As a counselor and Everygirl, I am no stranger to anxiety. There were a few years where I struggled with debilitating anxiety, borderline addicted to Xanax. Panic attacks hit out of nowhere, and I slowly began to isolate at home. It wasn’t until I became a counselor and dove deep into the neuroscience behind anxiety that I learned to manage my symptoms on my own.
A common complaint I often hear from women is that they feel crazy or weak because they can’t seem to manage their anxiety. If you can relate, you are not alone. My guess is you’ve probably been attacking the wrong anxiety pathway in your brain.
If you feel anxious and struggle to identify why, I’d be willing to bet it’s because your amygdala pathway has been activated. Your amygdala is your unconscious guard dog, alerting you to potential dangers in the form of symptoms rather than barks. It’s responsible for your quick fight-or-flight responses and responds before you even have time to consciously process what happened, hence the feeling of crazy for not knowing why you’re anxious. Blame it on your pal, amygdala.
Below, I am sharing three ways to specifically target your amygdala-based anxiety that result in an improvement of symptoms within minutes. By engaging in exercise, breathing, and relaxation, you are showing your amygdala that everything is OK. The goal of these methods is to be proactive rather than reactive. Engage in them daily, and you’ll begin to rewire your anxious brain in no time.
Aerobic exercise is a great way to stop amygdala activation and reduce symptoms of anxiety. When your amygdala activates, it pours adrenaline into your body, preparing you to either run from danger or fight it. Your heart rate increases, and your muscles tense up. Since your body is ready to move, why not move it? Lean into your symptoms and put your muscles to work.
When you get your heart pumping and legs moving, you are essentially tricking your amygdala into believing you escaped danger. This belief will stop amygdala activation and complete the anxiety response cycle. Exercise is also a great way to reduce muscle tension, which we will discuss more later.
I encourage you to move your body every day for at least 30 minutes to see long-term, noticeable improvements to your overall anxiety.
How often do you check in with your breath when you are feeling anxious? It’s common for individuals struggling with increased anxiety to take shallow breaths, or even hold their breath at times. The goal of reducing anxiety is to bring your attention towards your breathing and slow down your heart rate.
Belly breathing — also known as diaphragmatic breathing — is a great way to reduce anxiety within minutes. So how does it work? When you belly breathe, your abdomen puts pressure on your vagus nerve — the longest cranial nerve reaching all the way to your brain. This pressure quiets your amygdala down, turns on your relaxation system, and begins to reduce your anxiety within minutes. That’s faster than popping a Xanax.
Belly breathing doesn’t come naturally at first, but with practice, it will become second nature in no time. To help you retrain your breath, I recommend you practice belly breathing for five minutes, at least three times per day. It’s also helpful to be mindful of times when you’re holding your breath or engaging in shallow breaths.
Muscle tension is a common symptom of anxiety. Typically when you’re feeling anxious, you’re not even aware that you’re tense. Some women are so tense that they have no idea what it feels like to be relaxed.
Muscle tension is a result of your amygdala activating your fight-or-flight response and preparing your muscles to either kick some butt or run. Along with exercise, muscle relaxation techniques are a great place to start when it comes to relaxing your muscles. The effectiveness of relaxation on anxiety is often immediately noticeable.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a great tool to use when you are looking for an immediate reduction in symptoms. I suggest doing a daily body scan to identify where you hold your tension. Are you tense in your jaw, forehead, shoulders, back, or neck? Once you’ve identified where you carry your tension, you can then engage in progressive muscle relaxation. I suggest practicing twice daily until you can achieve relaxation within 10 minutes.
Relaxation is a great way to show your amygdala that everything is OK and that it can stand down. It will be challenging to relax at first, but I promise the more you do it, the easier it will become.
DISCLAIMER: This is for informational, educational, and marketing purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional therapy, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical/mental health condition.