I’ve spent many years learning everything I can about how we can influence our bodies with our minds. I wanted to learn to what extent could consciousness change the trajectory of our lives and behavioral outcomes. Like most people, anxiety and stress were regular features in my daily life. So, you can imagine why I had a vested interest in understanding anxiety and doing something about it. There are medications you can take and I am sure that in some cases they would be the best option. Only you and your healthcare professional can decide on that. But there are other biohacks that can help us reduce anxiety as well, and sometimes in far better, more impactful ways than medication. And here are my favorites:
Reduce Oxygen Intake
1) Did you know that excessive breathing can cause the release of the stress hormone, cortisol, which in turn would make you feel more anxious? What do you mean, “excessive breathing”? I mean breathing in too much oxygen. It sounds strange I know! Especially when you hear about those Oxygen Bars in some parts of the world. But try this trick next time you’re anxious. Instead of breathing through your mouth, start breathing in from your nose. This will immediately reduce the amount of oxygen you’re breathing in. Now, when you exhale, do it from your mouth but do it much more slowly than you would otherwise. “Imagine you’re exhaling as though through a straw,” a psychologist friend of mine once instructed. It’ll feel really uncomfortable when you first try it, but after a while you will adjust. Try to become a nose breather at other times.
Reduce sensory stimuli
2) Eliminating or reducing sensory stimuli, as can be achieved in sensory-deprivation chambers and float tanks, is a widely known technique for inducing a state of calm. But you don’t have to rush off to a float tank to get the benefits. The easiest thing you can do is close your eyes (I pull a beanie over my eyes for added darkness). Closing your eyes is going to help you enter a more resourceful state of mind not only by taking your occipital lobes and your visual system immediately offline, but by prompting your brain to produce Alpha waves, which are associated with calmer, more resourceful states of mind. And if it is not possible for you to go to a quiet place while you close your eyes, put ear plugs in your ears to remove or reduce the sensory stimuli going into your auditory system. Imagine the instant bliss you’ll experience when you suddenly pull the plug on two information inlets like that.
Tell your body what you want
3) I’m sure you’ve heard of this one before. That if you tell your body to do something, it usually obliges you. Like, if you say to yourself “relax,” you can will your heart beat to slow down, or your brain waves to produce calmer states. So, now you can close your eyes, maybe even put ear plugs in your ears, breathe through your nose and breathe out slowly from your mouth and calmly tell your body to “relax.” Repeat until you feel a noticeable difference. And you will feel a noticeable difference.
Use your imagination
4) Create or recall a moment, a time, and/or a place where you felt perfectly at peace. For me, that moment was when I was floating in the Dead Sea at sunset in Jordan. The place was amazingly quiet and the water was buoyant, I felt weightless. When I want to access the emotion of that serenity, I simply access that memory. I visualize it as much as I can (obviously with eyes closed helps) and I am taken there. You can also visualize situations or dreams coming true. When I imagine the smiling faces of my nieces, for example, I can’t help but feel extremely happy, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. Find those happy associations and access them for instant peace of mind.
Obviously, the opposite is also true. Anxiety is usually the result of our excessive access to unpleasant or distressing memories. These can be memories of our present reality (a stressful and ongoing work situation, for example), or more complex implicit or explicit memories of traumatic experiences. The contextual cause of our anxiety is an excellent source-code for the symptom and a good place for us to focus our attention in the continued effort to understand in ourselves. That kind of non-judgmental awareness of our thoughts and mental content is essential to any effort to unraveling the strangle-hold anxiety can sometimes have on our lives. Understanding that most of what we are feeling is the result of what we are thinking is the cornerstone of cognitive behavioral therapy, and that’s another tool-kit you may want to have under your belt, especially if you’re a high-pressure kind of person and need to make good decisions in difficult circumstances.
Keep Your Gut Healthy
5) This one requires a bit of mindful planning, but did you know that your gut bacteria plays a significant role in feelings of anxiety? Studies have shown that bad gut bacteria is likely to make you anxious, while prebiotics (the food that good gut bacteria, probiotics, eat) have been found to reduce anxiety. So, what you eat matters, the tiny little critters living inside your stomach and intestines are actually the masterminds behind your moods, so pay attention to what you’re eating and drinking.
Dr. Samar Habib is a writer, research and scholar. She lives in California.
Originally published at medium.com