When we become anxious or stressed, our automatic response is to speed up. This is a direct result of the fight-or-flight response with which our nervous system is programmed. In an emergency speeding up makes sense. But most of the stress and anxiety we deal with can be more effectively managed with a counterintuitive response: Slowing down.
Slow down your breathing
An easy way to calm yourself down when you feel anxious is to focus on your breathing. If you feel your stress level ramping up, try breathing slowly and deeply from your diaphragm. The simple act of breathing slowly signals your body and mind that you are safe. Other simple tricks you can use to manage anxiety include closing your eyes for a few seconds, gently running your fingers over your lips, or visualizing a calm, safe space.
Slow down your movements
We often respond unconsciously to stress and anxiety by speeding up our physical movements, which in turn increases our anxiety. This also tends to lead to mistakes, which increases our anxiety still more. To stop the cycle, try slowing down your actions so that they take longer to perform. It generally only takes a minute or two of calm, deliberate action before you feel more relaxed and in control.
Although we often feel that multitasking will allow us to get more done, the truth is that it reduces efficiency and increases stress. Organizing your time and tasks to focus on one thing at a time not only helps you manage the anxiety. It also helps you to accomplish things more quickly and accurately, thus saving you anxiety in the future.
Give yourself a time cushion
For time-sensitive tasks, set aside more time than you think you’ll need. This can help you relax, allow you to slow your mental processes to a more natural pace, and enable you to focus on the task at hand. This can work for everything from writing a report to preparing a meal. Giving yourself a time cushion makes your work more relaxing and enjoyable. If you find that you’ve gotten the job done faster than expected, reward yourself with a break, or take just a few minutes to get a head-start on your next tasks.
While speeding up can be the first and most natural response to stress, slowing down is often a much better way to manage anxiety. By recognizing your immediate reaction to speed up and deliberately making the decision to slow down instead, you can manage your anxiety effectively and foster an internal feeling of calm.