Calm the anxiety
Anxiety is something that a lot of people struggle with, so 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. One example of this is a panic attack; if you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know how absolutely awful, and how draining they can be.
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 bring yourself down. It’s like Olympians, they train all year so that when they’re actually 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.
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 google and find one that works best for you.
Here’s an example of breathing technique to start you off with: Breathe in for the count of four. In 1…2…3…4. Hold that breath for two. 1…2. And breathe out for four. Out 1…2…3…4. Hold it for two. 1…2. Breathe in for four. In 1…2…3…4. 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 really 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 is 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 talking to yourself in a kind way, your inner voice will become one of kindness and self-compassion. When you’re having a panic attack this inner voice can actually 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.
- Meditation (or a form of meditation).
This is another method of self-talk that can help you whilst in a panic attack.
For example, saying things like “Gravity is holding me in place, gravity is not going to let me fall off the earth. I am safe, I am held.” Or “My breath is a constant, as long as I am breathing, I’m ok.”
Again, it is a case of finding what works best for you.
- 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 really 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 actually 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.
These are just a few techniques to ground you when you’re having a panic attack. They can also be useful if it’s not a full blown panic attack, for example, when you can feel the anxiety building.
2) Shifting the Focus
If something’s happened and you’re getting really 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 play a game on your phone that needs your full attention.
If you’re feeling anxious in a place, you don’t have to stay there, you have permission to leave, to shift your focus from that place.
- 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 around. 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 a 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.
3) Set time 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 view point of everything.
- Go through your list.
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. Or 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. It’s ok to let things go. You don’t have to deal with everything, you don’t have to have everything on your shoulders. You can just do what you need to do, and let other people be responsible for the things that they are responsible for. It’s not all on you.
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.
4) Release it
With anxiety, one of the most difficult things is the feeling that you have to carry everything, and that you have to do everything on your own, but one of the ways to help manage your anxiety is to release it.
- Talk to someone
If you’re worrying 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.
- Disprove the worry
Another way to release the anxiety could be through finding, or having, evidence to disprove the worry.
For example, you might be worrying about money, and thinking that you don’t have enough money to last until the end of the month. If you have systems in place to track your money, systems that let you see what’s coming in, and what’s going out, you can look to your system for evidence. You can look to your system and tell yourself “No. I’ve worked it all out, I’ve stuck to my budget. This is showing me evidence that I will be ok at the end of the month.” You need to find evidence to show yourself that the worry doesn’t have a leg to stand on, you’ve got evidence to disprove it, so it isn’t worth worrying about.
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.
5) Healthy Habits
- Develop good mental, emotional, and physical habits
These can be classic things like exercise, listening to music, eating well, journaling, writing things down, and going out in nature.
If you put the hard work in to building these habits when you’re having good days, then they’ll be easier and more helpful when you really need them. Not only that, as these habits are about managing your anxiety, developing these habits can also be preventative for anxiety and panic attacks.
- Understand why you’re building these habits
Good and healthy habits are important, but they can be hard to solidify. If you understand why they are important, and why you’re doing those specific habits then it will help you stick with them more.
If you have some sort of understanding it will then be easier to push yourself to do it, and easier to dispel the thoughts that they don’t really matter.
You may still get panicky and anxious, even if you use all of these techniques, but instead of the 2 hours the anxiety would have taken out of your day before, it may only take out 10 minutes or so.