Calm the anxiety
Anxiety is something that a lot of people struggle with. This guide will provide some helpful tips and tricks to help you manage your anxiety better so that you are more able to make the most of your days.
A little bit of anxiety can be good because you get an adrenaline rush that might help get things done. But when it stays for a long time, it can get dangerous and unhealthy.
As panic attacks are all-consuming, it’s good to get into habits beforehand so that when you’re in that haze of anxiety, you can draw on techniques that already exist in your brain, and calm yourself down. It’s like Olympians - they train all year so that when they’re competing they’re able to deliver.
It’s also important to have these strategies in place as anxiety sometimes comes out of the blue, partly because the society we live in almost trains us to always think of what we’re doing, what we will do, and to keep a fast pace. This frame of mind isn’t great, as it’s not very healthy to be on the go all day and then, at night, go to bed and collapse. We need calming things, and calming exercises, so that we have ways to bring ourselves down when the highs get too much.
Three ways to calm your anxiety
Breathe. Just breathe. It’s so simple, but it is the most important thing that people often forget to do when having a panic attack. There are all sorts of different breathing techniques out there, so have a search and find one that works best for you.
Here’s an example of a breathing technique to start you off with.
- Breathe in for the count of four.
- Hold that breath for two.
- Breathe out for four.
- Hold it for two.
- Breathe in for four.
Repeat this cycle a few times to calm yourself down. If you practise this when you’re not having a panic attack, when you are having one your brain won’t have to try as hard to remember the technique, and you will be more easily calmed down by it because your body will remember just how calming it was.
Look at what’s around you. This is an easy way to ground yourself. Look around and focus - really pay attention to what you see. For example, there’s a brown desk over there, a large window above that desk, and a computer on top of the desk. Focus on the very simple, solid things that are around you. This slowly brings you down from the height of your panic attack, by making you fully aware of, and present in, your surroundings.
Positive self-talk. This might also help prevent panic attacks, or anxiety - not just help you when you’re having one. If you get into the habit of being self-compassionate and kindly talking to yourself, your inner voice will become one of kindness and self-compassion. When you’re having a panic attack, this inner voice can help bring you down instead of adding to the anxiety, adding to the attack. An example of something you could say to yourself whilst having a panic attack is "it’s OK, it’s OK, I’m OK", and other reassuring, kind things.
Imagine your happy place. Another way of grounding yourself is imagining your happy place. If you consciously think of a happy place when you’re having a good day, and visualise it, then when you’re having a panic attack you can easily go back to that place. Being in this happy place can help calm you down by tricking your brain into thinking it is somewhere happy and nice, so it doesn’t have to be panicking so much.
For example, your happy place might be a long sandy beach, with scorching sun and the clearest blue sea that you can hear gently meeting the warm sand in soft folds of white foam. The clearer the picture of your happy place that you can create during a good day, the easier it will be to recreate and imagine on a bad day, or during a panic attack.
Shifting the focus
If something’s happened, you’re getting anxious about it, and the anxiety just keeps escalating more and more, a good thing to do is to shift the focus.
Distract yourself. One way to do this is to look at something else. For example, look out the window and focus on one thing, like a branch swinging in the wind. If it’s moving that’s even better, a nice calm slow pace is the best, as your heart and body will start to mimic this and slow right down. Try switching your mind off and only focusing on this one thing that you can see.
Another way to distract yourself might be looking through pictures of cute animals, or playing a game on your phone that needs your full attention.
Slow your pace down. If you’re mentally running from one thing to another, for example, your mind's going through all the things you need to do ("I need to go to the post office, I need to go to the bank, I need to go shopping, I need to..."), you need to just slow it right down. Only do one thing at a time, and only think about that one thing. "I need to go to the bank. I’m going to the bank. I’m at the bank. I’m going to cash this cheque".
It’s making sure that you keep your head a bit clearer by not having all of your chores and thoughts, and everything else coming in at once and circulating. It’s a case of only focusing on this moment in time, and making everything else wait until you are ready to deal with it. You’ve allocated time for the other things, and you will get to them, but you don’t need to keep all of it in your head at the same time. This can help stop you from spiralling too much, and help keep the anxiety in check.
Imagine a line going between places. If you’re feeling anxious when you’re out and about, or getting from one place to another makes you anxious, then this tip might help. Imagine a line going between the places you need to go. Follow that line, and focus only on that line. Again, make sure you’re breaking everything down into small enough steps for you to cope with. It’s all about eliminating the noise so you can focus on what’s important for that moment in time.
Set some time aside to worry
Anxiety is a bit like a pressure cooker; everything slowly builds up until the pressure is almost too much. However, if you set aside time to worry, then your anxiety is less likely to build up.
Allocate time to think about your worries and anxiety. For example, set aside 10 minutes and carefully go over everything you’re worried about. It might also help if this time is spent in the same place so that you can almost think of it like you’re keeping everything in that one place and time so it doesn’t interfere with your day.
Make a list. Write down all of these worries you’ve thought about. If you write a list, it removes the emotions from the worries to some extent and leaves them there in black and white (or whatever colour pen you used!). If this doesn’t work, maybe try parking your emotions so you can try to get a more objective viewpoint of everything.
See what’s solvable. See what you can delegate. See what you can let go of. See what’s not working for you. See what you can change.
Challenge the thoughts that you’ve written down, really think them through and dissect them. For example, if one of the worries on your list is you being anxious about leaving the house, try to break this down into the smallest chunks you can. If one of these chunks is that you’re worried you’ll forget something when you leave the house, then keep a fully packed going out bag by the door, so that you can grab it on your way out and be confident that you have everything you need.
Alternatively, have a checklist on the door of everything you need to do before you leave, and everything important you might need so that you feel more prepared. If after breaking an item down, you find out that it, or some parts of it, aren’t in your control, just let go of it. This can help you see what systems you might need to help everything flow better for you so that it doesn’t make you anxious.
Talk to someone
If you’re worried about something and talk to someone, make sure that it’s someone that you trust, and someone who will listen and not just bombard you with questions, as this could add to the anxiety. Talking to someone can help take the weight off your shoulders. This is why it’s important to figure out who is in your support network, so you know who you can turn to when you need to share your worries.
It’s important to realise that there’s a difference between worrying about and thinking about something. Take the money example again - you can think about it and put a system in place to help ease your worry.
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About Jasvinder Jessy Paston
I’m Jessy, a qualified BACP person-centred counsellor and coach, supporting clients through talking and phototherapy. I specialise in postnatal mental health issues, depression, anxiety and bereavement, working in partnership with my clients.
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