Next time you’re feeling stressed, anxious, angry, frustrated or upset, try some of these expert recommended simple strategies to tackle anxiety and lift your mood
It’s normal to get stressed and experience feelings of anger, frustration and anxiety at times, but, it’s how you handle these emotions that can make all the difference. If you let negative feelings fester and get the better of you this can have a profound effect on your wellbeing.
‘Feeling stressed and anxious from time to time is part of life,’ says Professor Margareta James, Psychologist at Harley Street Wellbeing Clinic.
‘But, when persistent worrying starts to interfere with your daily life, that’s when it can become a problem. Stress causes your brain to go into a powerful emotional state and this makes it impossible to think clearly.
‘When you become overwhelmed by stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, the logical part of the brain switches off and you can’t think straight. Instead, you feel more anxious and lose perspective, so that problems seem even bigger.
Stress causes your brain to go into a powerful emotional state
‘The first step is to recognise what’s happening and stop your emotions from getting out of hand. The most effective way to do this is to have some emotional SOS strategies you can fall back on.’
Here are some emotional SOS techniques to try whenever you feel stressed and overwhelmed by your emotions…
#1 Mind Calming Scents
‘The one thing that works faster than any other sense is your sense of smell,’ says Professor James.
‘When you smell something, you have an instant, instinctive reaction that totally bypasses logical thought. That’s because smell goes straight to the emotional (limbic) part of the brain.
Certain scents can also have a soothing, calming effect on the brain
‘There is an evolutionary, survival reason for this. If you open the fridge and pick up something that’s off, for example, your brain instantly communicates to you not to eat this. Just as smell can act as a warning, it can also act on the brain in a positive way.
‘Certain scents can also have a soothing, calming effect on the brain. These include favourite scents that you associate with feeling happy and calm. It could be a favourite fragrance that reminds you of a wonderful holiday, a deliciously scented hand cream, or a relaxing essential oil.
‘So, a good tactic is to always carry a scent – eg: a sample vial, a small bottle of essential oil or a mini hand cream – the smell of which you associate with positive emotions. So, whenever you feel your stress levels rising, the smell of your favourite, soothing scent will help you feel calmer.’
READ MORE: Feeling ‘meh’? Everything you need to know about anhedonia – the missing word in mental health
Quick Fix Mood Balancing Essential Oils
Researchers at the Heinrich Heine University, Dusseldorf, have found that the scent of jasmine has the same calming, sedative effect on the central nervous system as commonly prescribed sleeping pills and sedatives.
Brain scans showed that inhaling jasmine molecule enhanced the effect of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), an amino acid, produced naturally in the brain, by more than five times. GABA activity helps to relax, reduce stress and anxiety and balance mood.
Try: Tisserand Jasmine Ethically Harvested Pure Essential Oil, £35 for 2ml.
The scent of lavender essential oil can help to induce feelings of calmness and lessen anxiety.
In a recent study by researchers at Kagoshima University, Japan, it was shown that linalool (an active ingredient in lavender) has a significant anxiolytic, or anti-anxiety, effect.
Try: Alexandra Kay’s beautiful range which includes ‘Time To Sleep’ with sleep-inducing Lavender, Bergamot & Frankincense, 10ml, £20.00
#2 The Havening Techniques
‘If you want to calm down quickly, the Havening technique (created by created by Neuroscientist, Dr Ronald Ruden) is very effective at helping to reduce stress and anxiety,’ says Professor James.
stroke the sides of your arms, stroke your face, or rub the palms of your hands together
‘This simple technique generates brainwaves that restore calmness. All you have to do is: stroke the sides of your arms, stroke your face, or rub the palms of your hands together for 5 to 10 minutes. This automatically causes your brain to produce calming brainwaves.
‘This is a great technique because it’s so easy to do and works in minutes to bring you back into a state of equilibrium. The act of stroking your arms, your face or rubbing your hands sends messages to your brain that all is ok.’
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#3 Change the way you Breathe
‘Your breath communicates directly with your brain and is one of the quickest ways to calm your nerves in any situation. Simply by adjusting the way you breathe, this will have an effect on your nervous system,’ says Professor James.
‘If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, for example, breathing is more shallow and this stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, triggering the fight or flight response.
‘But, if you breathe slowly and deeply into your diaphragm, this activates the parasympathetic nervous system, inducing feelings of calm and relaxation. So, simply by learning how to modify your breathing you can influence your emotional response.’
Professor James recommends this Breathing Exercise to Reduce Stress and Anxiety – the Four Part Breath:
- Slowly breath in through your nose to a count of 4 – 6
- Hold for 4 – 6
- Exhale for 4 – 6
- Hold for 4 – 6
- Repeat this for 10 rounds
If you need help to slow down your breathing, check out this useful GIF:
#4 Write it Down
‘Research shows that writing down your fears helps you to process them, but it’s also important to remind yourself that you will be fine,’ says Dr Sarah Brewer, Consultant Medical Nutritionist and author of Cut Your Stress.
‘Divide a page into two columns. In the column on the left, write down your three main concerns. In the column on the right, headed ‘ways this will be alright’ and next to each concern counteract your feelings with something positive and comforting.
‘Over time, your mind will automatically seek out the internal reassurance and these anxieties will lose their power.’
Research shows that writing down your fears helps you to process them
‘I didn’t get the job’ – in the next column, write, ‘I didn’t get the job, because it wasn’t right for me’.
Or, ‘I’m not funny, interesting or bright enough’ – next to this, write down five good things about yourself.
#5 The Power of Distraction
Studies show that distraction is one of the most effective tactics to calm a churning mind.
‘When we feel anxious, we become hypervigilant to perceived threats,’ says Dr Brewer.
‘This is when a dose of distraction can help to limit the rising sense of anxiety. Finding displacement activities such as listening to music (e.g.: make a playlist of your favourite songs), getting stuck into a good book, watching a film or comedy, drawing, painting or doing a crossword – are all good ways to distract the mind and stop obsessive over thinking (ruminating) that can even lead to panic attacks.’
READ MORE: Insomnia? Too stressed to sleep? 5 tried & tested sleep hacks to beat stress
#6 Doodle your Gratitudes
‘Keeping a gratitude journal or diary where you write down at least three to five things you’re grateful for every day can be a beneficial way to deal with anxieties,’ says Dr Brewer.
‘Another approach is to doodle how this makes you feel. For example, if someone has been kind to you, think how you can doodle this. What shapes, colours, textures come to mind? Think of ways you can illustrate, draw, doodle those moments, situations, feelings people you feel grateful for.’
cultivating gratitude is beneficial for physical and emotional wellbeing
In one older US study (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003) it was found that participants who either made weekly entries in a gratitude journal for two months, or daily for 13 days, experienced a positive effect on their sense of wellbeing.
Subsequent studies have shown that cultivating gratitude is beneficial for physical and emotional wellbeing.
#7 Listen to 432 Music
Listening to music that has been tuned to 432Hz will calm you down and fill you with a sense of peace and wellbeing in as little as two minutes.
Scientific studies (carried out in the US and UK) have shown that listening to 432Hz music promotes calming brain waves and lowers blood pressure, heart rate and stress.
‘Music that is tuned to a 432Hz frequency vibrates at the same rhythm as the earth’s heartbeat (known as the Shumann Resonance),’ says singer and sound therapist, Denise Leicester.
‘This is the optimum frequency for good health.’
Download 432 Soul Medicine music, or listen to classical music by Mozart or Verdi.
READ MORE: How music affects mood – 7 ways to get focused, calm or motivated with sound
#8 The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique
‘If you feel anxious or panicky about something, this exercise is well known grounding technique that will calm you down in two to three minutes,’ says Atifa Ismailmiya-Balding, an Integrative Therapist and Psychotherapist (surreyhillswellness.co.uk).
‘This exercise engages all five senses, so that you focus on the moment and release anxious thoughts.’
- Squeeze your hands tightly and take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds.
- Unclench your hands and exhale.
- Look around and notice 5 things you can see – e.g.: a tree, a clock.
- Notice 4 things you can touch – e.g.: a soft jumper, the bark of a tree, a leaf.
- Notice 3 things you can hear – e.g.: bird song, the whirr of the washing machine,
- Notice 2 things you can smell – e.g.: soap, fruit, flowers.
- Notice 1 thing you can taste – e.g.: your morning cup of coffee, the residue of toothpaste in your mouth etc.
#9 Practice Mindfulness
‘Mindfulness is a simple technique that can really help to reduce anxious thoughts and calm the mind,’ says Atifa.
‘Even being mindful in 5 to 10 minute slots throughout the day can be very beneficial. Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment and observing your thoughts and emotions, without any judgement.
‘By focusing on your breath and bodily sensations, even if a negative thought creeps in, you can let it go. You can apply mindfulness to any situation – e.g.: making a cup of tea. Mindfulness gives you the space to do things differently.’
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#10 Have an Emotional First Aid Kit – natural remedies and supplements to help balance your mood
‘The mineral magnesium has a naturally calming effect on the body,’ says Rob Hobson, Consultant Nutritionist with supplement brand Healthspan.
‘It causes muscles to relax, calms nervous tension and relaxes the mind. Ideally, take a magnesium supplement daily. The safe upper limit is 400mg daily.’
Foods that are rich in magnesium include: leafy greens (kale, spinach, parsley, watercress), almonds, cashews, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fish and dark chocolate (over 70% cacao).
Try: Healthspan Magnesium (375mg) with vitamin B complex, £9.45.
B vitamins are essential for the brain and nervous system and help maintain normal mood. They are also needed for energy production in cells to help reduce tiredness and fatigue.
Try: Viridian High-Two Complex, 30 tablets, £9.30 – a combination of all the B vitamin and B2 which support the nervous system.
‘There is a strong connection between beneficial bacteria in your gut and mood,’ says Rob.
‘In a study involving 30 people with chronic fatigue, taking a probiotic supplement (providing 24 billion lactobacillus strain) daily for two months, the results showed there was a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms in those taking the prebiotic versus the placebo.’
Try: Healthspan Super20 Pro, £10.95.
READ MORE: Symptoms of depression? This probiotic is PROVEN to help
Also known as passion flower, Passiflora is an herbal remedy to support your nervous system and ease anxiety.
‘Herbal remedies are a safe and natural way to help support the body when feelings of overwhelm can lead to anxiety,’ says Professor James.
‘Passiflora is a herb that works by boosting the levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain. This compound lowers stressful brain activity and helps to induce feelings of calm and relaxation.
Try: A. Vogel Passiflora Complex Tablets, £12.99. Also, available as a calming spray, A. Vogel Passiflora Complex Spray, £12.99 – Contains extracts of fresh Passiflora herb, valerian root, lemon balm, magnesium and zinc.
Oats are packed with nerve soothing nutrients including B vitamins, magnesium, calcium and essential fatty acids that can help to alleviate anxiety and mild depression. The easiest way to get your oats is to eat a bowl of organic oats for breakfast.
Try: Flahavan’s Organic Oats.
A number of studies have shown that the herb chamomile can aid relaxation and help alleviate anxiety, depression and insomnia.
In a recent study (Phytomedicine, 2016) it was found that chamomile significantly helped to reduce symptoms of moderate to severe generalised anxiety disorder (the most common anxiety disorder).
Try: Pukka Three Chamomile Organic Tea, £4.19 for 20 teabags.
Visit mentalhealth.org.uk to find out how to support your mental health and find out further information on ways to support anxiety.
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