How to manage everyday anxiety in public spaces

Experts share practical strategies for when you really need them

Nicole Mahabir · CBC Life · September 26

When anxiety arises, it can be difficult to cope with daily activities and simple tasks. Our mind and body can move past the threshold perception of feeling safe, which puts us into a state of fear and makes us feel overwhelmed or as though our life is out of control.

Whether it's a high stress meeting, new job, future fears, past memories, dealing with a difficult experience or thinking of all of the responsibilities at hand, you can take yourself out of the state of anxiety and learn how induce a relaxation response  by practicing a few techniques to navigate through. Complimentary therapeutic practices of relaxation and mindful interventionscan be utilized to decrease anxiety and induce prolonged states of rest and repose. These tools can also help you to observe your situation with a realistic and positive outlook and cultivate problem-solving skills and interventions that are within your control.  

For reducing anxiety while it's happening, we invited a few experts to share simple practices they recommend. These practices can also be used as a preventive measure for anxiety because each technique works directly to calm the nervous system. Dr. Ana Bodnar and Dr. Pradeep Kumar share their best quick and simple solutions to help manage and diminish anxiety that could otherwise be debilitating. Plus, I will share one of my favorite relaxation practices with you as a final exercise.

Dr. Ana Bodnar is a clinical psychologist, yoga and meditation teacher. Along with her clinical practice she also teaches within the arena of mindfulness and psychotherapy at the University of Toronto. Bodnar explains that when we are experiencing anxiety, our breath becomes unregulated, short and shallow. To gently counter this state, we can use practical tools to change the rhythm of the breath to bring us back to homeostasis. Here, she offers a few mindful interventions that create an effect of composure and relaxation. Whether you are in a meeting or on the bus, sitting in a restaurant or at home, these simple tools can be practiced anywhere with ease and little distraction.

Dr. Bodnar describes that regulating the breath with a slow count is one of the most helpful and effective interventions for anxiety. She goes on to specify that a body scan, sensory input and realistic self-talk are also effective interventions that decrease anxiety while it is being experienced.

Here are the steps for each technique.

The box breath

Begin by becoming aware of your breath. Slowly and gently begin to lengthen and deepen your breath. Breathe into the abdomen, feeling the belly expanding outward.

After a few deep and slow breaths, you will begin to count with the breath to regulate its length and equilibrate the inhale and exhale.

Inhale through the nose with a long, slow count of 2. Exhale through the nose, with a long, slow count of 2.

Repeat the long, slow count of 2 for the inhale and the exhale until you feel the body and mind begin to relax and that your breathing has become a gentle, equalized pattern, when the inhalation and exhalation ratio is the same. This is also known as sama vritti (equal ratio breathing) in the practice of yoga.