Around 40 million people in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder, which can range from a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), defined as "intense worrying you can't control" to panic attacks, complete with heart palpitations, trembling, shaking, and/or sweating.
Whether you experience is of mild or extreme anxiety, there are steps you can take immediately to calm down and self-soothe. Here are a few of the best:
1. Stand up straight
According to Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety, "When we are anxious, we protect our upper body -- where our heart and lungs are located -- by hunching over."
For immediate relief from anxiety, stand up, pull your shoulders back, plant your feet evenly and widely apart, and open your chest. Then breathe deeply. This posture, combined with deep breathing, helps your body remember that it's not in danger right now, and that it is in control (not helpless). If you can't stand up (i.e. you're in your car), just pull your shoulders back and open up your chest. The most important thing is to stop hunching and breathe deeply.
2. Play the 5-5-5 game
When you're anxious, you're often caught in a (negative) thought loop. Play this to get back into your body and stop anxiety fast:
Look around and name 5 things you can see.
List 5 sounds you can hear.
Move 5 parts of your body you can feel (i.e. rotate your ankle, wiggle your ears, nod your head up and down).
It might sound silly, but this works.
3. Sniff lavender oil
Lavender oil has a lot of healing properties. It promotes a feeling of calm and supports deep, restful sleep. It can even help with headaches.
To help reduce anxiety, keep a bottle of lavender oil at your desk (or in purse if you have one). Breathe it in and/or massage it into your temples when you need a boost of peace. Bonus points for combining the sniffing with deep, even breaths.
4. Watch a funny video
Yes, really. Watching a clip of your favorite comedian or blooper reel will help you stop feeling anxious fast. Why? Because you can't laugh and stay anxious at the same time, physiologically. Your body relaxes after a bout of laughter in a way that gets rid of anxiety. Plus, according to the Mayo Clinic, laughter brings in oxygen-rich air, which stimulates your heart and lungs, and spikes your endorphins.
5. Go for a brisk walk
Exercise is a long-proven way to lower anxiety. In addition to boosting your level of feel-good neurotransmitters, a brisk walk clears your mind and gets you breathing more deeply again--and anxiety is intimately linked to shallow breathing.
Studies also show that people who exercise vigorously on a regular basis are 25 percent less likely to develop an anxiety disorder.
6. Accept your anxiety
This may sound counterintuitive, but Chansky says accepting your anxiety (instead of feeling ashamed or frustrated by it) will actually help you feel less anxious.
It doesn't matter whether you inherited your anxiety from your family or your lifestyle, or both. It's here now, and acknowledging that instead of fighting it frees you up to learn how to manage it. Accepting it doesn't mean giving up, either. It means you stop spending energy berating yourself for being anxious and instead learn what works for you when it comes to self-soothing.
7. Listen to the most relaxing song in the world
8. Re-label what's happening.
If you're having a panic attack and your heart is racing, it's easy to believe something like, "I'm going to die." Instead of buying into this inaccurate thought, re-label it. Remind yourself: "This is a panic attack. I've had them before and they don't actually kill me; they pass. This will also pass, and there's nothing I need to do."
In actuality, panic attacks are an activation of the body's fight-or-flight response, which doesn't kill you--it keeps you alive.
9. Do something
Do anything. Clear a few things off your desk. Walk over to the kitchenette and get yourself a glass of water. Walk outside and find a flower to smell--it doesn't matter. Doing an action interrupts your thought pattern, which is often where anxiety starts.
When it comes to stopping anxiety, self-soothing is actually a profound act of self-love.