Anxiety is something that many individuals experience with varying degrees of intensity. Anxiety tends to overwhelm both the body and the mind. It is important for an individual to have tools to regulate their emotional and physical responses to anxiety. There are many ways to do this. Each of us has our own “go to” activities that calm us down or make us feel better. These are our natural coping skills and often are often very helpful. However, there are times when other coping skills may be beneficial. Below, I have highlighted some coping skills that can be helpful when experiencing anxiety. These techniques can be used by children or adults.
Deep breathing is one of the most basic, yet effective coping skills. By taking control of your breath you are allowing your body to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and promote calm. There are many different types of breathing exercises and you can choose whichever one works best for you or your child. One very effective breathing technique is to create a breathing pattern where inhales and exhales are even. For example: Inhale for a count of 5, hold for one breath, exhale for a count of 5; continuing until anxiety has decreased. Another breathing technique that many find very helpful is 4-7-8 breathing. For this breathing exercise, you would: breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 second; hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds; exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for 8 seconds. You would repeat the cycle up to 4 times. More breathing techniques can be found in our blog Inhale…Exhale.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Grounding Technique
This technique will allow you to ground yourself in the present. This is important, as often when an individual is feeling anxious they are feeling very tangential and sometimes unable to grasp the present or reality. The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 grounding technique uses your five senses to help remind you of the present time.
- Take a deep belly breath to begin.
- 5 = LOOK: Look around for 5 things that you can see, and say them out loud.
- Ex: I see the phone, I see the water bottle, I see the pen, I see the notebook, I see my watch.
- 4 = FEEL: Think of 4 things that you can feel, and say them out loud.
- Ex: I feel my feet warm in my socks, I feel the hairs on the back of my neck, I feel the pillow I am sitting on, I feel hands on my legs.
- 3 = LISTEN: Listen for 3 sounds and say them out loud.
- Ex: I hear traffic outside, I hear typing , I hear my tummy rumbling.
- 2 = SMELL: Say two things you can smell out loud.
- Ex: I can smell my hand lotion, I can smell food cooking.
- If you can’t smell anything at the moment or you can’t move, then name your 2 favorite smells.
- 1 = TASTE: Say one thing you can taste out loud.
- Ex: I taste my toothpaste from brushing my teeth.
- If you can’t taste anything, then say your favorite thing to taste.
- Take another deep belly breath to end.
Exercise is another coping skill that is very effective in reducing anxiety. Science has found that exercise decreases tension, elevates and stabilizes mood, and promotes restful sleep. The type of exercise that you engage in is your choice. Each person will need to find an exercise that works for them. Some individual find running helpful; while others practice yoga. It’s all individualized. However, please keep in mind that exercise does not mean you have to be dripping sweat after the activity. Simply walking or light stretching are also exercises and can also be beneficial. Make sure that you pick an exercise that you find enjoyable.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
Progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR, is a relaxation technique that guides individuals through purposefully tensing and releasing muscle groups one at a time. Studies have shown that PMR can reduce anxiety and aid in insomnia. There are many scripts that can be found online. You can also take only parts of scripts and short your PMR practices as needed. Below is a sample script that I use for myself and in my practice.
- Take a deep inhale. Hold for 3 seconds, then release.
- Starting with your right hand and forearm. Make a fist with your right hand. Hold for 10 secs, then quickly release. Repeat with left side
- Bring your right forearm up to your shoulder to “make a muscle”. Hold for 10 secs, then quickly release. Repeat with left side.
- Raise your eyebrows as high as they will go, as though you were surprised by something. Hold for 10 secs, then quickly release.
- Squeeze your eyes tight shut. Hold for 10 secs, then quickly release.
- Mouth and jaw. Open your mouth as wide as you can, as you might when you‘re yawning. Hold for 10 secs, then quickly release.
- Tense the muscles in your shoulders as you bring your shoulders up towards your ears. Hold for 10 secs, then quickly release.
- Push your shoulder blades back, trying to almost touch them together, so that your chest is pushed forward. Hold for 10 secs, then quickly release.
- Breathe in deeply, filling up your lungs and chest with air. Hold for 10 secs, then quickly release.
- Pull your toes towards you to stretch the calf muscle. Hold for 10 secs, then quickly release. Repeat on the other side.
- Curl your toes downwards. Hold for 10 secs, then quickly release. Repeat on the other side.
- Take a deep inhale. Hold for 3 seconds, then release.
These are just a few of the coping skills that can be used when you or your child is feeling anxious. Feel free to try them out and let us know what worked for you.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America; https://adaa.org/tips