The uncertainty of the last year has turned our lives upside-down, and many of us are experiencing chronic anxiety symptoms such as constant worrying, insomnia, and inability to relax. While our nervous systems are wired to deal with immediate stressors effectively with the fight-or-flight response, we are not meant to be stuck in this heightened state of anxiety for extended periods of time. Yet here we are!

Fortunately, we can use our knowledge of our nervous systems to tap into ways to alleviate anxiety symptoms naturally and effectively, like focusing on your breath, cooling your body, or evoking a sense of grounding.

Using Breath

When you feel anxious, your breath becomes rapid and shallow, and it might feel hard to take a deep breath. Of all the autonomic nervous system processes (like breathing, heartbeat, and digestion), our breath is the only one we can consciously control. If we can control our breath, we can exert control over anxiety symptoms – pretty empowering, right?

To practice controlling your breath, try this 3-Part Breathwork Practice. This is one of my favourite breath exercises, as it incorporates mindfulness into the process, encouraging us to be fully present within our bodies. When you are completely focused on the sensations you are experiencing in your body in this moment, it is harder for those worries to creep into your mind.

3-Part Breathwork Practice

  1. Sit comfortably in an upright position. Close your eyes (if that feels comfortable for you). Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest to help focus your attention.
  2. With each breath, you will bring your attention to 3 parts of your body, and the same 3 parts in reverse as you exhale.
  3. As you inhale, allow your belly to fill deeply with air. Next, bring your attention to your ribs as they expand, and finally to your chest as it rises. 3 parts on the inhale.
  4. As you exhale, notice as your chest falls, your ribs contract, and your belly empties of air.
  5. With each inhale, say to yourself “belly, ribs, chest” as you notice each part filling with air. With each exhale, think “chest, ribs, belly” as the air leaves your body. Repeat this cycle several times.

Cooling Off

Another practice to work with the physiology of anxiety is using cold to alleviate anxiety symptoms. Have you ever noticed heat rising in your body as you encounter stress? Like a warmth creeping into your face or getting a little sweaty? Once again, your nervous system is engaging this fight-or-flight response, getting you ready to battle. These symptoms can be uncomfortable, and they might even add to your distress. To counter the heat of anxiety, try these simple techniques to literally cool your anxiety symptoms and allow your body to chill out:

  • Place an ice cube on your wrist
  • Wrap a cold pack around the back of your neck
  • Splash some cold water on your face
  • Step outside for a few cool deep breaths

Cold helps to decrease heartrate that leads to heat and sweating, engage the parasympathetic (calming) nervous system, and provides a welcome distraction from whatever is causing anxiety.

  • GroundingLast but not least, grounding practices help when your anxiety feels like it is launching you off into space. Maybe you are completely lost in your thoughts and spiraling worries, totally out of touch with your surroundings. With anxiety, we get caught up in our concerns about the future, and grounding practices work to draw our attention back to the present.This one is super easy and accessible, especially if you are working from home. When your anxiety is carrying you away, notice this is happening, take a moment, and simply lay down on the floor. It sounds a bit weird, I know, but it works!Lay down flat on the floor, even touch the floor with your fingertips. Bring your awareness to each part of your body as it contacts the floor: your heels, your calves, your seat, your shoulder blades, your hands, the back of your head. Feel the connection to the floor and know that the earth is always there to support you, even when you feel unstable.Try these practices when you are feeling overwhelmed, or when you just need a break. Feeling prepared with tools to combat your anxiety will help you to feel more confident in your ability to cope, allowing you to take control over your symptoms and navigate the coming months with more certainty.

About the Author:

Kate McKay, MA, is a registered clinical counsellor and the owner of Coastal Calm Therapy in Port Moody, BC. As a counsellor and mother of two, Kate’s lived experiences allow her to offer authentic empathy and understanding to clients and to hold space to really hear their unique stories. Kate’s mission is to share her knowledge and experiences with others in hopes that we can all know the nourishing value of self-compassion and human connection.

Connect with Kate through her website: https://www.coastalcalm.ca/ or on Instagram. Send Kate a message at hello@coastalcalm.ca

UPCOMING WORKSHOP – STRESS & ANXIETY 

Kate is offering an upcoming workshop for stress and anxiety incorporating nature-inspired mindfulness and aromatherapy practices in Port Moody. Tickets & Information