Three Therapeutic Exercises to Reduce Anxiety

Patrick Stallwood, BA

Published:

March 28, 2022

Anxiety is a normal, adaptive response to stressful situations. However, many people feel anxious without knowing the cause and have such a strong anxious reaction that it interrupts their daily functioning. Psychotherapy can help reduce anxiety symptoms and provide tools to better manage anxious triggers in the future. There are also many therapeutic exercises that clients can use in the comfort of their own home. Here are three examples:

Exercise 1: Journaling

There are a variety of different journaling exercises that can help improve anxiety. One method is to write down anxious thoughts and then write a corresponding reassuring thought. Other methods of journaling are to write a small list of things a person is grateful for or describe a positive event that occurred that day. By detailing a list of positive elements in one’s life, one can combat the helplessness that is often associated with anxiety. When Smyth et al. (2018) performed a clinical trial of journaling practices in 67 anxiety patients, those who completed the journaling exercises scored lower in anxiety symptoms and higher in resilience [1]. Adhere.ly has several options for journaling exercises that therapists can send reminders to their clients to complete during the week.

Exercise 2: Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique for calming the body that focuses on the gradual tensing and loosening of muscle groups. By tightening and relaxing muscles in tandem with deep breathing, the body becomes more relaxed. One of the benefits of PMR is that it does not take a lot of time and can be done anywhere. Anxiety has physical as well as cognitive and emotional aspects. Therefore, by addressing the physical symptoms of anxiety, one is in a better position to treat the associated cognitions. Chellew et al. (2015) examined 101 undergraduate students and found that those who completed PMR had significantly lower levels of salivary cortisol and lower self-reported stress scores, demonstrating that PMR can mitigate the physical and cognitive/emotional signs of stress [2]. Adhere.ly includes several pre-recorded PMR exercises that can be used with clients during and between therapy sessions.

Exercise 3: Interoceptive Exposure

For those who have high anxiety sensitivity to physical sensations, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, or rapid heart rate, interoceptive exposure can be a method of reducing that anxiety sensitivity in a safe environment. Interoceptive exposure focuses on decoupling physical symptoms from anxious thoughts. For example, by engaging in repeated exposures in the clinic of spinning for ten seconds, a client will experience dizziness. While this sensation is uncomfortable, the client will begin to learn that dizziness is not always an early sign of a panic attack. Hence, the maladaptive thoughts connected with physical feelings can be challenged. When Boswell et al. (2013) examined the effect of interoceptive exposure in 54 anxiety clients, interoceptive exposure correlated with a reduction of symptoms after treatment and after a six-month follow up period [3]. Adhere.ly can help therapists facilitate exposure exercises with clients and send them reminders to conduct additional exposure exercises during the week.

Conclusion

Practicing these exercises at home have been shown to improve mental wellbeing. For those in psychotherapy, practicing them at home can help solidify progress made in-session. Adhere.ly has several digitized therapeutic mental health exercises, automated reminders, and monitoring solutions to save you time and improve your clients’ outcomes. Click the link below to sign up for free!

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References

[1] 1. Smyth JM, Johnson JA, Auer BJ, Lehman E, Talamo G, Sciamanna CN. Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients With Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Ment Health. 2018;5: e11290. Available from: Here

[2]. Chellew K, Evans P, Fornes-Vives J, Pérez G, Garcia-Banda G. The effect of progressive muscle relaxation on daily cortisol secretion. Stress. 2015;18: 538–544. Available from: Here 

[3]. Boswell JF, Farchione TJ, Sauer-Zavala S, Murray HW, Fortune MR, Barlow DH. Anxiety sensitivity and interoceptive exposure: a transdiagnostic construct and change strategy. Behav Ther. 2013;44: 417–431.  Available from: Here