Work Out Your Worry: Exercises You Can Do to Combat Anxiety Right Now
Anxiety can be hard to fight even in the best of times. But as the world continues to change, and it seems like new problems arise every day, finding moments of tranquility is even harder.
This is true for folks who have diagnosed clinical anxiety — about 20 percent of Americans — but feelings of anxiety can affect anyone.
Anxiety exercises are powerful tools you can use to relax whether you need relief from a panic attack or you’re looking for a new routine to manage generalized anxiety disorder.
Though they’re related, generalized anxiety and panic attacks are different. Some of us are #blessed with both.
Benefits of anxiety exercises
Luckily, there are lots of exercises you can use to recover from panic attacks and reduce generalized anxiety.
Breathing exercises can be helpful in the moment when you’re feeling really intense anxiety or panic. Mindfulness and movement could help regulate your moods and get the good thoughts flowing to interrupt the bad.
Breathing exercises for relaxation
The nice thing about breathing exercises is that you have to breathe anyway.
Manipulating your breathing for therapeutic benefits is a small change that can have big results. Plus, you can do them any time in any space (like if you feel a panic attack coming on at the office or during a family dinner.)
Think outside the box: Box breathing
Box breathing is a powerful relaxation technique. The idea is that you can visualize a box (with four equal sides, like a square) as you do the breathing exercise.
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4.
- Hold your breath for a count of 4.
- Breathe out of your mouth for 4 counts.
- Hold your breath for another 4 counts.
Then repeat! Try to continue until you can feel your heart rate and your mind start to slow down.
Hear me roar: Lion’s Breath
You might recognize this exercise from yoga class. It can feel a bit silly, but cleansing! You may want to try this one sitting cross-legged or in Downward-Facing Dog, but there’s no reason you can’t do it in an office chair or on your bed.
- Take a big, deep belly breath through your nose, keeping your face relaxed.
- As you exhale, open your mouth, stick out your tongue, and vocalize a big sigh (say “HAAaaa.”)
Repeat for a total of 3 to 6 breaths.
Put it in reverse: Belly, lung, chest, reverse
If you’re looking for a particularly meditative breathing technique, this exercise is great because it requires careful focus.
- Breathe in, focusing on filling up the belly, then lungs, then chest.
- Hold your breath at the top.
- Breathe out in reverse order: out of your chest, your lungs, then belly.
You can repeat this as many times as feels good.
Mindfulness exercises for anxiety relief
Mindfulness is a great technique which can help you slow down, relax, and take stock. You can use mindfulness exercises to identify what you’re really feeling and to process those feelings without judgement.
Go through self checkout: Body scan
Performing a body scan, or progressive muscle relaxation, can be helpful if you’re feeling really tense during the day or if you’re feeling too anxious to sleep.
To do this exercise, lie on your back with your legs and arms extended in a comfortable position. Focus all of your attention on your body parts, one by one, starting at your feet.
You can either do a scan of any sensations or emotions associated with your body, or simply relax each part as you come to it.
Start daydreaming: Visualization
When practicing visualization, it can help to start by doing one of the breathing exercises above so your body is as relaxed as possible.
Visualization is cool because you can dream up anything that will make you feel at ease. For example, you can visualize sitting on warm sand at a beach with the soft sand between your toes. Align your breathing to the ebb and flow of the waves and imagine the scent of salty air.
If it helps you get in the zone, play some ocean sounds on Spotify in the background.
Write this down: Journaling
You can find tons of journaling prompts online if you need some inspo, but unprompted journaling — or free journaling can also be therapeutic. To free write, set a timer on your phone. Try starting with 4 minutes, but feel free to adjust until you find the right amount of time for you.
During this time, you can write anything that comes to mind. When the timer goes off, put your pen down and step away from your writing for a while. You can come back to it later if you’d like and read it and go through your thoughts and feelings.
Physical exercises for reducing anxiety
Most experts agree that exercise can alleviate anxiety — both in the short term and long term. Exercising releases endorphins and a routine incorporating exercise that feels good to your body and mind can help keep anxiety at bay over time.
Nama-stay calm: Yoga
Yoga is kind of like moving meditation. It can be even more impactful than breathing activities by connecting your breath to movement and can help you let go of anxiety and focus on what’s happening on your mat in the present moment.
One powerful yoga flow is the sun salutation series, and because yoga is a practice, rather than a competition, you can meet yourself where you are on any given day.
When you focus on the poses, it can help you quiet your mind and breathe through the anxiety. You can take note of any emotions that come up, acknowledge them, and let them pass.
Sweat it out: Cardio
According to a 2018 study, intense aerobic exercise is probably going to be more helpful than lower intensity exercise for managing your anxiety, but just work on getting those endorphins flowing through your body somehow!
Try going for a run or doing a HIIT workout to see if feeling the burn can help melt away your anxiety.
Dance with somebody: Dance
Looking for a cardio exercise that doesn’t feel like a workout? Start a dance party! Sometimes when you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, you’ve got to shake it off.
See if you can find that soundtrack to “Mamma Mia” from middle school and become the Dancing Queen! If you live with roommates or family, get them involved, and if your only roommate is your cat, enjoy the confused looks you’re going to get!
Other tips for managing anxiety
- Talk about mental health with friends: It’s easy to feel alone when dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues, but the odds are that your friends can relate. It can be helpful to share with them and exchange tips and tricks (and recommendations for therapists).
- Unplug: A lot of people report increasing feelings of anxiety when they spend more time on their phones and computers. Try to take some time off of the devices, especially before bed.
- Don’t forget to eat: It’s important to nourish yourself. In a world consumed by diet culture, it’s hard to remember that food is not “bad” or “good” — it’s necessary and can be soothing. Plus, learning new recipes could be a great outlet for you.
- Reach out for professional help: There are lots of things that can help to ease your anxiety, but you don’t have to do it alone. Contact a therapist or psychiatrist to get help finding the right management strategy for you.