Anxiety reduction techniques
Anxiety reduction techniques are skills that are taught by a therapist to help an individual overcome anxiety, stress, and tension. Anxiety can be experienced in a variety of ways including tension, worry, and nervousness, and can occur in thoughts or experienced as bodily senations. The techniques to reduce anxiety can include relaxation, visualization and imagery, diaphragmatic breathing, stress inoculation, and meditation.
Relaxation or progressive relaxation
Progressive relaxation can be useful in reducing muscle tension. Engaging in relaxation may help to improve a person's energy level, depression, and anxiety, as well as a person's ability to retrieve information from memory.
Visualization and imagery
By engaging in the positive thinking often associated with visualization and imagery, a person can create a clearer image of what he or she wants to accomplish. By repeating the image again and again, the person comes to expect what he or she wants will occur. As a result, the person will often begin to act in a way more consistent with accomplishing the goal.
Sufficient amounts of air reach the lungs, which purifies and oxygenates the blood. Waste products in the blood are removed, and organs and tissues become nourished.
A person will have more realistic views of stressful and anxiety-producing situations in his or her life. The person will be able to relax away tension by effectively thinking useful coping thoughts rather than negative interpretations of situations.
As people learn to meditate, they often discover that they have some control over the thoughts that come to their minds, as opposed to feeling as though thoughts "pop" into their heads. Many people begin to recognize dysfunctional patterns of thought and perceptions that have influenced their lives. Additionally, many people report a greater ability to manage their emotions and gain a greater sense of stability. When a person meditates, he or she often suppresses the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that activates the body for emergencies and activities. Meditation also lowers a person's metabolism, heart, and breathing rates. Additionally, meditation decreases the chemical in the body often associated with stress.
The goal of learning and implementing anxiety reduction techniques is to help reduce the intensity of anxiety that a person feels. These techniques are also helpful in teaching people how to relax and manage stress. Many of the techniques are used in combination with each other. For example, a person may be taught diaphragmatic breathing while also engaging in relaxation
These various techniques are often practiced and demonstrated in therapy sessions with a trained professional. In addition, the person learning the techniques would need to continue to practice them on a regular basis, outside of the therapy sessions.
After a person has learned and practiced anxiety reduction techniques, he or she may need additional instruction from a trained professional. Having a trained professional review these techniques with a person can help reinforce what the person has already learned and been practicing. Furthermore, the person may identify aspects of the techniques that he or she is doing incorrectly, areas that need more attention or focus, and alternative methods of engaging in the techniques.
There are minimal risks associated with these techniques, but some physical problems have occurred. For example, precautions should be taken when doing progressive relaxation and tensing the neck and back. Excessive tightening can create muscle or spinal damage. Additionally, tightening various muscle groups, such as the toes or feet, could result in muscle cramps. If physical problems occur, such as difficulty taking deep breaths, unusual muscle pain, or an increased level of anxiety, then the individual should seek assistance from a physician.
In general, after engaging in these anxiety reduction techniques, many people report an increased sense of wellbeing and relaxation. People have a greater sense of control, and confidence in their coping abilities. This results in a decreased need to fear or avoid stressful situations.
Once a person begins to implement these anxiety reduction techniques effectively, he or she may discover old or hidden psychological pain. The person may feel angry, frightened, or depressed, and it may be beneficial for him or her to talk to a friend, mental health professional, or meditation teacher.
Some individuals have difficulty with various aspects of the different techniques. For example, people may feel restless when first learning how to meditate, or they may feel as though a thousand thoughts are running through their minds. However, with practice and assistance from a trained professional, these difficulties will subside. People who feel frustrated or discouraged may simply need to find ways to make the practice of these techniques more comfortable. As is the case with many other skills, effectively reducing anxiety with these techniques requires patience and practice. If an individual does not consistently practice these techniques, the benefits will probably not be obtained.
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American Psychiatric Association. 1400 K Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20005. <http://www.psych.org>.
American Psychological Association. 750 1st St. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002. (202) 336-5500. <http://www.apa.org>.
Anxiety Disorders Association of America, Inc. 11900 Parklawn Drive, Suite 100, Rockville, MD 20852. (301) 231-9350. <http://www.adaa.org>.
The National Institute of Mental Health, 5600 Fischers Lane, Room 15C05, Rockville, MD 20857. (301) 443-4513. <http://www.nimh.nih.gov/>.
The National Mental Health Association. 1201 Prince Street, Alexandria, VA 22314-2971.
Keith Beard, Psy.D.