Techniques to Manage Anxiety

Life can be so much easier than most of us realise. And I’m not talking about if we could just win the lottery or magically solve all of our perceived problems. In fact, ‘fixing’ everything in our external life might make some things easier, but a lot of our suffering comes down to how we choose to react to life circumstances.

Here’s the truth we find hard to believe: you can find freedom in the very situation you’re currently in. That might sound crazy, even frustrating to read, because it seems so rational that if X were different, life would be fine; while X exists, of course I’m anxious!

But life is inevitably sprinkled with obstacles, losses, frustrations and pain. None of us know for sure why that is, but it’s at least something we can all agree on.

My personal belief is that challenges are actually perfectly placed in our lives. We receive opportunity after opportunity to upgrade our fortitude, get clear on what really matters, and develop immense compassion for our fellow humans going through the same processes.

Accepting that bad things happen is not about becoming apathetic or passive. In fact, I can say from experience that acceptance allows us to redirect all of that energy we’re spending on the resistance. We suddenly have so much more vivacity to put into playing this game of life with the cards we’ve been dealt. With acceptance of what is, we have the clarity to get truly honest about who we are and what we want.

But I won’t lie to you — it’s a big leap from trying to control everything in our life into surrendering to the things we can’t change. It certainly hasn’t been a single leap for me, but years of intentional practice and honest introspection. As the Chinese proverb goes, “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”, and there are indeed some actionable first steps that you can start implementing right away.

To understand why I’m going to recommend the following practice, we first need to understand some basic science around stress.

We actually need stress to survive. Without stress on the body, we wouldn’t develop the musculature to function in our environment. Without stress to our immune system, our body wouldn’t learn how to fight disease. The same process is necessary for our mind: without problems to solve, the mind wouldn’t develop the capability to solve problems.

You see, we have this set-point at which everything like our blood chemistry and nervous system activity is completely balanced — this is called homeostasis. Our body is constantly working to bring us back to this baseline, and the more we push ourselves out of this comfort zone the more our bodily systems upgrade to match the challenge.

The easiest example to follow is that of muscle development. If we want to become stronger, we progressively overload our muscles with external force. The muscle is strained and slightly tears (i.e. it’s stressed), but adapts by growing stronger so it’s prepared to handle that same force the next time around.

But what happens if we overload too quickly? The strain incurred is so great that we get injured, and we miss out on the beneficial adaptation.

The same is true when we’re building resilience to anxiety: we want to develop the ability to return to a peaceful baseline when we feel anxiety arising. Just as with building physical strength, we can intentionally expose ourselves to the experience of anxiety so we’re able to adapt to the stressor.

How does this work practically? Well, the physical symptoms of anxiety tend to be an elevated heart rate, rapid breathing and adrenaline pumping through the body. Sound familiar? When we exercise, we’re actually simulating the effects of anxiety in the body — an apt, controlled container in which to gradually expose yourself to stress.

So here’s my suggested practice to get started with: get your heart rate up — but do it mindfully.


1. Find an activity that challenges you physically, makes your body have to work (this could be anything from walking to cycling to your chosen sport).

Mindful breathing

2. Make the intention to stay aware of your heart rate, breathing and feelings of being activated or energised.


Mindful exercise

3. Increase the intensity only to the point that you remain centred amidst these sensations (if you feel overwhelmed, you’ve gone too far).

4. During intervals between exertions, slow down your breathing, get still and calm, and intentionally bring yourself back a baseline.

With a regular practice of purposefully calming your nervous system in this way, you’ll learn to trust that you are the master of your own experience; you have the power to change your state of being when anxiety arises.

The secret ingredients here are your mindfulness and your breath. Simply exercising may have some effect on desensitising you to the effects of anxiety, but to really heal this pattern it’s important to train yourself to notice when you’re activated, and then to use slow breaths to self-regulate. With this level of awareness and skill, you’ll start automatically doing the same intervention when that old feeling of anxiety starts to arise.

Eleanor is a somatic coach with the mission to help people live in a state of flow. She entered the field in response to her own issues with anxiety and eating disorders, and continues to study and explore diverse healing modalities. Eleanor’s background is in yoga, holistic lifestyle coaching, hypnosis, remedial therapy and personal training.
She delivers one-to-one coaching, classes, workshops and courses on movement, meditation and breathwork for self-development, which you can learn about at fluxandflowcoaching.com.
Follow her Instagram @eleanorforder!

Eleanor Forder

Somatic Coach

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