Your comprehensive guide to anxiety and stress reduction and a more relaxed life
Volume three: Physical strategies to reduce anxiety [ Brain synchronisation stops anxiety || Soft eyes focus and anxiety || Breathing and anxiety || Interrupting the pattern of anxiety || Prescribing anxiety as a cure || Brainwave entrainment and anxiety || Exercise and anxiety || Fractional, progressive, and applied relaxation || Diet and supplements to reduce anxiety || Asking for help with anxiety ]
This series is broken into three volumes. Not every idea will resonate with you. That is why there are many. Choose what you are attracted to and know that you have many options if the one you choose isn’t as successful as you would like. Each volume overlaps but is separated into approximate categories as follows:
Volume one: Deconstructing anxiety. This volume shows you how anxiety works so that you can reverse engineer it and therefore know how to change it effectively.
Volume two: Mental strategies to reduce anxiety. This volume gives you methods and strategies to change your response to situations using proven mental based techniques.
Volume three: Physical strategies to reduce anxiety. This volume gives you methods and strategies to change your response to situations using proven physical based techniques.
Volume three: Physical strategies to reduce anxiety
[ Most of the idea’s and techniques in volume two and three of this series on anxiety work best when used as a practise or preparation rather than a way to stop an anxiety attack if your levels of anxiety are intense. I don’t like the word ‘attack’ but for some people it is how they feel. For example: If you are in the middle of panic and you try to breathe in a certain way to stop it.., in some cases doing so can make it worse. This is because the very act of doing something from a place of panic may reinforce the belief that you are doing it because you are in danger. For this reason it is always better to catch yourself early by knowing what your own triggers are and doing something different right then instead of waiting to ‘see’ if it will get worse.
Remember: “Anxiety can be uncomfortable, but you are safe.” ]
Brain synchronisation stops anxiety
Anxiety is primarily a left brain challenge. IE: When people are anxious they tend to overthink in details and internal dialogue. Engaging the right side of the brain to create a more whole brain state will therefore make it almost impossible to feel anxious. Thinking in a more global fashion can do this. As can engaging in creative or right brained activities. Many times I have seen someone nervous on stage at an audition only to lose all those nerves once they start singing.
Doing something physical to engage both sides on the brain is another way to do this.
Like juggling. I must admit even trying to do this is enough to break your pattern of thought as you try not to drop the balls, haha.
Here’s a simpler idea though. Watch this video of NLP trainer Andrew Austin as he demonstrates using just one ball tossed from hand to hand to engage the whole brain. Doing this will make it very hard to feel any anxiety. Practice it over the course of a month by doing it while imagining times when you have been or might be anxious and the change will become lasting.
IEMT – Integral eye movement therapy
Sometimes called EMDR, this is one form of therapeutic intervention that takes advantage of this idea of synchronising both sides of the brain. Or at least that is one theory behind why it works. Without going into too many details here is what to do. This is as simple as moving your eyes.., literally.
Most videos you see of this therapy use a set pattern of eye movements but I will give you one that you can try and if you find it effective then either look into it further, keep using this one idea, or make an appointment with someone trained in it’s use.
While thinking about times where you have been anxious.., move your eyes in a sideways figure 8 pattern. This is actually the infinity symbol. So your eyes are moving left up,then left down, then right up, then right down and repeat as you remember past times or imagine future times of anxiety prone situations.
Do this for a minute or three a few times a day, and the anxiety response will shift and you will feel more in control. Done this way it’s a very simple process.
I am of course minimising the overall practice with respect to those who train to use it therapeutically but for many people what I have described will be enough.
Remember: “Anxiety can be uncomfortable, but you are safe.”
Brainwave entrainment is another method of synchronising both sides of the brain and that will be covered later also as it has a variety of benefits past just synchronisation for anxiety and other challenges.
Soft eyes focus and anxiety
One of the things that usually happens when people get anxious is that their field of view narrows. In other words they shift into a visual state of focus that is not noticing what is in their peripheral view. This makes sense because if there is a point of danger, then you want to be focused on that point and ready to act on it. That type of focus however can go either way as far as feeling relaxed or anxious is concerned. In a tennis match being focused like this is a good thing. But for anxiety this idea of narrow versus wide focus brings with it an interesting way to calm yourself down. Purposely changing your focus from narrow to wide changes your state. In fact it’s a type of trance state that is encouraged by being out in nature surrounded by sights and sounds all around you. Some people refer to this as Eagle eyes or soft focus.
And you can use this to your advantage.
Use your peripheral vision to your advantage
Try it now.., use your hands as moving guides to expand your focus outward. Hold your hands in front of your face and move your fingers. Then while continuing to move your fingers move your hands out to the sides as far as you can while still seeing them in your peripheral vision. With your hands there, now also expand your vision to the ceiling and to the floor. What you are aiming for is to be able to see all of your entire field of vision at once without focusing exclusively on any one point.
This relaxed eye state will quite quickly change the way you feel. It will take practice but once you get used to it, you will find yourself noticing more of what was always there but out of awareness. And while you are more aware like this, it will be hard to feel anxious.
Try practising this as you walk in a park or nature and notice how much more you notice and how that makes you feel. And this doesn’t just apply to what you can see either. You can also expand your hearing and other senses. Birds chirping, a dog barking, people talking in the distance or the sound of a car somewhere.., the wind in the trees etc. There are so many things that we usually ignore. And guess what. This is the basis of mindfulness! Make a game out of it and see how many things you can notice.
Breathing and anxiety
Remember what I said about potentially trying to breathe differently once you are already deep in anxiety. The following can be very powerful to reduce anxiety and practised regularly will go a long way to eliminating it. But just we aware that as with all things, mastering something before you need it is far better than trying to reverse something that already has forward momentum.
The paper bag idea is outdated
Most doctors do not recommend the historic breathing into a paper bag idea anymore. It can help with some people, as what it does is help balance your CO2 and O2 levels by having you inhale more CO2 back from the bag. Typically hyperventilating (fast breathing) reduces the CO2 in your blood. The challenge with this technique is that it is not useful for most people and potentially can make it worse if done more than about 12 breaths at a time. Keeping aware of this becomes an issue. And who really has a paper bag handy these days? One way of doing this without a paper bag is to breathe into your own cupped hands. For some people this is an easy and effective way of calming their breathing.
We have a built in breathing pacemaker
Within our brains is an area referred to as the ‘breathing pacemaker’. This group of neurons is responsible for regulating our breathing speed and pattern. There is actually a neural correlate for each emotional state we experience. So there is a link between a specific breathing pattern and calmness, and there is another link between a different pattern and panic or anxiety. Without even stating what some of the differences might be you can probably guess. Anxiety tends to be short fast breaths high in the chest area while relaxed breathing tends to be longer slow breaths low in the stomach or abdomen.
The coherence breath
So immediately you have a fast easy to use technique to reduce anxiety. There are two really easy ways to do this. Both of which engage the parasympathetic nervous system more than the sympathetic nervous system (discussed earlier).
The first is what is called the ‘coherence breath’. Called this due to the effect of causing coherence (synchrony) between the heart and mind and increasing HRV. Simply put.., breathe in and out through the nose into the stomach/abdomen at a rate of 5 seconds in, and 5 seconds out. The depth of the breath is less important than the speed but you will find that as time progresses you will quickly get to a point of quite shallow breaths in that rhythm. IE: A smaller amount of air coming in and out than what deep breathing would give. Do this 3 or 4 times a day for about 5 minutes and the change over a few weeks will be significant.
Extending the exhale
The second technique is even easier. Extend the exhale (breathing out) to be longer than the inhale. For example (still through the nose if you can) breathe in for 4 seconds and out for 8 seconds. This will calm you down quickly also and also engages the parasympathetic nervous system.
Remember: “Anxiety can be uncomfortable, but you are safe.”
Conscious connected breathing for emotional release
There’s another side to breathwork that I won’t cover here but that can be used as a way to process and release traumatic experiences that may contribute to anxiety. Often called conscious connected breathwork it is done at a faster pace than the two methods mentioned above. If you decide to explore this approach I strongly suggest you do so with a trained practitioner. The practice can be very effective at releasing emotion or trauma often without even knowing what the trauma was. Traumatic experiences can get stored in the body and we tend also to gasp or hold our breath during them. Bringing the breath back to the experience purposely can be done with the guidance of a trained breathworker.
Other ways to help with anxiety with breathing
Breathing with your lips almost closed, almost like you are whistling. This will slow your breathing down.
Holding your breath for 10 – 12 seconds. Again this will slow down the breathing and also help get your CO2 and O2 levels back to normal.
Breathing into your own cupped hands (as mentioned above). This is an easy to use alternative to the paper bag technique and will help get your blood levels of CO2 and O2 back into balance.
Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. This will break the pattern of mouth hyperventilation. This can be done while moving as well. Walking at a fast pace with controlled breathing like this can be very effective.
Alternate nostril breathing. By holding one nostril at a time each time you breath in and out you are putting control into an otherwise out of control breathing pattern.
For more techniques and information on breathwork read the article on this website called…
QUICK TIP: From ‘Breathwork and audio visual brainwave entrainment’ article.
Breathing though the nose has a number of advantages over mouth breathing. It conditions the air. It activates nitric oxide which has a healthy effect on our nervous system and heart. It allows more oxygen to get to all parts of the body because the system is calm (stress responses cause oxygen to be diverted to muscles ready for action). It can even help with insomnia. Practise breathing low into the abdomen/stomach area through your nose a few times a day at least and your state of mind will follow.
Interrupting the pattern of anxiety
As I mentioned in volume one, anxiety follows some predictable patterns. And these patterns an be interrupted.
In fact if done in a specific way this interruption of an existing pattern can in fact totally destroy your ability to do the pattern again! This specific use of pattern interrupts is best done with the help of another person or someone trained in practises like NLP. Without going into detail, someone does something while you are in a particular state that is unexpected that ‘snaps you out of it’. And they do that a few times in a row. This breaks the pattern and makes it hard to ‘do’ that emotional state again.
Humour helps with pattern interrupts
For example someone starts to cry in your therapy office and instantly you jump up and yelp like your seat is hot. Or you interrupt their crying with a question like “Do you ever blame your dog if you fart in public?” I know it sounds weird and extreme but that is the point. A few random interruptions like that and the person will then struggle to even start to cry over the subject in question. Again best done by someone trained but feel free to learn more and engage the services of a humorous friend to help you out. Humour is the best interruption in fact.
Using pattern interrupts on yourself
If you can be aware enough to know when you are heading down the path of anxiety, you can use the same interruption strategy on yourself. The signs will be clear if you look for them. And when you notice those signs, that is the time to do something different.
This takes forward planning ideally as otherwise once the pattern gets momentum going you may forget. One of the curious things about emotion is that it is often dependant on familiarity of more than just circumstances to be felt. Familiar body position being one example.
Now, I’m not suggesting you try this.., but try feeling anxious while hanging upside down. Body orientation and movement can quickly neutralise an emotional state. The key is for it to be unusual or radically different. If you were to spontaneously break out into expressive dancing while humming circus music the chances are your anxiety will disappear. Or lie on your back on your bed with your head hanging off the edge. Or a cold shower (Trust me that will change your state, haha).
Prescribing anxiety as a cure
This is for non generalised anxiety only unless you do this supervised. IE: It works best for people who get anxious in specific situations or times and not all the time. As weird as this may seem it is actually very effective. This is where you schedule times to get anxious on purpose. There are some keys do doing this effectively so please read the article on this website
QUICK TIP: From ‘Give up, it’s much easier’ article.
Fighting against a feeling very rarely works. Sometimes going with it under controlled circumstances is more fruitful. Read the full article on how to schedule anxiety but even if you notice yourself starting down that path, take control of how fast it goes right then. Again this is not for panic attack type anxiety. Try sensationalising the anxiety right then in the moment for just a minute or two. If you make it extreme enough in your mind you may even laugh.
Anxiety is a problem for people when it has control over them instead of them having control over it. Anxiety isn’t the issue. Timing and duration is the issue. By purposely creating a state on demand and in an extreme way.., you turn an unconscious problem into a conscious skill. And skills can be turned on or off at will. Learning to increase the intensity of a feeling by contrast also gives you the ability to decrease it. It’s the same mechanisms at work.., just used on purpose with the element of control added.
This sounds too simple but is surprisingly effective. It’s like jumping into a cold pool instead of falling into it. The result is the same but you initiated it so the feeling is very different and in your control.
Remember: “Anxiety can be uncomfortable, but you are safe.”
It’s important to note that if anxiety is a serious problem for you and results in panic attacks then this technique should be done with supervision of someone who knows how to help you if you get too far into the experience.
Brainwave entrainment and anxiety
NOTE: Any time you try a new type of technique or technology for anxiety you should become familiar as to what to expect. Ask questions and have the person advising or guiding you explain to you what may happen. This is not just good practice.., but the very nature of anxiety is uncertainty. So by learning about the new idea or practice, you will be more able to have a positive experience.
Audio visual brainwave entrainment takes advantage of what is called the frequency following response. This is the effect an external source of repetitive patterns of light and/or sound has on our brain activity. The brain likes patterns of frequency. Therefore it will synchronise to flickering light and pulses of sound to match their frequency. And being that certain frequencies are conducive to relaxation.., this is one way to teach yourself to be in more beneficial states of mind. And by doing so on a regular basis, you ‘entrain’ the brain to more easily go into that state by practise.
This is one use of stroboscopic light machines that can also give enchanting displays of colour and pattern in the mind.
Brainwave entrainment has a unique effect on your state
Due to the nature of this type of entrainment, synchronisation occurs across the whole brain. And a synchronised brain finds it very hard to be anxious because anxiety tends to favour left brain thinking.
Dissociation from the outside world is common with brainwave entrainment also. And this escape from repetitive thoughts can bring huge relief to those who suffer from anxiety and stress.
Spaced repetition is key to learning how to be more at ease in a fast paced world and brainwave entrainment is one easy way of doing that and also staying motivated to keep doing that.
Deep trance states are only one side of relaxing with brainwave entrainment. With being in a calm aware state as your goal.., you can use sessions designed to teach you and your brain to be more familiar with that state. Being free from anxiety isn’t about being numb and spaced out as most drugs will cause.., it is about choice.
The roXiva RX1 sessions called ‘No more anxiety’ are designed with that goal.
After all.., people like to be a bit lazy and have someone or something ‘fix it for me’.
There’s no guarantee that this technology will do that, but it is common.
for more details on using this technology for anxiety relief.
QUICK TIP: From ‘Reducing stress and anxiety with light and sound’ article.
Purposeful consistent progress in any area is key to getting results. It’s also key to feeling good about yourself in general. Having a reliable tool or partner to keep you on track is valuable. If you have access to a light machine like the one on this website then that can be your partner. Otherwise there are other tools or you can team up with someone to work on this together. Be accountable to someone for making progress. That can be better than relying on will power alone.
Exercise and anxiety
There’s no need to go into the benefits of exercise on both physical and mental health.
Even just the diversion of focus away from what is causing the anxiety is useful. Anxiety builds up tension and stress in the body and mind and exercise at first does the same thing. It’s the after effects that are most valuable for relief. Using up mental and physical energy instead of leaving it built up, leads to relaxing more completely afterwards. It also gives you a sense of achievement and progress which is the opposite of the sense of paralysis brought about by anxiety. The other effect is in the production of hormones responsible for recovery, growth and positive feelings like serotonin, GABA, BDNF and endo-cannabinoids. These hormones even make our minds more ‘plastic’ in terms of neuroplasticity. IE: Open to learning and change.
Consistency is best here as with any practise. This builds resilience and motivation.
Nature as an antidote to anxiety
Exercising in nature is even better. Nature has a calming effect on the mind. Plants actually emit chemicals that slow down their process of decay, and some scientists suggest these same chemicals can help slow us down as well. Certainly studies do show that not only does nature have a positive effect on anxiety, but also on cognition.
Aerobic type exercise is well known to help with the reduction of anxiety. Resistance training and exercise has also been found to significantly reduce anxiety. This opens the door to many more ways to get benefit.
Fractional, progressive, and applied relaxation
Related to exercise.., fractional and progressive relaxation takes advantage of tensing and releasing each muscle group in order to help it relax deeper. Muscles are designed to get instructions to take an action, contract to complete the action, and then relax again. Unfortunately we often start a movement and for whatever reason don’t complete it. Maybe we reach for something and get interrupted. Or maybe we just think of an action and don’t even make the movement at all but our muscles react as if we were going to. Anxiety and stress often do this. We are in a mental state of tension that creates physical tension that never gets used. When muscles get instructions to take action and tense in readiness only to not have any action to complete.., that tension stays in the body as incomplete movements. This stores up over time.
Purposely tensing a muscle and then releasing it dissipates that stored energy and resets the muscle to be relaxed again.
Start with your face and jaw and work your way down. Tense and stretch each part of your body and then release it before moving on to the next muscle or group of muscles. You can do this while sitting, although for best results try it lying down.
Remember: “Anxiety can be uncomfortable, but you are safe.”
The effectiveness of this type of progressive technique led to another variation called applied relaxation. This starts with training in progressive relaxation and then builds on this to make the technique shorter in duration and therefore easier to use more frequently. At first you tense and release each muscle as normal. The next step once that is effective is to tense and release larger groups of muscles making the process faster. Then the tense part of the process is dropped and just the release part is used. Finally, a word like ‘relaxing’ is introduced while in the relaxed state as a conditioned link to make real world use even faster. In a sense this is a version of anchoring as described in volume two. The state of relaxation is made more accessible by creating a new easy to use association. As with anything, practising a state will make that state easier to get back to especially if you link it to an action or routine.
Diet and supplements to reduce anxiety
In most cases a varied diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables will give you everything you need. However that does not mean you will not get great benefit from having more than even a good diet can provide of some vitamins and minerals. Especially if you have a vegetarian or vegan diet.
More and more, scientists are starting to identify inflammation in the body as having a significant effect on emotional challenges like anxiety and depression.
And with the current climate of focus on immunity as well.., the answers are there to be found if you look.
Reducing anxiety and stress by reducing inflammation
It should really be no surprise that immunity, pain and anxiety/stress are related. And therefore it should be no surprise that eating and supplementing for both health and anti inflammation will have a positive effect on anxiety also. If you can relieve tension by way of reducing inflammatory markers in the body, then it makes sense that you can relieve tension causes as well.
Reducing your intake of inflammation causing foods is a great place to start.
Think SOS. Sugar, Oil and Salt. Start by reducing those especially the sugar.
I won’t go into each of these individually but I suggest you look at some or all of the following vitamins and minerals if you suffer from either physical or emotional pain or discomfort.
I will list a good source of them in food if you’d prefer that to tablets but if you really want maximum benefit consider extra sources. Especially if you eat vegetarian or vegan meals regularly.
Magnesium (Glycinate is best) – Banana’s, broccoli, nuts and seeds
Vitamin D – (Exposure to sunlight), Oily fish, Egg yolks
Vitamin K – Green vegetables, fish, eggs
Vitamin C – Citrus fruit, broccoli, potato
Zinc – Meat, diary, nuts and whole-grains
Vitamin B – Meat and dairy, yeast
Turmeric – Curry powder mixes or by itself
Bromelain – Pineapple
Quercetin – Onions, green vegetables and fruits
Omega 3 oil – fish, flaxseed, nuts
Ginger – itself or as a extract in tablet/capsule form
All have research showing potential and often confirmed benefits to either immunity or relaxation or both. Often by way of reducing inflammation. Valerian root, kava kava and chamomile are often stated as giving relief as well and can be tried as a supplement.
Asking for help with anxiety
Sometimes, despite your best efforts.., you may find your results only last short term. Maybe there is something that you are missing that once identified will make all the difference. Often when working with something that has become habitual and more unconscious than conscious, it’s best to seek help.
Finding your way out of a hole from within the hole can be difficult. Maybe someone outside can lower a ladder.
There are number of options here and I will show just a few:
Medication for anxiety
Your first stop should always be your doctor when anxiety is controlling or significantly effecting your life. They can advise you on potential medication protocols to help you stay calm and help you get past the severity of strong anxiety. Most doctors would agree that this is not a long term solution though. Used effectively alongside therapeutic work it can be great to have a drug to take. But the idea is to hopefully get you to a point in the future where you no longer need that drug.
Remember: “Anxiety can be uncomfortable, but you are safe.”
Hypnosis for anxiety
Often, problems of anxiety are caused or maintained by past experiences giving you reason to be cautious beyond what is helpful. Using trance and hypnotherapy, you can be guided to find these causes in a safe way and process the events differently from a more mature and/or experienced place. By doing so, you can have a sort of reset of emotions and become much more confident and calm in handling uncertain events in the future.
NLP – Neuro linguistic Programming for anxiety
Using specific techniques designed to recode the brains automatic processes, NLP can be very fast and effective at giving you more choices of how to respond. Fast phobia cures, pattern interrupts, re-framing of meaning and many more avenues of exploration can be used to give you control back over your state of mind.
IEMT – Integral eye movement therapy for anxiety
Integral eye movement therapy as already described can be used to synchronise both sides of the brain while thinking about anxiety producing situations with someone trained to guide you.
CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for anxiety
With some similarities to certain NLP processes.., CBT has gained popularity for emotional challenges and can in most cases be found via your doctor also as a complimentary therapy.
Medical use of psychedelics for anxiety
This is a relatively new focus of science. At least since the use of these substances was made illegal back when LSD was being used for this purpose 50+ years ago.
Studies with psilocybin for example show that in as little as one controlled session people can get lasting relief from severe PTSD, anxiety and depression. Trials with MDMA (ecstasy) and Ketamine have also produced fast lasting results for people with long term mental challenges.
It seems that these substances can be used as a sort of reset neurologically. Done alongside therapeutic interventions the results can be profound.
Micro dosing of these same substances is also gaining traction. This is where a very small amount is taken over the course of a month or two. Small enough to not be noticed as a drug state, but enough to provide some of the neurological ‘re-wiring’ benefit. Science around this practice is still in it’s infancy but those who have tried it say it did help them.
Obviously the use of psychedelics is currently still not approved for general use but the ongoing research is promising.
As you get to understand more and more that anxiety is a protection mechanism and that you are not in danger.., you will learn to take the message and act accordingly.
What are you anxious about? If it’s clear and present danger or risk then the solution is obvious to move away and protect yourself. If the danger or risk is not present but future oriented then what can you do right now to prepare or avoid it?
Take the action and feel the resulting calm and success of taking action.
Remember: “Anxiety can be uncomfortable, but you are safe.”
Take that knowing into whatever you do.