Say you’re about to miss your train. Or you’re fretting about a big presentation at work later. Or maybe you’re simply sitting at home stewing over something embarrassing you said five months ago. Whatever the reason, your anxiety is ramping up — your heart is racing, your palms are sweating, and the tension in your chest is building. Quickly.
You need something that will stop your spiral into jittery chaos and bring you back down to earth.
You’ve probably heard of tactics like journaling or meditating. But those things take time. And, especially if you’re running off to your next appointment or are in a public place, you can’t always plop down with a meditation app and shut out the world for 30 minutes. Sometimes, you need to combat that anxious storm that’s brewing in a way that’s quick, quiet, and discreet.
There is a tactic that may work. It takes two minutes (or less) and you can do it literally anywhere.
The trick was recommended to me by a therapist, years ago. I was looking for ways to soothe my own bouts of anxiety at work — while in a meeting, at my desk, or during my commute. And it really worked.
It’s simple. There are two steps: grounding and breathing.
Grounding comes first and is exactly what it sounds like. Wherever you are (sitting or standing, outside or in an airplane) just concentrate on the feeling of the soles of your feet against the ground. Or the floor of the train. Or any other surface beneath your feet — even if it’s moving. What’s important is that your feet aren’t moving and that you feel connected to the ground beneath you.
Then, once your focus is in your feet, start counting the beats of your breath. There are different iterations of this breathing technique. Some people swear by the 5, 7, 9 rule, wherein you breathe in for five seconds, hold for seven, and exhale for nine. In this therapist’s version, it doesn’t much matter how many seconds the breaths take — so long as each breath out is longer than the corresponding breath in. For example, you might breathe in for three counts and out for four, then in for four and out for five, etcetera.
Taking slow, managed breaths is both mentally calming and physically prevents your breath from going haywire and veering towards hyperventilation.
Of course, no single trick works for everyone. You may have to try a few different tactics before you find one that successfully calms you. But for me, this is my go-to.
Another thing that helped my anxiety? Paying attention to my lifestyle and habits overall. Cutting back on these bad habits could help prevent your anxiety from getting worse.
Holly Van Hare is the Healthy Eating Editor at The Daily Meal with a passion for podcasting and peanut butter. You can listen to her podcast Nut Butter Radio on iTunes and follower her health food Instagram @eating_peanut_better for more.