How to Calm Your Anxiety, From a Neuroscientist
Welcome back, anxiety.Most of us think of anxiety as a bad thing,something to be avoided at all costs.But what if it weren't? What if you could take all of that energy racing around your brain and your body and transform it into something helpful? The Way We Work] Global anxiety levels,both the clinical kind and what I call the everyday kind,have increased tremendously in recent years.And many of us are noticing this at work.We might think of anxiety as something that we'd rather just leave on the side of the road if we could. But anxiety is an important tool that arose during our evolution that we use to avoid danger. It's essential for our survival. So how come we don't even feel vaguely protected by it? It's because the volume of our individual and collective anxiety levels has been turned way up too high, and too much of even a potentially good thing like anxiety is bad So I would like to share two powerful, science-based tools for turning down the volume on our anxiety and helping us get anxiety back to its helpful, protective state. And both of these tools begin by connecting with our bodies. Tool number one is breath work. It's just simple, deep Slowly inhale and exhale. This can be one of the most immediate ways to calm anxiety, because deep breath directly activates the natural de-stressing part of our nervous systems called the parasympathetic nervous system. I recommend a boxed breathing approach, which is: inhale deeply on four counts, hold at the top for four counts, exhale deeply on four counts and hold at the bottom for four counts. You can even do this in the middle of any anxiety-provoking conversation, and no one will even know. Lots of people, from ancient monks to modern meditators, have figured this tool out and use it all the time. Tool number two: moving your body. This one also has immediate positive effects on your mood state, but for a different reason. Every time you move your body, you're releasing a whole bunch of beneficial neurochemicals in your brain. These neurochemicals include dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline and endorphins, mood and reward-boosting neurochemicals that work to both increase positive mood states and decrease negative ones. I like to say that every single time you move your body, it's like giving yourself a wonderful bubble bath of neuro chemical for your brain. So when your boss's email comes in and your heart starts to race, what exactly can you do? If you're in an office, try taking a short walk around the block or even to the supply closet for some sticky notes. If you're working from home, put on two of your favorite songs and dance around the living room like no one is watching. Studies have shown that all it takes is ten minutes of walking to get those mood-boosting effects. But be creative with your movement session. Whether that's a quick session of power vacuuming a la Mrs. Doubtfire when you’re stressed about a deadline or doing a set of jumping jacks or getting off the elevator one floor early to do a power walk up that last flight of stairs before an important meeting.All of these possibilities will all help your anxiety levels come down. In fact, I tested this effect on my own NYU students First, I had them take an anxiety assessment before leding them in a movement session that included movements from kickbox and dance and yoga and martial arts together with positive spoken affirmations. Then I had them retake that same anxiety assessment again. What happened? After our movement session, their anxiety scores had decreased to normal levels. Now that's powerful, real-world example that you can use in your life today. So make sure to incorporate these bursts of activity in your day, and try one out next time you're feeling stress. It can really make your anxiety feel less all-consuming. Once you connect with your body and turn the volume down on your anxiety, two important things will happen. First, when that email comes in, you'll be in a better position to evaluate what about it makes you anxious.that you've taken on too much or that you feel insecure about a particular skill set? In other words, you'll be able to use this emotion, anxiety, for exactly what it was evolved to do: warn you about potential dangers so you can become aware of them and find ways to effectively and creatively address them in your everyday life. Second, once you find the warning signals in your anxiety,you'll be able to communicate with others. You might seek out advice from a trusted colleague when that difficult issue arises. Or you might even have a conversation with your boss about how to prioritize projects. Because you're no longer in fight-or-flight mode, asking for that support won't feel nearly as threatening. And one of the best gifts of approaching your anxiety in this way is that you will be able to notice those telltale signs of anxiety in everyone else around you, especially those forms of anxiety you're most familiar with. And what will that do? That will allow you to give that person a smile or a kind word to help them through that moment. In other words, your own form of anxiety can boost your personal super power of empathy. And I can't think of anything we need in this world today more than higher levels of empathy for one another Your take-home in all of this? If you breathe, move and take note of what your anxiet is signaling, you'll feel more fulfilled, more creative, more connected and less stressed overall.And that's my wifor every one of us
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