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How to regulate anxiety at the physiological, motor and cognitive levels

How to regulate anxiety at the physiological, motor and cognitive levels

May 12, 2023

Surely many times you think 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 that are overwhelmed by anxiety .

All human beings, or almost all, we can get to suffer a problem of this kind in the future of life. And the most important thing I want you to know is that it's not about never being anxious or stressed, that you are able to regulate anxiety . But for that, before we have to understand this psychological phenomenon.

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What is anxiety?

I will explain in a few words what is anxiety and how we can do so that we do not overflow.

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

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

When something is new to us, the 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 at three levels: physiological, motor and cognitive (thinking).


These are signs that in anxiety appear, we have palpitations, sweating, tightness in the chest, ..., a long etcetera of things that happen at a physical level when anxiety overflows.

At motor level

With regard to anxiety at motor level, we feel very restless , we can not stop moving and be quiet in one place.

On a cognitive level

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

Well, when it comes to regulate anxiety is not about not going through this process, because our brain has the innate tendency to fall into this bias of giving more strength and importance to the negative, but to be aware of it and, as you know him, try to give more value to the positive , and do not believe all the negative you think.

  • You may be interested: "Chronic stress: causes, symptoms and treatment"

Several tips: what to do?

At the physiological level, then with two fundamental tools. One is Jacobson's progressive relaxation. It consists of tensing and relieving the different parts of the body. As you train him, 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 perform short and shallow breaths. This means that we do not oxygenate properly.

To remedy what we have to do is something very easy: make inspirations and expirations longer and longer. We managed to regulate the level of activation. The additional advantage that it has is that you can do it at any time. Nobody will realize that you are breathing deeply.

At 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 regulate anxiety considerably.

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

In this way we will succeed in not giving so much importance to all those negative thoughts that come easily to us. We have a lot of waste of thought that should not be given more 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.

Sensation & Perception - Crash Course Psychology #5 (May 2023).

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