Anxiety Management Strategies

  1. Relaxation breathing: Take long, slow breaths in and out, hold the breath shortly after you inhale, try to exhale even slower. Try 4 counts in, hold the breath for 1-2 seconds, then 7 counts out. To lengthen your exhalation, try blowing the breath out through your lips, where pressing your lips together more tightly can be used to slow the exhale.
  2. Tensing and relaxing: (Do this lying down) Take 2-3 relaxation breaths in and out, then after you draw and hold the next breath, tense every muscle in your body as tight as you can for 3-4 seconds, then simultaneously and slowly relax your muscles as you slowly exhale (i.e., use 6-7 counts to slowly release the tension in your muscles, as at the same time, you are slowly exhaling through your lips). Then take 2-3 more relaxation breaths followed by another with tensing and relaxing while you hold the breath.
  3. Butterfly Hug: Cross your arms over your chest, and tap your hands back and forth: Left, Right, Left, Right. Or you can place your hands on your knees and tap your hands back and forth. When you do either of these, you are bilaterally stimulating your brain, which is hypnotic and soothing (for example, it is the same technology which is used with EMDR).
  4. In classroom/at work modifications of #1, 2 and 3:
  • You can do relaxation breathing quietly at your desk, and no one will know what you are doing.
  • You can tense and relax along with relaxation breathing at your desk, when you do the tensing, simply tighten your core and leg muscles and slowly release the tension as you exhale, like in #2 above.
  • Like with the Butterfly Hug, simply tap your big toe in each shoe back and forth, and again, nobody will know what you are doing.
  1. As you do the Butterfly Hug, you can slowly repeat a “mantra” (calming and focusing word/phrase) over and over, perhaps every four taps, like Peace (tap tap tap) Peace (tap tap tap)…Peace—or Relax (tap tap tap)…Relax (tap tap tap)…Relax. Some may want to repeat the names of family or loved ones over and over, like Joe (tap tap tap)…Rachel (tap tap tap)…Mary (tap tap tap). You can even use random categories of words, like repeating different colors: Red (tap tap tap)…Blue (tap tap tap)…Green (tap tap tap). ANY calming, positive, meaningful, or neutral words you use, along with the taps, will put structure and soothing rhythm into your mind, which will interrupt the anxious thoughts. You can also use a calming or empowering phrase, like I can soothe myself (tap)…I can soothe myself (tap)—or I am taking charge (tap)…I am taking charge (tap). Some people like to use a spiritual phrase, like God (tap) be (tap) with (tap) me (tap)…God (tap) be (tap) with (tap) me (tap). Another example is Be still, and know that I am God (deep breath)…Be still, and know that I am God (deep breath).
  2. If you are having a panic attack, get a piece of ice and hold it tightly in your hand. It will ache a bit, which is exactly the point. (So when your hand gets numb, switch the ice to the other hand.) Creating a small but manageable amount of pain outside of your body draws your attention away from the swirling emotions inside your body.
  3. In classroom/at work modification of #6: Fold your pinky finger down, and press against your knuckle with your opposite thumb to create a small amount of pain, which, similar to the ice in #6, creates a manageable level of outward physical pain to distract you from inner emotional distress.
  4. When you’re anxious, it can help to be active and do something. Get up and move around. Take a walk or jog. Call or FaceTime with a friend.
  5. It is important to fight back against your anxiety. Don’t just let it ricochet around in your head and push you around…push back! It can help to personify your anxiety, think of it like a little imp that’s trying to bite your ankles and get you “on the run” and feeling helpless (like when you’re not fighting back, and anxious thoughts are running roughshod over you). So don’t let anxiety chase you and work you up into a froth! You’re much bigger and stronger. stop, turn around, and look at the little guy. He’s only 6 inches tall…you could step on him! Give the little jerk a name and call him out—tell him you are taking charge! Show your anxiety that he can’t stop you from doing things to help yourself, like breathing, tapping (Butterfly Hug), repeating positive/calming words and phrases, distracting yourself, moving around, going to lunch with a friend, or anything you choose to do. so what if you feel some anxiety while you’re doing the activity at first? You’re still taking initiative, being proactive, and doing something that you choose, instead of allowing anxiety to paralyze you, like he wants! You’re in control of you, not him!

Remember, the physical stimulation of the tapping and the repetition of calming words/phrases puts soothing rhythm, structure, and positivity into your mind that takes back your mind’s “center stage,” crowds out the anxious thoughts, gives them less mental space in which to move around, and steals your attention back from them. You’re replacing the automatic/barely conscious/repetitive/negative/anxious thoughts with intentional, conscious, repetitive, confident, positive words, along with the soothing rhythm and structure of tapping. Thus, when you tap and repeat positive/calming words, as many times as it takes to calm you down, you are taking charge. You are controlling yourself, instead of letting your anxiety control you. The more often you take control, the more you will drain strength from your anxiety, the more you will gain confidence, and the less power it will have over you. So don’t give up. Fight back! The bottom line:


Note:    Many of the above strategies are helpful not only with anxiety, but when depressive thoughts become overwhelming. Especially try the combination of tapping (Butterfly Hug) and the use of mantras as in #5 to crowd out the depressive thoughts or use intense stimulation (like ice) to distract you, as in #6.