How To Regulate Anxiety At A Physiological, Motor And Cognitive Level

Several guidelines to avoid letting anxiety seriously affect our quality of life.

Regulate anxiety

Surely many times you think that you would like to know how anxiety works and what you can do to control it.

One of the psychological problems that psychologists see in consultation more frequently is anxiety. Specifically, people without serious mental health problems who are overwhelmed by anxiety.

All human beings, or almost all, can come to suffer a problem of this type in the course of life. And the most important thing I want you to know is that it is not about never being anxious or stressed, but that you are able to regulate anxiety. But for this, we must first understand this psychological phenomenon.

What is anxiety?

I am going to explain to you in a few words what anxiety consists of and how we can do so that it does not overwhelm us.

You have to know that anxiety is an adaptive behavior in the face of a situation that poses a danger to your integrity or is novel.

In a situation that entails danger, we instinctively respond in three possible ways: we escape, we fight or we remain as dead, blocked. The latter comes from our ancestors. When they were before a beast they showed themselves as if they were lifeless so that it would pass by and not attack them. This is the explanation of being blocked in a situation that our brain interprets as dangerous.

When something is new to us, anxiety makes us activate, that we are with “the batteries on.” In short, we are in what we have to be, with the five senses.

How can we regulate anxiety so that it does not overwhelm us?

We can manage anxiety on three levels: physiological, motor and cognitive (of thinking).

At the physiological level

They are those signs that appear in anxiety, we have palpitations, sweating, chest tightness, …, a long list of things that happen on a physical level when anxiety overwhelms us.

At motor level

With regard to anxiety at the motor level, we feel very restless, we cannot stop moving and being still in one place.

At a cognitive level

Our brain is an extraordinary “machine” for survival, not for well-being. Therefore, what it does very well is to anticipate negative things that can happen to us and ruminate on the negative things that have already happened to us. We are very often naturally in this state.

Well, when it comes to regulating anxiety, it is not about not going through this process, because our brain has an innate tendency to fall into this bias of giving more strength and importance to the negative, but about being aware of it and, to the extent that you know it, try to give greater value to the positive, and not believe all the negative that you think.

Various tips: what to do?

At a physiological level, then with two fundamental tools. One is Jacobson’s progressive relaxation. It consists of tightening and loosening the different parts of the body. As you train it, you will be able to relax when you are tense.

The other technique we have to regulate the level of physiological activation is deep breathing. When we feel anxious we hyperventilate ; we take short, shallow breaths. This causes that we do not oxygenate properly.

To remedy this, what we have to do is something very easy: take longer and longer inspirations and expirations. We thereby manage to regulate the level of activation. The additional advantage is that you can do it at any time. No one will notice that you are breathing deeply.

At the motor level, another important key that psychologists constantly recommend the regular practice of sport. To the extent that you practice physical exercise, this will increase your well-being, and you will be able to considerably regulate anxiety.

As for what to do on a cognitive level, something has to be taken into account. As we discussed earlier, the brain is a magnificent survival machine and, as such, it continually presents us with the negative. We have to learn not to give so much value to everything negative that we anticipate or remember, and for this we have to focus our attention on what we have, not on what we lack.

In this way we will manage not to give so much importance to all those negative thoughts that come easily to us. We have a lot of garbage of thought that should not be given greater importance.

To the extent that you are able to put these tools into practice, you will see anxiety as an ally, and not as an enemy. And if you are able to value anxiety as an ally, you will be able to control it.


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