5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Ease Anxiety
Anxiety can be uncomfortable. Physically uncomfortable. An intense episode of anxiety can make you want to crawl out of your skin.
A single episode of anxiety can also affect your personality, bringing out undesirable traits – even if only for a short period. You might burst into tears if your pants don’t fit, or yell at your spouse when there’s family stress.
Bottom line: Sometimes, you need immediate relief from the tension of high anxiety. You simply can’t imagine waiting until 5 pm for a yoga class, or two days for your therapist’s next available appointment.
Mercifully, there are ways you can extinguish the fire of anxiety inside you. These five examples are fast-acting, temporary solutions to help you feel better, calmer, more like yourself – right away.
- Fast-acting anti-anxiety medications
- Lavender essential oil
- Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
- Belly breathing
5 Ways to Calm Anxiety
1. Fast-acting anti-anxiety medications
The most common drugs for anxiety don’t provide short-term relief of emotional discomfort. They take time, sometimes weeks, to build up in your system. Clearly, that’s not what you need when you’re in a state of high anxiety or panic.
However, you may calm down quickly if you take a doctor-prescribed benzodiazepine: a type of fast-acting anti-anxiety drug. This class of drug isn’t a first-line anxiety treatment due to the risk of side effects. As an occasional tool, however, benzodiazepines are useful in a variety of circumstances. (These drugs are even given to patients before major surgeries.)
Common drugs for anxiety include:
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Alaprazolam (Xanax)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Midazolam (Versed)
- Triazolam (Halcion)
2. Lavender essential oil
Skeptics don’t trust that essential oils can confer significant health benefits. However, early research suggests that lavender essential oil, particularly when used in a diffuser, may quickly and effectively ease anxiety. Clinical trials suggest that lavender:
- Improves the sensation of anxiety more than placebo
- Improves the restlessness, insomnia, and physical discomfort of anxiety
- Is comparable with lorazepam (a benzodiazepine drug) in reducing anxiety
Other research on essential oils also shows that lavender can instill a sense of calm.
Lavender is not the only essential oil that demonstrates this specific benefit. However, it is the best studied and most consistently effective essential oil for anxiety.
When you feel the world is collapsing around you, and you’re holding it up with one hand, you’re probably not in the mood to exercise. However, it may be just the thing to try for very fast relief of anxiety. Research shows:
- Anti-anxiety effects are felt within about five minutes of exercise.
- A 10-minute walk may be as effective as a 45-minute workout for anxiety relief.
4. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)
PMR is a mind-body technique known to reduce stress and anxiety. All you have to do is alternate tensing and relaxing muscles. It may sound too easy – or too odd – to be effective, but there’s good research to suggest it works. Researchers believe part of the magic is in the combination of mental and physical components.
5. Belly breathing
Belly breathing, more scientifically known as diaphragmatic breathing, involves deep breaths in which you try to fill your belly with air. It calms you down by decreasing oxygen consumption, heart rate, and blood pressure.
To perform diaphragmatic breathing, lie comfortably on your back with your knees bent and your head supported by a pillow or blanket. Put one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. Now breathe, ensuring you can feel your diaphragm (the dome-shaped muscle at the base of your lungs) move as it fills with air.
Ideally, you’d practice diaphragmatic breathing for several minutes at a time, several times a day – but some people feel the anxiety-reducing benefit almost instantly.