Anxiety – Right Now!

“Worry is interest paid on trouble before it falls due.”

American Proverb

We learned in the second of this series of posts on anxiety that it is essential to find some time in your busy daily life for quiet reflective thought, a time when you can calmly think about how you react to challenges and plan your options for dealing with them in the moment. Having an immediate action plan doesn’t mean that you will no longer experience anxiety and face challenging moments, but it does mean that you can be in a little more control of how you react to it. And with each little toe-hold of control comes an increasing sense of being able to cope with it.

Being aware of and accepting your typical reactions under pressure is an essential step in learning to improve your self-confidence. Beating yourself up and being self-deprecating only reduces your sense of agency even more. Emotions and their physiological reactions are not in your control, and so there’s no point in getting stressed. Instead, consider what you can actively do in the moment to reduce the challenge of anxiety.

It is important to have an outlet for the emotional frustration you experience when anxious. For many of us, the overwhelming emotion might be fear, but it is also common to experience agitation and anger, particularly if one believes they are trapped in an unavoidable situation. Here are 5 suggested ways of letting it all out in a safe way that’s not going to make the situation worse:

  • Physical: exercise – go for a brisk walk, run, cycle or swim. Walk up a few flights of stairs; compete in sport; get out and use up that pent-up physical energy that your emotional-thinking brain has mobilised in you.


  • Space: distance yourself from the source of the stress. Take a break from your desk or office; get some fresh air; have a change of scene. A change is as good as a rest: change the scene to something better.


  • Social: find a friend and have a rant, whinge or cry (or all three!). Make sure they’ll be likely to listen. A problem shared is a problem halved.


  • Context: displace your emotions into a game or some other activity in which the ‘rules of the game’ allow you to let off steam.


  • Verbal: write down what you’re experiencing in the here-and-now, then park it and return to read it later on when things are calmer and clearer.


My final recommendation is to breathe! The process of breathing is so automatic that we take for granted how vital it is to our health and wellbeing. It is something we each do around 20,000 times a day.

The rhythm of our breathing creates electrical activity in the brain that can affect our emotions and enhance memory. Busy, fast-paced lifestyles, stress and being increasingly sedentary means that we breathe more in a shallow, inefficient way that reduces oxygen consumption and leaves us feeling sluggish.

Nasal breathing stimulates the amygdala (part of the limbic system, it is a key player in the stress response), as well as the hippocampus, which processes learning and memory. Slowing and deepening the breathing lowers levels of the stress hormones cortisol and noradrenaline, helping to improve focus, process emotions, and calm anxiety. For relaxation, lower your breathing rate and reduce stress by breathing in slowly through your left nostril (hold your right nostril closed with your thumb or finger), then switching over to exhale slowly through your right nostril while keeping the left one closed.

In the next post, we shall look at how lifestyle choices in the long-term can help you to manage your anxiety better.

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