Anxiety makes up the majority of mental illnesses in the United States according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Anxious tendencies are caused as a reaction to stress and can vary in symptoms from an inability to focus to full blown panic attacks. Sometimes the basic treatments for anxiety — exercise, diet, meditation — don’t always work, especially if you can’t escape the stressor that is triggering you.
In addition to what you may have already tried, here are five ways (backed by research) to help you manage and overcome anxiety:
1. The “5-Senses Countdown”
When I was suffering from panic attacks on a fairly regular basis my doctor recommended the 5-Senses Countdown. It works surprisingly well in helping you distract yourself from the stressor and re-center your focus when panicked. It’s also easy to remember!
You have 5 senses: nose, eyes, ears, mouth, and touch. You can mix this up in any way that you desire, and be sure not to rush through the process. It’s ideal to spend close to one minute on each sense. You don’t need to say this aloud, just say it in your head:
- 5 things you hear
- 4 things you see
- 3 things you feel
- 2 things you smell
- 1 thing you taste
The countdown will help you feel more relaxed by bringing your attention away from stressors and over-stimulation. As an optional addition to the countdown you can practice some breathing exercises between each number for an extra relaxing experience.
2. Go “Earthing”
Walking barefoot on the ground (grass, dirt, but not concrete) is a practice called “earthing.” What was once seen as a part of the “hippie” culture has turned out to be well endorsed by scientific studies in benefitting your physical and mental health.
The studies behind the “earthing” movement all revolve around the transference of electrons between the limitless supply of the earth and our bodies. Since our bodies are conductive, the electrical current of the earth flowing through us can reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, prevent sleep apnea, and lower stress levels. If you live in the city and rarely see patches of real grass, it might be time to get out of town and reconnect with nature. Literally.
3. Art Therapy
Expressing yourself creatively is a great way to lower stress. Learning to play a musical instrument as an adult is shown to lower stress. The practice of “Art Therapy” includes drawing, painting, sculpturing, singing, and playing music, and is used to help those suffering from mental illness. Art therapy “helps people resolve conflicts, improve interpersonal skills, manage problematic behaviors, reduce negative stress, and achieve personal insight” according to the American Art Therapy Association.
The recent adult coloring book craze is due to the benefits of creativity in lowering stress. Coloring has similar effects as mediation in helping us refocus; studies have shown that the different parts of the brain light up when adults engage in coloring.
Whether you’re learning a new instrument or engaging in artwork, making Art Therapy a part of your regular routine will result in a noticeable change in your stress levels within a few weeks.
4. Adopt an Animal
It should be no surprise that animals are great companions. However, you may be surprised to find that owning animals can be extremely beneficial for your mental health.
In cases of mild anxiety, studies have shown that petting cats can lower blood pressure and help you relax after a stressful day. Dogs are used extensively in “Animal-Assisted Therapy” to aid in patients with severe anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses such as PTSD and autism.
Scientist and author, Laurel Braitman, has been observing the mental disorders of animals for years and noted in her Ted Talk that the unique bond between humans and social animals promotes the release of the “happy chemical” oxytocin.
5. EFT or “Tapping”
“Tapping” is based off Chinese “Chi” philosophy and focuses on the release of “negative energy” from “meridian points” or acupuncture points. According to Neuroscientist Dr. Anthony Tranguch, “EFT involves techniques that combines exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring, waking hypnosis, and physical relaxation while tapping on a sequence of pressure points and repeating key phrases out loud.”
The effectiveness of the technique has been criticized by some, but highly praised by other professionals for its ability to help relieve emotional stress and anxiety. By focusing your mind on pressure points and tapping on them rhythmically, sufferers of anxiety can re-center in a way that resembles hypnosis or meditation.
Katie McBeth is a Freelance writer and former bookseller based out of Boise, ID. She enjoys reading teen novels, eating mac ‘n cheese, attending indie concerts in small bars, and long walks on the beach. Her love for reading is only trumped by her love for cats, of which she has three. She also has a dog, and he helps keep her grounded. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram and Twitter.