Sometimes there is wisdom in old sayings, like this one “Wash your hands of it.” Most people use it to say “Move on, this is not worth holding onto.” There’s some science behind a literal interpretation of this saying, that if you wash your hands in warm water you will feel less stressed because this is signal that will turn on your calming parasympathetic nervous system.

Wash Your Hands

Thinking our way out of fear can be hard. You’ve just fumbled through a presentation at work, you hate public speaking, you feel that copper penny taste in your mouth because you’re so nervous you’re nauseated and you can’t take lunch for another hour. You wish you had the dignity of crying it out behind a closed office door but you have a cubicle and the space underneath your desk would not be a comfortable place to hide (and really, you thought about it).

What do you do? You are in full panic mode.

You might be tempted to cry in the stall and then maybe stay there until everyone goes home. But I’m going to ask you to take a deep breath and wash your hands. Hit the slow motion button, take your time here. Running water can actually look pretty beautiful, even in fluorescent light in a bathroom. Slide your hands under the warm water, lather up your hands with care and then let the water sluice over them again. Take some more deep breaths as as you wash away all the foam. Slowly shake away loose beads of water and then gently dry your hands. If your hands are slightly damp and cool you might cup your face a bit, gently rub your temples or the space between your eyes.

This is not a silver bullet cure that will magically undo the typo you made in a report or make everyone forget you stumbled through a Very Important Presentation. It will soothe you a bit, just enough that you can walk out of the bathroom and get through the rest of the day. Just one thing you can do for yourself while anxious that works at home or in a public place.