When an individual faces potentially harmful or worrying triggers, feelings of anxiety are not only normal but necessary for survival. Since the earliest days of humanity, the approach of predators and incoming danger sets off alarms in the body and allows evasive action. These alarms become noticeable in the form of a raised heartbeat, sweating, and increased sensitivity to surroundings.
The danger causes a rush of adrenalin, a hormone and chemical messenger in the brain, which in turn triggers these anxious reactions in a process called the “fight-or-flight’ response. This prepares humans to physically confront or flee any potential threats to safety.
For many people, running from larger animals and imminent danger is a less pressing concern than it would have been for early humans. Anxieties now revolve around work, money, family life, health, and other crucial issues that demand a person’s attention without necessarily requiring the ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction.
The nervous feeling before an important life event or during a difficult situation is a natural echo of the original ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction. It can still be essential to survival – anxiety about being hit by a car when crossing the street, for example, means that a person will instinctively look both ways to avoid danger.
There are some ways to ease anxiety immediately and those are –
1. Take some deep breaths.
When we're anxious, our breath becomes rapid and shallow. Deep belly breathing helps decrease anxiety by stimulating the body’s relaxation response, lowering our heart rate and blood pressure. It’s a powerful technique that works because we can’t breathe deeply and be anxious at the same time. There are many variations to try, including this simple exercise:
Inhale deeply for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 4. Exhale for a count of 4. Repeat several times.
2. Go for a walk.
Exercise is one of the best anxiety remedies, immediately and long term. Going for a walk creates a diversion from worries and releases muscle tension. Grab your headphones or earbuds on the way out: studies show that listening to music brings its own calming effects.
Long term, regular exercise triggers the release of feel-good neurochemicals in the brain, building up resilience against stormy emotions. It boosts confidence and mood, and we don’t need to run a marathon to feel the benefits. Washing the car, hiking, gardening, a pick-up game — anything that gets us moving counts. Research shows that 30 minutes, 3 to 5 days a week can help to significantly improve anxiety symptoms, but even 10 minutes can make a difference.
3. Sip some chamomile or green tea.
Known as a sleep aid, chamomile contains a compound called Matricaria recutita, which binds to the same brain receptors as drugs like Valium. Chamomile’s sedative effects may also come from the flavonoid apigenin. In one study, patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) who took chamomile supplements (1.2 % apigenin) for 8 weeks showed a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms compared with patients taking placebo. (Despite improved quality control, herbal supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA the way medications are, so before taking any supplement, check with your doctor.)
Green tea, long used in Chinese medicine to treat depression, contains the amino acid L-theanine, which relieves stress, and reduces blood pressure and muscle tension.
4. Get distracted.
Try anything that redirects your attention away from distressing thoughts or emotions: run your fingers around the edge of your phone, put your hands under running cold water, color or draw on a piece of paper. Distractions work because the brain can’t be in 2 places at once, and shifting attention to any activity will interrupt a string of racing thoughts.
5. Try a free mini-meditation from Headspace.
No matter what’s causing our anxiety, we can always take a pause and practice a short meditation to anchor the mind and body in the present.
Amity University, Kolkata