5 tips for relieving anxiety

Here’s a very partial list of what’s causing anxiety for some of us at the moment:

  • The current political situation
  • Extremists with guns and bombs
  • Cutbacks in social care
  • I’m not performing as well at work as I should be doing
  • My boiler’s leaking
  • The printer won’t print – again!
  • My bank charges me £25 for declining a £10 payment
  • I keep double checking more and more.
  • I’m addicted to social media as I don’t want to miss anything

In other words, we have quite a wide range of things to worry about. The thing is, all this stuff seems particularly overwhelming right now, like I’m surrounded by things to do and not enough time or money to do them, awful news and then I had a bad night of sleep so I’m super-tired, and that leads to unhealthy eating, which just adds to existing worries about my weight, I’ve got a splitting headache and is that pain in my chest acid reflux or something more serious, and all of a sudden, “aaarrrggghhh – I can’t cope!”

Hang-on. Someone needs to calm down – and I’m not the only one: “At present 40% of disability worldwide is due to depression and anxiety (1) The most recent Psychiatric Morbidity Survey indicates that there are some 6 million people in the UK (approximately 3 million with depression as their primary problem and 3 million with an anxiety disorder) (2)

But, wait – as adults aren’t we supposed to have coping skills? We grow up, we learn how to stay calm in the face of life’s challenges. Except, when the challenges pile up and seem both insurmountable and frightening, that’s when our “adult” coping skills can falter.

Fortunately, there are different ways to calm down. What follows is a mix of tips learned from mental health professionals.

Stop, take a break, take a breath

If you’re seriously stressed right now, or you are beginning to feel actual panic (or something close to it), focused breathing can help. “When we experience anxiety or stress our body interprets it as though we are in physical danger. When we breathe deeply, we are able to counteract the natural physical stress response and help our body and brain to realise there is no physical danger and we can relax.” That’s according to Angela K. Kenzslowe, (clinical psychologist ) who offers a simple remedy: Take 2 or 3 deep breaths (from your diaphragm, not your chest) for a very slow count to four. (That’s four seconds on the in-breath, four more on the out-breath.)

For a little more help, you might want to try a free smartphone app such as “Breathe2Relax” or “Calm – Meditate, Sleep, Relax”  which provides guided breathing exercises based on your level of stress.

Get away from your screens

Every day, most of us face an onslaught of mostly unhappy news. It comes from our TVs, laptops, phones and tablets, delivered relentlessly via countless apps, news sites, push notifications and social media streams. As we jump back and forth between our various devices, anxious to stay connected, it’s very easy to get caught up in a whirlpool of bad news and negativity. And such negativity inexorably leads to anxiety.

The solution is simple – Just Unplug. “Taking a break from technology is a great way to give your brain some much-needed downtime, allowing creativity to flow in,” says Dr. Chinwe Williams, (College of Counseling Psychology and Social Sciences). “Intentional disengagement with your smartphone may [also] lead to intentional and meaningful engagement with others.”

Go for a walk

One great way to disengage from screens and, consequently, calm your mind is to go for a hike. Studies have shown that even a 10-minute walk can release endorphins that improve your mood. And as noted in “10 Surprising Benefits Of: A 10 Minute Walk,”. Walking is well reputed for increases mindfulness; “Walking helps clear the mind. It also helps to increase our awareness. When we step outside, we activate all of our senses.” And those senses help combat the things that were making us anxious.

“Engage in [any] movement you enjoy,” adds postpartum specialist Thai-An Truong. “Walk the dog, dance, work on your garden, go for a hike, get outside and connect with nature.”

Authors note – As a very busy management development worker it was difficult to switch off. The best thing I did was to buy myself a husky puppy and go for walks two or three times a day. nine years later he still makes me laugh and now takes me for a walk 


In the opinion of many mental health care professionals, this is arguably the single best way to not only calm yourself down in a moment of anxiety, but to also reduce your overall stress level.

Meditation “allows the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system to rest, which is what is overreacting when we have high anxiety or panic attacks.” Some sort of ‘guided meditation’, noting that a calm and focused outside voice is the key to relaxing a brain that’s “all over the place.”

There are many apps in the Apple and Android app stores designed to help you learn mindfulness meditation, including 10% Happier, Calm, Headspace, Buddhify.

Are we sceptical about whether meditation really works? One recent podcast tackled the subject [Link] with interesting results: Although science doesn’t really have much concrete evidence to support the many benefits promised by meditation, practitioners far and wide, including many scientists who conducted the studies, support it.

Practice aversion therapy

So you’re calm now, but what about next time? How abut a preventative measure?

One very simple aversion-therapy trick is to place a rubber band on your wrist, and every time that you start feeling stressed, lightly snap it. The idea is that your brain will subconsciously start avoiding the stimulus (in this case, stress) to prevent the unpleasant snapping of the rubber band.”

How do you calm down when things start to get on top of you? Please share in the comments below.

(1) WHO (2002), The Global Burden of Disease.

(2) Psychiatric Morbidity Survey