Anxiety is the most widespread mental health problem, overtaking other common issues such as depression and chronic stress. But it does not need to take over our lives! As someone who has suffered tremendously from anxiety in my life, I am passionate about letting people know that there really is a lot that we can do to manage it successfully – such as the simple practices below, which provide a quick "brain reset".
The first two techniques make use of eye movements, and are based on the concept of bilateral stimulation – the spreading out of electrical activity over the two hemispheres of the brain. This works because anxiety is often the result of a pattern of overactivation of just one hemisphere – think of a loop going round and round, over and over and over – and when we spread that activity out, that loop can’t be held together, and simply dissolves.
Hold a small object in one hand, put both hands up about ten inches from your face, shoulder width apart, and pass the object from hand to hand, making sure that you cross the “middle line” in front of you – i.e., don’t let your hands meet in the middle! Keep your head still and follow the object with your gaze, from side to side. Continue for a few minutes, or until you notice your anxiety decreasing.
Blink slowly three times. Roll your eyes in a wide circle in one direction, then in the other direction. You might notice a change straight away – if not, repeat the sequence a few times.
This final technique is a little different, and as simple as they get: yawn! That’s right – yawning has the superpower of calming anxiety! It’s not actually the yawning itself which does the trick, but rather dropping your jaw – so you can obtain the same result by simply opening your mouth wide. Pull that jaw as far down as you can! It might not look pretty, but it will help. This is because by doing this, you are stimulating a branch of your vagus nerve which is in the area of the muscles around your mouth.
Most people are surprised to learn that eye movements can help them process negative emotions. If your curiosity has been sparked, you can find a good introduction to the subject on the EMDR UK website: https://emdrassociation.org.uk