A Mindfulness Expert Reveals 10 Ways to Calm Down When Anxiety Strikes
I recently read a blog (the URL above) that basically says take a deep breath and your anxiety will go bye-bye.
Yuh… not happening.
Those of us – including my late husband – who live with anxiety are well aware that it takes more than willing it away. Anxiety takes over every cell in your body, and even though you KNOW there’s nothing to be in fever-pitch anxiety mode about, the chaos feels unmanageable, like it’s totally in control of your mind and your body.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the strategies suggested. But they are very simplistic, and telling the anxious person to just follow these tips will only add to his or her stress, who will then blame herself for not doing them right.
The strategies suggested are as follows:
1) First, slow down.
When anxiety hits, everything speeds up. Our thoughts race, our heart pounds and our breathing increases. This can make it difficult to think rationally. Consciously try to move a little slower and slow down your breathing.
My response: Good advice. We do need to make a conscious effort to slow down our breathing, our movements, and choose our words carefully.
2) Come to your senses
While anxiety lives in the mind, it often comes out in the body. One of the best ways to stop getting lost in your thoughts is to come to your senses. This will help you get back to the present moment.
My response: Do indeed pay attention to your senses, all of them. What do you see right now? What do you feel, hear, smell, taste? Is there one that’s standing out and ramping up your anxiety? (For example, did you smell alcohol on someone’s breath, or did you hear a voice that reminded you of an abusive person from your past or present life?)
Develop an anxiety toolbox that contains a variety of such things as hard candies (sour ones are great), chewing gum, stress or fidget toys, coloring, a vanilla candle, and small slips of paper with affirmations you’ve chosen. Find one item from that toolbox – a simple basket or plastic container would work, or you can purchase something with all sorts of little drawers – and concentrate on it. Feel the hardness of the candy, taste its sourness and the sensation of it getting smaller in your mouth…
3) Be mindful of a simple task.
Life is full of simple tasks: walking, eating, showering. When we’re anxious, we tend to not really notice what we’re doing when we undertake these tasks. Flip the script on this and focus on what you’re actually doing, even if they’re usually what you’d consider boring.
My response: If you can do something that’s the opposite of what you were doing, it may help. For example, if you’re wandering nervously around your house, try sitting down on the floor, and touch that floor with your open palms.
If your brain is going a million miles a minute, try singing a simple song. I like the DO RE MI song from the Sound of Music because it can be sung over and over.
4) Do a reality check
Anxiety stems from fears about events that haven’t taken place. Our minds can create scenarios that aren’t really true. Ask yourself if there is any evidence to support what you’re so fearful about. Chances are, there isn’t really truth for what your [sic] worried about.
My response: Those with anxiety already know this. We know our anxiety is primal and probably doesn’t make sense in the here and now. This is not “worrying”. It’s much, much bigger than that, unfortunately.
5) Release the critic
If anxiety wasn’t bad enough, we tend to get critical of ourselves for having anxiety. When you notice your self-critic, see if you can observe it and consciously put a stop to it.
My response: Again, it’s not that simple. If it was, we wouldn’t have anxiety meds, therapy, stress-induced illnesses, etc.
6) Channel your anxious energy
Anxiety isn’t all bad. There is a reason we have anxiety so our ancestors can deal with threats. Sometimes it can help to use that energy and do exercise or get productive.
My response: A certain amount of stress is indeed critical to survival. Anxiety is NOT stress, although stress an trigger it. However, finding a way to channel that anxiety is a positive direction to pursue. Can you bake cookies? Take the dogs for a long walk? Clean the garage? It’s a bit harder if you’re at work, or have other responsibilities. Try to develop a short list BEFORE the anxiety hits.
7) Lie down and look up
This is an age-old trick taught by the great eastern spiritual gurus. Lie down, look up at the sky and watch the clouds. Experience the nature of how all things naturally come and go.
My response: If you can do this, it’s a great idea. Feel the ground beneath you, the air around your body and the sun on your face. Think of the vastness of the clouds and the wonder of creation and how each living creature fits.
This is a great mindfulness technique. Take a moment of your day and set an intention to listen. Listen to the sounds of the leaves in the wind, of birds chirping and people talking. When we pause and listen, we reconnect with the present moment.
My response: I like this. Plan for it. Do this daily, and at a time when you are not feeling anxious, so that it will become easier when the chaos inside is ramping up.
9) Practice 5×5
Go through your senses and name 5 things about them. In other words, 5 things you’re seeing, hearing, tasting and feeling. This can help you reconnect with what’s happening right now.
My response: Again, another good tool, and one to practice daily. Since it can be difficult to focus when you’re anxious, don’t allow yourself to rush through this. If you always start with the same senses in the same order, you can learn to force yourself to start all over if you skip a step, and continue starting over until you do each step without a miss.
10) Nurture patience
Patience truly is a virtue. Whenever you feel impatient, ask yourself why. Make yourself realize that it’s distracting you from the present moment. Patience is a pathway to emotional freedom.
My response: When I read this one, I just shook my head. Yes, having the ability to practice patience is a great skill, and can save you all sorts of unhappiness and ill will from others. And I love a quote I found decades ago that “Impatience is anger disguised as a virtue” because too often it has described me to a T.
Again, this is something that must be practiced when you are not in the throes of an anxiety attack. Telling yourself to be patient or to “calm down” can be counter-productive… and it certainly doesn’t work to tell someone else that if they’re having a hard time!
In summary, anxiety is not simple worry that can be treated with a few quick tips. It takes a great deal of work to manage, and much of that work must be done when the person is in a good space, so the skills learned can be more readily used when that out of control feeling takes over. My responses here are pretty basic; getting a handle on true anxiety will take some real focus and determination.
I’d love to hear from others who have tips and ideas about what works for you… let me know because at some point, I plan to expand on this theme!
In memory of my beloved husband John Kelly Snyder… 20 Sept 1956 – 21 Oct 2016.
My Johnny was a true warrior, fighting demons no one else could see. I thought he was the strongest man in the world, and perhaps he was, but tragically, the demons got the better of him.
The name of this project is in no way intended to be reflective of, or piggy back off, Wounded Warriors which serves those military personnel wounded after September 11, 20o1. Like too many others, John was a warrior long before then.
Fair winds and following seas, Husband.
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Talk to you soon!
Despite decades of disbelief, I have come to realize that our loved ones are able to communicate with us through the life/death barrier. My Johnny has proved this in ways that I can’t attribute to my own mind making things up… there have been complex coincidences and synchronicities, extraordinary happenings, and messages through others who could not possibly have any knowledge of the information they’ve passed on. Truly mind-blowing stuff. I don’t have a clue what I believe about life after death, but I know my husband loved me with everything he had, and that he still does. Our wedding vows were “to death and beyond” and that has proved true for both of us.
I can’t tell you how it all works, or how you can get through to your own loved one, but if you’re interested, I can tell you of my experiences and my thoughts on this.
I love this. some tips are really helpful…but my favorite was when my therapist told me to just ‘stop’ having negative self talk……x__x
No kidding… Sheesh.