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August 09, 2022

4 exercises to control anxiety

4 exercises to control anxiety

Living with anxiety, whether temporary or as a chronic disorder, is a daily and permanent challenge. Therefore, part of the process consists of working with mechanisms to deal with attacks and exercises to control anxiety. 

One way to break the negative chain is sleep. Anxiety causes trouble sleeping, and trouble sleeping ends up accentuating symptoms in anxious people.

Mental hyperarousal, characteristic of anxiety disorders, is one of the key factors in sleep difficulty and insomnia, causing greater difficulties to fall asleep and more awakenings during the night. In the case of anxious people, this happens more often. 

Tips on exercises to manage anxiety

The exercises to control anxiety in this post will be for moments of crisis and/or when you notice a trigger, before the crisis itself arrives.

But before that, a piece of advice: seek help from a professional psychologist and/or psychiatrist if you note that being anxious is something frequent in your life.

Here you will find tools that can help you, but only a qualified professional will be able to diagnose you (if it is the case) and indicate the best treatment.

1. 5-4-3-2-1 (or 5 senses) Technique

This is one of the most popular exercises to control anxiety. 

It is very difficult for a person in crisis to focus on the present moment. The mind, which creates unlikely and often catastrophic scenarios, hampers this focus. That’s where the 5-4-3-2-1 works. It is a mindfulness technique aimed at bringing you back to the current moment.

Its execution is simple. During the crisis, or even before it arrives, sharpen your senses and mentally list:

  • 5 things you can see around you
  • 4 sounds you can hear right now
  • 3 things you can touch without leaving your place
  • 2 smells you can perceive in the environment
  • 1 flavor you can taste, whether the one already in your mouth or a glass of water.

These steps can be repeated as many times as needed. By paying attention to your surroundings, you ‘come back’ to the present and manage to ease the anxiety attack.

2. Number technique

If, at the time of a crisis, you do not remember any of the other exercises to control anxiety, you will surely remember this one. It is so simple that you can teach it to a trusted person to guide you.

The technique consists of counting backwards and slowly from 100 to 0. One hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight… 

Since they are long numbers and you must remember them in descending order, you will need to pay attention. The attention you give to numbers is attention you take away from the intrusive thoughts of anxiety.

Tip: If you need to, start counting from 1 to 10 or 1 to 20 to focus on the numbers. Only then go for the countdown.

3. Breathing techniques

People with anxiety attacks can hyperventilate and lose control of their breathing, which makes them even more nervous. There are some breathing techniques that help you regain control of the outwards airflow and leave the state of emergency your body enters.

The simplest technique is called square breathing, used in some yoga and relaxation practices. 

Square breathing is done as follows:

  • Inhale for four seconds
  • Hold the air for four seconds
  • Exhale for four seconds
  • Keep your lungs empty for four seconds.

At the end of each cycle, you form a 16-second ‘square’. Repeat the cycle until you feel you have regained control of your breath.

4. Ask yourself

This isn’t necessarily an exercise to control anxiety, but it works as one. 

When you notice an anxiety attack approaching, acknowledge what is happening and look for evidence that tells you really have reason to be so worried. Try to be fair to yourself, being objective and factual in your answer.

You will often be able to understand that the worry was disproportionate to reality, managing to overcome the attack before it even started.

These same four anxiety management exercises can be used in cases of panic attacks.

Take care of yourself. Take care of your mental health like you take care of your sleep and your physical health.

Seek help from professionals.


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