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  • Writer's pictureMaria Alda Gomez Otero

4 natural ways to reduce anxiety

#Anxiety is caused by an overactivated nervous system. It is usually a symptom of past unresolved trauma. You experience a traumatic event or a shock in your past, but your brain feels that it is still happening now, and transmit this information to the nervous system, which overreacts when it gets triggered.


For example, a loved one dies while you are on holidays in Greece. Now, every time you think about going on holidays or even getting on a plane, you experience anxiety. To avoid the anxiety, you tend to do more work than you would like to and do not take holidays. You are trying to avoid the trigger for your anxiety. That is creating friction with your lonely spouse, who would like to spend more time with you and would like to go on holidays with you.

In this example, your brain has not been able to process the trauma or shock of your loved one’s death, and believes it is still happening now. Every time you think about going on holidays, you are re-experiencing your loved one’s death. Of course, you are anxious! Of course you don’t want to go on holidays! Or even get on a plane!

There are many ways in which you can reduce your anxiety and calm down your nervous system while you’ve been triggered, but ultimately you would need to face your feelings and process the original trauma that is causing your distress. Sometimes you have an idea of what that might be, but sometimes it appears as a surprise during your counselling for anxiety sessions.

Anxiety can be very debilitating, impacting on your work, your personal life, and friendships, so here are some simple ways of naturally reducing your anxiety:

1) Exercise

There is nothing better than exercise to reduce your levels of anxiety. But make sure that you choose a type of exercise in which you are totally engaged. If you are exercising with your body, but your mind is somewhere else, creating worries and producing negative scenarios, exercising might not work. Try to choose an exercise that you enjoy but requires a certain amount of concentration. For example, learning some dance movements, yoga postures, tai chi sequences, climbing…

My favourite exercises are tai chi and qigong (ancient Chinese practices based on Traditional Chinese Medicine) because they help my body to be physically healthy while engaging my prefrontal cortex and keeping me in a mindful state. They have a dual purpose. They also help me have a good night sleep. Any good exercise for you should help you to achieve these three targets: better physical health, better mindfulness and mental health, and better sleep.

2) Create a Gratitude Journal

You cannot underestimate the power of gratefulness. Creating a gratitude journal can not only help you to reduce anxiety, but also to increase your self-esteem and overall happiness. To create a gratitude journal, you need to follow these steps:

- Buy a beautiful notebook, one that your inner child would love.

- Once a week, write a detailed entry about something that you are grateful for. Write what you are grateful for this week in as much detail as possible. Please find ideas in the image and exert your imagination.

Gratitude is a powerful force. If you practice gratefulness on a daily or weekly basis, you might see interesting things happening in your life, mainly positive ones. As with many practices, the more you do, the more benefit you will get.

3) Grounding Techniques

To feel grounded is a feeling of being present, mindful, attentive to what is happening right now. If you are experiencing anxiety and your nervous system is overactive, being concentrated in an activity or engaging your five senses can help.

5-4-3-2-1 Technique

One of the most famous techniques that anxiety counsellors recommend is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. It consists of paying attention to 5 things that you see and look at them in detail, 4 things that you feel, 3 things that you hear, 2 things that you smell, and finally one thing that you can taste. You can keep a piece of your favourite chocolate in your “anxiety exercise box” and savour it at the end of the technique as a treat. In this exercise, the idea is that you would get as much information about the things that you are sensing as possible, looking at them, touching them, savour them, hearing them and smelling them as if it was your first time sensing them.

Naming Items

Please see this graph for another idea of how you can get grounded.

When you ground yourself, you get a calming feeling of belonging, of things being well as they are, you may be more trusting of the future and yourself. You can be more at peace.

4) Guided Meditations

There are numberless guided meditations. You can download free apps, such as Headspace, Insight Timer or Meditate Me, and explore their brief meditations or pay a subscription to access their longer meditations. You can visit youtube and find many guided meditations. You can also find a few free guided meditations in the section of my website called Free Tools. I hope you won’t mind my Spanish accent in the audio.

Meditating can feel daunting if you tend to be anxious. But if you are guided by an expert meditator, it might be easier. In time, you might find yourself being able to sit quietly for longer periods and not needing the expert guidance.

© Alda Counselling - Exeter & Teignmouth

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