. I do have a dog though, for whom I have to walk for. I like to go for walks along the greenery, and look at all the different shades of green that I can find - yes this is a mindfulness practice but I’m not going to go into that here. All I’ll say is by actively looking for different shades of green, you are practising being more present and in the moment. It can also help you get out of your head, and into the world outside. All the effort you body would usually attribute to being hyper-vigilant, can instead be redirected to help you search for all the different shades of green. And of course, a bit of exercise can do wonders. If you’re a dog person like me, there’s a plus side of running into other pups, and I don’t know about you, but puppy cuddles definitely hijack my dopamine system and make me feel great!

7-11 Breathing

Now before you roll your eyes, I will try to explain why deep belly breathing actually helps!

So I’m fairly sure you would have heard of the Fight or flight response, but the opposite of that is the Rest and Digest response. So what does breathing have to do with it? Often your central nervous system is over active when you’re feeling anxious, and because you’re rarely only anxious once, this is repeated and reinforced over and over again until you create overstimulated responses (OSRs). A method of reducing this overactivity is by counting to seven as you breathe in, and eleven as you breathe out. This activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which helps to reduce emotional arousal by decreasing your blood pressure, slowing your heart rate, and increasing blood oxygen levels. If 7-11 is too difficult, try 3-in-4-out. As long as the breath out is longer than the breath in, your PNS will be activated.

If you’re looking at me life “what the hell is belly breathing?!” then place your hands on your belly, and really focus on pushing your hands in and out - ensuring that you’re breathing isn’t just happening all in your chest. It seems simple, but is so effective!!

Pizza back

My therapist taught me a trick three years ago that I use with my 7 year old all the time. It’s called the pizza back! Find someone you trust, and who makes you feel safe, and ask them to make a pizza on your back. Get them to “roll” out the dough on your back - using varying pressure, and then choose your toppings! Tomato sauce? Get them to rub it all over your back (not literally though as there will be a mess!) Pepperoni? Get them to poke out where the pepperoni would go. Sprinkle of cheese? Maybe some tickling on your back. Whatever it is, by doing this when you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, you can help redirect that arousal to the sensation of touch on your back. What does that do? Pretty much tricks your brain into thinking the reason you were aroused was due to the sensations on your back, rather than anxiety! ;)

Create an anchor

If and when you are feeling particularly relaxed and content, really focus on all the sensations in your body. Following this, you can create an anchor - it can be holding an ear lobe, mine is pressing my ring finger on my left hand, it can be anything, as long as it’s used only for this purpose. Hold your anchor for 6 seconds, and really focus on the relaxed and content feeling, let go, deep breath in, and repeat. Try this 5-6 times, and the next time you’re feeling anxious or distressed, use your anchor. Your brain and body will remember the relaxed state that you have anchored, and will bring you back to this. I use this trick before I head into meetings, or if I am running late anywhere and feeling rushed, just to bring me back to my best self. This neurolinguistic programming hack allows you to set up a desired stimulus response pattern to whichever anchor you choose, as it associates an internal response to your chosen external trigger/stimulus.

So these are my top 6 and most used anxiety-reducing tools that have really helped me become a functional human being again. I hope they can work for you, too.

If you have any comments or feedback, or if any of these have worked for you, please let me know! And if you would like more information on any of these, then get in touch!

The world can be cruel and difficult, so let’s do our best to look after ourselves so that we can be our best selves!

Ashley <3