Anxiety: 3 ways to ease anxiety and stress:

One moment you feel fine and then, almost out of nowhere, the anxiety and stress strikes and you find yourself feeling tense, on edge and your heart is pounding. Or maybe you've been thinking about that upcoming event and the thoughts of what might happen have started to set your anxiety and stress levels rising. 

I can remember being on a specific training course in Nottingham, over a decade ago in the days when anxiety seemed to be my constant companion. Even before I arrived at the course I'd started feeling a bit tense and on edge, after all, what if the other trainees thought I was an idiot, what if I made a fool of myself, what if I accidentally did something stupid? I'd have been mortified! The closer the course got the more it seemed to fill my mind. So on the day I was sitting in a room of maybe ten or twelve trainees and the trainer. The words I dreaded came out of the trainer's mouth, 'let's go round the room and all introduce ourselves, say what we do and why we are here.'

Now if you have, or have had, social anxiety then these words (along with 'let's do an ice-breaker' or 'how about we role play this in groups') will fill you with dread. I was about five or six down the line. Even as the others were speaking I was rehearsing my name ('arghhh what if I mess up my name!'). I was tense, I was sweating, I felt sick. Yet still in my head I was rehearsing over and over what to say and how to say it. The trainer got to the person next to me - which was always THE worst - you know it's coming your way and it's coming your way any moment now. It was all I could do to breathe (and of course that anxiety was reminding me that they'd probably all notice I looked nervous and so they'd all hate me). If you have anxiety / social anxiety then this is about as cruel as it can get. You're trapped in the room and there is no escape and you can see that wrecking ball heading right towards you.

To this day I have no idea what I said next. I can, however, remember the feeling of relief and exhaustion that followed. I'd avoided danger, at least for now. Ten minutes into the training course and I'm exhausted.  

And of course back in those days it wasn't just training courses. It was any meeting involving people, any social occasion, any time I had to deal with someone more senior than me (I used to hide in the toilet rather than speak to senior staff), in fact, almost any time I walked down the street. It was hell.

Of course, back then I didn't have the 3 techniques below to save me and to calm my overwired anxiety and stress system. 

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Anxiety, Stress and Relaxation

Our fight and flight survival system is something pretty special, I mean, it must be because us humans have been around for a lot of years and lived through a lot of stuff. In any situation where there is a threat, we can instantly react and respond.

Our muscles can tense, our heart can start pounding, we may feel hot and shaky. As well as that our breathing changes, we feel agitated and we may even find our stomach is in knots (or butterflies) or we feel nauseous. 

In evolutionary terms this was a gift. We could flee from a wild animal or protect our land and neighbours with a moment's notice. However, unless you live in a very different neighbourhood to me, most of us don't need to do these things. Yet here we are with an inbuilt system that responds to threats or perceived threats by creating all these physiological responses.

And so whether the 'threat' is worrying what other people think about us or meeting people or delivering a presentation, we still respond in the same way; in fact, we can get very good at creating a pattern of behaving in the same way in similar situations as well as anticipating that it is going to happen and feeling anxious or stressed in advance.

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So how do we deal with this? You could try pushing through it yet that can be exhausting and unpleasant. You could try avoiding it but that tends to make it worse and lead to frustration and worry. Or you can learn to reverse the process by using these three techniques. Of course, if you have been struggling with anxiety and stress for a while you may feel like you never relax or you can't feel calmer. Yet all that means is that you've got very good at feeling anxious from having done it so much. As you use these three things you will begin to get better and better at feeling calmer and more in control. 

To calm anxiety and stress you need to learn how to turn off that fight or flight response when it isn't needed. By learning to quickly and effectively relax, you are signalling to your brain that you are not in any danger and so all is good to calm back down.

1. 4-7-8 Breathing

When you feel anxious or stressed, your breathing gets faster and shallower as your body prepares to take action. To reverse this pattern you can use this breathing technique.

To use this relaxation technique, breathe in through your nose for a mental count of 4 seconds, hold your breath for a count of seven seconds and breathe out through your mouth for a mental count of eight seconds. You then keep repeating this cycle of 4-7-8 for at least a few more breaths.

Like most breathing techniques, you become better with repetition and practice so be sure to practice both when you already feel calm and relaxed (so you get good at it) and if you encounter any stress and anxiety. The more you practice it, the better you will be at doing it and so the less likely you are to need it, yet if you do need it, you can be confident that you can breathe in this way and that you will start to calm your system down.

2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

With progressive muscle relaxation, you focus on individual muscles or parts of the body, tense the muscle for a few seconds and then relax it. Doing this helps to ease tension in the body and you learn how to purposefully relax each part of your body when needed. Stress and anxiety come with tension so this is a great technique that will help you to ease it.

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Simply work your way around your body tensing each muscle group for 5-10 seconds and then relaxing it for the same amount of time before moving on to the next muscles. For example, you could start with your closing your eyes tightly and then relaxing, move onto your jaw, neck, shoulders, upper arm, lower arm and so on as you work your way down to your calves and feet.

3. Guided Relaxation

Guided relaxation helps you to direct your thoughts and imagination to become better at being more and more calm and in control in your thoughts, your actions, your reactions and your responses. Being mentally calm and physically relaxed will mean that you can think more clearly, that everything in your mind will be free from anxious distortion and you can start to feel more able to deal with things in life. There are many options out there for guided relaxation and, like many of my clients, you may want to start with my Rapid Relaxation audio that is available to download instantly.

To your success,

Dan Regan

Have some of themes here resonated with you? Then have a read of these pages:

1. If anxiety and stress are holding you back and you want to learn how to take back control and feel calm and confident:

Hypnotherapy with Dan Regan

2. Looking for a programme that will help you overcome anxiety and develop more confidence - take a look at this audio set which my clients tell me they love:

Anxiety No More

3. Wondering what other people have said after working with Dan to overcome their anxiety and stress?

What People Say