15 Techniques to Reduce Anxiety, Worry, and Stress
No Need for Medication
Anxiety disorders are among the most widespread mental health concerns, affecting over 40 million adults in the United States. While not everyone struggles with clinical anxiety, everyday anxiety, worry, and stress affects us all. Different seasons and events in life may precipitate elevated levels of anxiety that become problematic and prompt sufferers to seek relief, either professionally or on their own.
While pharmacological intervention is often necessary for extreme cases of anxiety, many people further down on the stress and anxiety continuum prefer to first try other measures, or to use them in conjunction with medication. In this article, I present the techniques that I most often suggest to my clients to assist them in gaining control over their anxious feelings and to increase a sense of well-being.
1) Prayer and Meditation
The Bible says that we are kept in perfect peace when our eyes are fixed on God (Isaiah 26:3). Meditating on the Word of God and remembering all the ways God has blessed your life and come through for you in the past stirs up faith and confidence in His faithfulness. Try keeping a blessing or gratitude journal and review it when worries seem to overtake you. Use a search tool, such as Biblegateway.com, to find verses on peace, trust, safety, etc. Make a master list of those scriptures that speak to your heart, think on them, and pray them. Praying the Word back to the Father is one of the most powerful and effective forms of prayer.
2) Take Every Thought Captive
Replace negative, stress-inducing thoughts with soul-settling truth from the Bible. Transformation comes through renewing the mind with God’s Word (Romans 12:2). Meditate on an appropriate Word of truth for your situation, confess the Word, and deliberately think on those things that are noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
3) Deep Breathing
Breathe in through your nose for five seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for seven seconds. Pull the air down deep, diaphragmatically, so that your stomach actually moves out. Repeat several times. Focus on your breath—what it feels like, what it sounds like, controlling the inhale and exhale process. This will interrupt worries and stress-invoking thoughts.
4) Progressive Relaxation
Find a quiet place and sit or lie down comfortably. Dim the lights or turn them off. You can play soothing music if you like. Now, starting with your head, face, and neck, tighten every muscle and hold it for 5-10 seconds. Slowly release the tension and imagine it flowing out of your body like vapor into the air, the walls, or whever. Continue to do this until you feel that your head, face, and neck are totally relaxed and all tension has left you. Next, tighten your shoulders, chest, upper back and arms and hold for 5-10 seconds; slowly release all tension as before. Repeat the process with your arms, with your hands and fingers, with your abdomen and lower back, with your buttocks and pelvis, with your legs, and with your feet and toes. Linger in your relaxed state as long as you wish.
5) Practice Mindfulness
#1) Pick an object (i.e. a leaf, a picture, or a toy) or even the fabric on your couch or a spot on the wall. Study it. Notice every minute detail about it … the shape, color, texture, flaws, temperature, weight, etc. Allow your senses and attention to be totally consumed by this process, so that allowing previous thoughts and tension to drift away from your consciousness.
#2) Sometimes intense anxiety stems from tasks or obligations that face us and that seem overwhelming in the moment. This may come from having too much to do and a sense of not having enough time to get it all done, wrestling with prioritizing, or tackling a particularly complex or difficult task. Whatever the case may be, try focusing all of your energy and attention on doing just the next thing, whether large or small. Intentionally and persistently forget about everything else for the duration of the one activity.
6) Thought Stopping
Think of a place or activity that is interesting, fun, calming, or otherwise enjoyable. Some possibilities include the beach, mountains, outer space, celebrating Christmas, riding the rides at Disneyland, walking in the rain, playing with your dog, or any other kind of favorite scenario. Make this your pre-determined go-to thought when anxiety, worry, or stress hit. Deliberately put your mind there and visualize being there. Keep thinking this thought as a way of displacing unwanted thoughts. With practice this can become very effective.
Sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord. Dance around the living room and turn the volume up or down to suit your mood. Take a shower and make a joyful noise. If the music you’ve chosen is not instrumental, listen attentively to the lyrics and let them wash your soul.
8) Physical Activity
Walk, run, pump iron, play tennis, take a group workout class, mow the lawn, etc.
9) Nurture Something
Pet a cat, play with a dog, hug and hold your child, tend to a plant or garden, etc. These activities activate the release of serotonin in the brain, which can reduce feelings of rage, stress, or feeling blue.
Pick an activity or project and do it.
Watch a funny movie, read a joke book, look up humorous material on the internet, or ???
12) Hang Out with a Friend
13) Have a Good Cry
Let your tears fall into God’s bottle (Psalm 56:8).
This is a type of therapy aimed at improving health by increasing your awareness of what is going on in your body and helping you to find effective strategies for controlling it. During a session, electrodes are attached to the skin to monitor physiological changes, such as heart and respiration rate, changes in blood pressure, body temperature, perspiration, and muscle activity. When you become stressed or anxious, these bodily functions are affected and are visually represented by flashing lights or images on the monitor or with sounds. As you practice relaxation and stress-reducing techniques, the monitor will give instant feedback as to what is working to reduce unwanted symptoms.
15) Mimic Symptoms of Anxiety and Master It
Run up a flight of stairs, do jumping jacks, or run around the block. Feel your heart racing, your brow sweating, and your increased respiration. Notice how these symptoms dissipate with each passing moment. Focus on them slipping away, as your body returns to a restful state. See if you can facilitate this process by using some of the above techniques. Then, when real anxiety manifests itself, use the methods you have practiced.
How a Christian Counselor Can Help You with Anxiety
Anxiety, worry, and stress are joy-stealers that can rise to the level of being debilitating. Don’t believe that you must accept or tolerate unmitigated anxious emotions. Christian counseling provides a gentle, listening ear and can help you to identify your triggers and to develop positive solutions within a Biblical framework. Changes in lifestyle and habits, and terminating unnecessary situations, are more sustainable with the support and accountability that a Christian counselor can offer.
Understanding the Facts of Anxiety Disorders and Depression is the First Step, courtesy of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America at http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety
Overview of Biofeedback, courtesy of WebMD at http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/biofeedback-therapy-uses-benefits
“Fort Collins Back Pain,” courtesy of Ryan Welsgerber (CC BY 2.0); “Emotional Landscapes,” courtesy of Daniela Vladimirova, Flickr CreativeCommons, (CC BY 2.0); “Bird in Flight,” courtesy of rjshiflet, morgueFile.com