Move over, Prozac- anxiety is the new depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 18% of the U.S. adult population suffers from an anxiety disorder. This number doesn’t account for people who experience distressing levels of anxiety but don’t meet criteria for a diagnosable disorder. Most of us have experienced anxiety throughout our lives, and it can be argued that between improvements in technology and the advent of social media, anxiety and stress levels are surging at higher rates then previously seen-especially for young people.
Treatment for anxiety varies, depending on the individual and severity. While there is not always a ‘quick fix’, I have found these 4 techniques to be helpful for almost all of my clients.
HALT is an acronym that stands for ‘Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired’. It is often used in the 12-step community to help people identify commonly overlooked triggers for why they might be having a craving to use drugs or alcohol. If you are feeling anxious, try reminding yourself to ‘halt’; in other words, pause and consider what could be happening for you behind the scenes, so to speak. This is inherently a form of mindfulness. And often times, simply identifying the source of our anxiety provides some relief.
Don’t “just breathe”- breathe for your nervous system
There is an abundance of research that correlates breathing techniques with a reduction in stress, nerves, anxiety, and general emotional reactivity. Be Well recommends several techniques for safe and effecting breathing, My favorite of which is the ‘4-7-8’ exercise. This technique relies on the ratio of breathing in through your nose for 4 seconds, holding that breath for 7 seconds, and then exhaling for 8 seconds.
Use your 5 senses
Refocusing our attention on what is going on in the present can bring relief, especially if the anxiety we are experiencing is anticipatory or future focused (i.e. an upcoming presentation, first-date jitters, etc). Activating your 5 senses is grounding because it reminds the brain of where it is presently. Some examples might be: Looking around the room you are in and trying to name 10 objects that are the same color, or feeling the texture of the chair you are sitting in.
Open an App– and meditate
The research about the positive benefits of meditation on anxiety is plentiful; and luckily, so are the ways in which we can meditate. Anything that involves focusing on the present moment can be meditative, and therefore reduce anxiety. Cooking, gardening, and listening to music are all good examples. For busy New Yorkers – or those feeling skeptical about meditation – you can introduce meditation in a forum that feels comfortable and approachable. I recommend two apps, Buddify and Headspace, to all of my clients for an accessible, easy to use introduction to meditation for anxiety relief.