Anxiety: five ways to de-stress
January 29, 2014 | By:

At 50, many of life’s anxieties and hang-ups are behind us. But for some, these are replaced by a new set of worries. Blogger Keren Smedley shares five simple solutions

Anxiety_carefree woman-620 Corbis 42-41665140The fifties may be our prime of life. Many of youth’s anxieties may have been put behind us. Yet there is always plenty to worry about (‘Will that boomerang kid ever get a job?’; ‘Is my ISA safe?’; ‘Should I upgrade my iPhone?’).

Some of us may worry about our looks, or our health, or our parents. A few about employment. It’s understandable, of course, particularly in these tough times. The trouble comes when this type of anxious thinking becomes a habit.

If you let it take hold of you, this mindset can become an ever-present dread, a combination of paralysis and panic. This triggers a physiological response in the body, because when we perceive stress (real or imagined) it activates our pituitary gland, releasing the adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) into our systems.

This tells the adrenal glands to get busy and produce cortisol, which gives us extra energy by tapping into stored reserves.

The body’s stress response

Simultaneously, the ‘danger’, or stress, stimulates our autonomic nervous system (a second, unconscious system) to release noradrenalin and adrenalin. These help to prepare us for our stress response, the well-known ‘fight or flight’ reaction.

Our pupils dilate, our heart rate increases and our breathing becomes faster and shallower. Insulin is released into the blood system, and blood pressure rises. Palms sweat, blood is diverted away from the digestive system, and the skin and muscles tense.

Sometimes, fear can be useful if it is alerting us to danger. However, our bodies don’t always know how to distinguish between real danger and imagined threats. If you have the fight or flight reaction when no physical action is needed – for example, feeling nervous when you’re seeing a friend who you haven’t seen for ages – you may be inclined to suppress it.

What then follows is a build-up of anxiety that leaves you panicked and without the ability to make choices.

However, there are some simple techniques that can help to reduce anxiety and stay calm

Five ways to stop anxiety

1. Tell yourself to stop getting anxious
Say “stop” (aloud, if the situation permits; mentally if not).

2. Breathe in, focusing awareness on your jaw and shoulders
Breathe out slowly, making the exhalation longer than the inhalation and allowing your shoulders and jaw to relax as you do so. Mentally say to yourself, “let go”.

3. Breathe in, focusing awareness on your chest, arms and hands
Breathe out slowly, relaxing your chest, arms and hands as you do so. Mentally say, “let go”.

4. Breathe in, focusing awareness on your stomach muscles, thighs and buttocks
Breathe out slowly allowing your stomach muscles, thighs and buttocks to relax as you do so. Mentally say, “let go”.

5. Breathe out slowly
Be aware only of breathing out. The body will automatically breathe in for you. Mental stress will lessen when you relax the muscles and slow your breathing.