Do you deal with anxiety regularly? Trust when I say that you aren’t alone. More than 40 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder. Unsurprisingly, anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness in the United States.
It’s no coincidence that anxiety levels are rising as we continue to advance as a society. Life is fast-paced and it can be difficult to focus on what’s important and drown out the noise, especially if you are an anxious person.
I’m here to tell you that you can win your battles against anxiety without the drama. I’ve personally struggled with anxiety for the majority of my life, and although I’m by no means 100% cured of anxiety, I’ve learned how to keep it at bay over the years.
There are some things you can do regularly to prevent anxiety as much as possible including eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol to name a few. But sometimes even that’s not enough to stop the feeling of impending doom from taking over your mind and body at the least convenient times possible.
Learning to calm myself down when I could feel my anxiety brewing has saved me on so many occasions. It’s helped me feel empowered in situations that would usually end in me curled up in a ball on my bed sobbing as I hyperventilate and shake uncontrollably — not cute.
These 4 tips will help you stop anxiety in its tracks. This is by no means an exhaustive list of things you can do to ground yourself when you’re feeling anxious, but it’s a good start. Sometimes you might need to do all 4 to save yourself from an anxiety attack, sometimes just doing the first step or two is enough.
- Recognize and label the feeling
Tune into your body when you start to feel off and ask yourself “what am I feeling?” Sit in stillness for a moment and scan your body. Is your heart palpitating? Are you shaking? Sweating? Is your stomach turning?
Familiarize yourself with how anxiety manifests itself in your body. Know what it is that you feel when your anxiety starts to take over so that you can prepare to calm yourself down as needed.
- Breathe intentionally
Once you’re aware of how anxiety manifests itself in your body and you feel it bubbling up, focus on how you’re breathing. Chances are your breathing rhythm is off. The more anxious you’re feeling, the more likely it is that you’re breathing fast.
Reel yourself back in with your breath by slowing it down. Take a few nice, long, deep breaths by inhaling in through your nose for 4 seconds, holding your breath in for a second or two, then exhaling out through your nose for 4 seconds. Continue to take deep breaths as you move onto the next couple of steps.
- Repeat some mantras
If mantras aren’t really your thing, I get you — I’ve been there, but believe me when I say that a mantra or two can help save you when you’re on the verge of an anxiety attack. Repeating a good mantra or two to yourself when you’re anxious can get you out of your own head and back into reality.
When you start feeling anxious and you’ve already recognized the feeling and started breathing intentionally, look around and take in your environment. Then ask yourself one simple question: “am I safe?”.
If you actually aren’t safe, then your brain and body have every right to freak out and are trying to help you survive — you’re welcome. If the answer to the question “am I safe?” is “yes”, then let that sink in. Then repeat the words “I am safe” to yourself. You can also say “there is nothing to fear.”
Repeating these phrases to yourself will send a message to your brain and to your body that you are okay. You can thank your brain for trying to protect you from what it perceived to be a threat and move on knowing that your mind was playing tricks on you.
- Focus on NOW
The last step in this method is to bring yourself back into the present moment. You can do this by focusing on some of the things around you. For example, it may help to count how many things of a certain color or shape are around you.
Another way to bring yourself back to the present moment is to narrate things to yourself in your head. Follow along with whatever it is that you’re doing as if someone was explaining it all to you. If your head is filled with whatever is going on in the present moment, you won’t have space to think about anything that isn’t relevant at that moment.
A lot of times we feel anxious because we let our attention wander into any moment besides the present. These exercises will bring you back to the present moment because after all, that’s the only moment we can actually ever do anything about.
As you go through this process, stop where you feel the most comfortable. Sometimes I’m able to calm myself by just acknowledging that I’m anxious for no real reason and I don’t make it through all 4 steps; that’s perfectly fine.
Please keep in mind that this method is meant to calm you down when you are on the verge of an anxiety attack. It is by no means meant to substitute methods that get to the core of your anxiety and help you rid yourself of it entirely. If your anxiety is debilitating and affecting your everyday life and relationships, then it’s a good idea to seek the help of a mental health professional. There’s so much power in seeking the right kind of help when you need it.