If you’re overwhelmed by a growing pile of unpaid bills, you’re suffocated by fear of not finding work, you dread spending even a dollar on something you need, you shudder at the prospect of anyone asking, “How’s the job hunt going,” you wake up at 4am, worried, worried, worried… you need to let go of this crushing anxiety before it crushes you! But how? Letting go is easier said than done. Let’s look at what research says about controlling anxiety, and then we’ll present three suggestions you can use.
Studies show that the use of daily relaxation strategies can help people reduce excessive anxiety. Anxiety and relaxation are opposites. It’s hard—perhaps impossible—to feel anxious when relaxed. A recent review of the literature confirms the effectiveness of relaxation training in reducing anxiety literature. (Manzoni et al., 2008)
Here are three relaxation strategies that might help you. (If, however, you have a history of psychological trauma, susceptibility to panic attacks, or any other psychological or physical difficulties, consult with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other licensed mental health or medical professional before using one of these approaches.)
Meditation: You may find that meditation is easy to employ and an enjoyable technique to help you relax. It becomes increasingly easier to employ with daily practice. Although it can be used at almost any time, it is best practiced in the same place, at the same time for 20 minutes a day. Meditation works best if not practiced immediately after eating or strenuous exercise.
There are four basic keys to successful meditation: (a) a quiet environment free from external distraction; (b) silent or whispered repetition of a particular word or phrase; (c) elimination of all thoughts and distractions from the mind by adopting a passive attitude; (d) sitting in a comfortable position. Meditation is often facilitated by keeping the eyes closed. (Casey, A., & Benson, H. 2006)
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is based on two of Edmund Jacobson’s (1938) well-respected premises: (a) people cannot be relaxed and stressed at the same time, and (b) physical relaxation leads to mental relaxation. We often go through the day without realizing how tense our muscles are. By sitting and alternately tensing and relaxing major muscle groups for 5 to 8 seconds then relaxing for 15 seconds, you will reach a state of relaxation. You can unobtrusively use PMR throughout the day at almost any time. Edward Charlesworth and Ronald Nathan (1984) provide excellent step‑by‑step procedures and scripts to initiate progressive relaxation. For a little more than a dollar, you can download PMR audio programs from Amazon.com and similar sites.
Diaphragmatic Breathing. This technique takes only a few minutes and can help you learn to relax when faced with an anxiety-provoking situation. Here’s how Aggie Casey and Herbert Benson (2006) described it:
· Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down.
· Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen, just below your belly button. Take a slow, deep breath. Your lower hand should move more than the hand on your chest.
· Concentrate on letting your abdomen expand fully, drawing air down into your lungs. Notice your belly rising and falling with each breath.
· Now practice this breathing for several minutes.
Of course, in an anxiety-provoking situation, you need not lie down. Just breathe slowly from your diaphragm when sitting or standing.
Try all three. Find the one that works for you and stick with it. It might take a little while before you get the hang of it, but then again, patience and relaxation go hand in hand.
Although life offers no quick fixes, it offers opportunities to learn how to change. Relaxation can be one daily opportunity for overcoming or minimizing the destructive impact of anxiety on our body and mind. These strategies are simple, inexpensive, and known to work. If you’re relaxed, and anxiety no longer dominates your thinking and sleeping, you’ll probably make better decisions; decisions that might help you get the job you want.
Casey, A., & Benson, H. (2006). Harvard Medical School Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure (Harvard Medical School Guides). NY: : McGraw-Hill.
Charlesworth, E. A. and Nathan, R. G. (1984). Stress Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Wellness. NY: Ballantine Books.
Hanson, R., & Mendius, R. (2009). The Practical Neuroscience of Budda’s Brain. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
Jacobson, E. (1938). Progressive Relaxation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Manzoni, G., Pagnini, F., Castelnuovo, G., & Molinari, E. (2008). Relaxation training for anxiety: a ten-years systematic review with meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry, 8(1), 41. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-8-41