How effective are external tools to support internal work? (A look at Anxiety rings)
Updated: Jul 25
This piece was edited for an article in Woman & Home
What are "anxiety rings"?
Known also as “spinning rings” or “worry rings” – which have moveable balls on one of the bands enabling you to “fidget” with them when feeling anxious in order to induce a sense of calm, anxiety rings are growing in popularity.
How do they work?
In terms of what they are, this is not a new concept, simply it now has adult packaging. “Fiddle toys” (along with wobble cushions and chewelery) have long been used in schools to enable young children to have something to play with which is not going to get them into trouble when they have been told to “sit still”. As such, the benefits are certainly there, in the same way as a stress ball may have worked, or a “grounding object” (I in fact DO use my wedding ring for this), that allowing ourselves an expression of our emotions – in this case a physical outlet of “fidgeting” can help alleviate their intensity.
Displacing emotional intensity to reduce it is also common – it can be why sport is a good option when feeling overly stressed, or dancing can serve to boost mood. An “anxiety ring” would potentially blend both the release and the “grounding” element of stress relief (ie. Touching a familiar object, smelling a familiar calming smell, even touching the ground for a moment) which others can find helpful to bring a little headspace and sense of emotional regulation.
What is also helpful is that those who use them report reaching for the ring first rather than pulling hair/biting nails/other self-soothing behaviour that was potentially problematic - thus showing that the ring can not only provide a buffer to unhealthy coping, but also alert the user when there is something that is causing them stress.
But one ring is not always enough
However, all these examples are still no substitute for also doing the mental and emotional development work to alleviate the cause of the anxiety in the first instance…whether that is through asserting our boundaries better; spending time with people who make us feel positive rather than drained; or changing our focus, and using an anxiety ring alone does not tackle the root cause.
There are a number of ways we can reduce anxiety:
a) Don't seek it out:
1. Keep a mental social distance!
You only have a finite amount of energy – so make sure you are spending it wisely. Maybe there will be some people you want to see this winter, maybe there won’t, but given that Positive Psychology research has found that healthy relationships are key to a happy life, make sure your network is one that brings you joy.
- Identify what YOU really want out of a friendship and actively seek it out (or spend time with those in your life who already give that to you…as a bonus it means you can genuinely say “no” to the more exhausting people without feeling bad…you really ARE already busy!
Look carefully at your current relationships. Ask yourself:
- Which ones are reciprocal?
- Which ones bring me joy?
- Which ones encourage honesty?
- Which ones can I rely on?
and most importantly
- Which ones are with people I respect for their own values and actions? (Which ones does I actively want to choose?)
Then actively choose to spend time with those people (and the others can, quite legitimately be told – “I’m sorry, already booked up!”)
2. Protect your boundaries
You cannot save people from themselves. If it is within your power, you can signpost them, and be there should they need a cheerleader, but solving their problems stops you from working on your own, and can teach them to be dependant on you.
- HOW can I best help you?
- What would you like me to do?
- What have you tried?
- What are you trying to achieve?
These questions offer support, because you can then more effectively target your response while also returning the power back to the person asking. …and you can channel the saved energy from not getting involved in their psychodramas, into your own goals.
- (before saying “yes”) “I don’t have my diary right now, I’ll let you know later. (this gives you time to decide if you really want to do something, or think of an excuse)
- Signpost: “I’m afraid I can’t help but try X”
- Restrict: “I can, but only between X and Y”
b) Reduce emotional impact of anxiety in the moment
3. Regulate emotions in the moment with a quick grounding exercise (which you can do without a ring)
- Name 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can hear
- 3 things you can touch
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
c) Address the root of the anxiety
4. Remember that anxiety can be simply a warning light – try to work out the root of the issue
Anxiety can occur in response to a thought, behaviour or situation – it is simply the body’s response to a perceived threat. If you are able to acknowledge and “Hold” the feeling for a while as you uncover what is causing it, the action you take subsequently is better directed at the source of the problem because in turn your symptoms will go away.
d) Address physical health
One of the most helpful things you can do is regulate your sleep. Not only does this have many benefits for recharging and repairing the body and brain, but it can help regulate our appetite, enhance our ability to concentrate and boost our relationships as we will often be less irritable. So try a bedtime routine eg:
- Have a glass of water by your bed – we do often wake feeling thirsty, especially as the days get warmer, or even in the winter when the heating is on. Further, if you have a tendency to sweat this can add to the dehydration. Having water by your bed negates the need to get up and fill the glass, thus causing slightly less disruption.
- Keep a writing pad by your bed for when you wake in the middle of the night and need to remember something – write it down (try not to open your phone!) Writing down the “bright idea” or “realisation” releases you from having to “think about it” which in turn helps maintain a restful frame of mind. Not having to open your phone prevents the brightness of the screen from waking you further, and removes the temptation to “check that notification.”
- Plan for the next day if you need to (eg. Clothes, lunch prep). This means that if you do have a slightly disturbed sleep, you can rest a little longer in the morning.
- Stop drinking caffeinated drinks about 6 hours before bed – and instead have a camomile tea, or warm water, or even warm milk
- Sometimes people find exercising at night helps (others don’t – heed your body’s response to whatever you try), and after exercising, a bath tends to be more soothing than a shower (unless it feels “too long” for you).
Then of course, simple centred breathing (breathing in for 4, holding for 2, and out through the mouth for 6) whilst listening to nature sounds, gentle music, or even a relaxation podcast can be the final step for restful night.
And a the very least, if you are struggling to sleep, do not associate bed with a lack of sleep – get up, go somewhere else.
6. Physical exercise
There is a school of thought that suggests that movement can help alleviate the symptoms of depression as well as potentially treat the cause through exercises enabling positive neurochemical pathways to be built. Physical exercise can also be a healthy outlet for the feelings of heightened emotion enabling you to then deal with the situation with a clearer frame of mind.
Like improving sleep and getting the body moving, the practice of meditation has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety, and improve sleep quality - BUT, as with any physical behaviour, to really reap the benefits it's important to build the practice regularly into your lifestyle...while engaging once with a meditation you enjoy can feel great, its effects will soon wear off if you don't continue. There are a number of meditations on YouTube including those on my own channel. Find someone you enjoy and give yourself a little time each day.
8. Eat healthily
Dr Hilary Jones once said "When you take your pet to the vet they will always ask "what are you feeding it?" I have always wondered if GPs may be more successful at faster diagnosis if we asked that as well." What we put into our bodies can affect how we feel mentally and emotionally - many of us will have experienced the thirst headache, or "hanger" (anger or irritability because of hunger), and nutritionists state that the digestive system is responsible for 90% of happy hormone serotonin, so looking after our diets can also have broader benefits.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt