Anxiety - tips for self-soothing

Clients often talk about feeling panicky or anxious, and seasonal events (e.g. Christmas) can be times of added stress. I've put together some really simple tips you can practice - any time, any place - to help reduce tension and calm things down.


Tips for self-soothing


Working with the breath is the most simple but effective tool we all have at our disposal. Sit in a grounded position; back into the chair, feet pressed on the floor, gaze lowered or eyes closed. Concentrate on the breath, inhaling to the count of four and exhaling to the count of six. Focus on the sensation of the breath filling and emptying your lungs. Be aware of the panicky sensations in the body starting to slow down; shaking decreases and heart rate starts to slow as your autonomic nervous system begins to return to a more balanced natural state. See if you can practice this calm breathing for 10/15 minutes a day.

Panic attacks

Heart racing, muscles tensed, sweating, nausea, tightness in your chest. Your bodies autonomic arousal system has kicked in, often in the absence of real danger, but in response to perceived danger. Panic attacks can be really scary, but this is your body's way of preparing you for fight or flight, and by paying attention to what is happening you can start to slow this increase of physical activity down and bring your logical thought process back on-line.

  • Focus on the breath - slow intake on the count of four and slow-release on the count of six.
  • Ground yourself - hold onto a wall for support, or sit with your back firmly in your chair and your feet pressed to the floor. Pay attention to what is around you; notice colours, smells, and noises.
  • Concentrate on relaxing tensed muscles on the out-breath.
  • Imagine yourself at a happy time where you felt safe, and recall all the sensations, feelings, sounds, etc that you had around you at the time.
  • Notice your body start to calm and return to a more manageable state.

Grounding - using the senses

What do I mean by grounding? Feeling physically and mindfully present in the current moment. Orientating ourselves in the present reality. This is particularly useful information for people who are highly anxious or suffering from the after-effects of trauma. We can become detached from our present and feel as if we are living through past events over and over again, or trapped in a cycle of overwhelming feelings.

This can happen in the form of panic attacks, flashbacks, or feeling very anxious. Focusing on all our senses can root us back into the present.

By focusing on slow breaths (see previous tips) and positioning the body so we can feel the solid ground - feet on the floor, back on the chair or hands pressed firmly on a wall - we can start to re-orientate ourselves.

  • Sight: look around; name five things you can see.
  • Hearing: notice the sounds going on around you.
  • Touch: become aware of the ground underneath your feet, your hands on the chair or wall; grip your keys.
  • Smell: using essential oils like peppermint or citrus to awaken the senses.
  • Taste: keep peppermint sweets or gum in your bag.

Tell yourself you are safe. There is no danger. Keep reassuring yourself until the wave of panic or fear has passed.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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