*The following is not and should not be used in place of medical advice. If you need help, please see your doctor or a mental health professional.These are just personal habits I’ve had success with.*
Back in the early 00s, I was a wide-eyed, overworked, scared to death college freshman. In my very Mickey Mouse Intro to College class, we had this group activity. It was one of those icebreaker games that’s only freshmen and people at seminars do. The gist was, we had to pick an adjective that started with the same letter our name that described us. Alliteration being a memory helper and all, I suppose. I instantly knew mine. It was a name that I had been carrying with me since I was just a wee little girl.
I’ve never known a time when I haven’t been anxious. As a kid, I cried. I cried a lot. I’m not sure if it was the early signs of anxiety, depression, or the effects of my mother, but childhood was full of teary eyes and snotty noses. I remember once during an elementary school orientation my mother telling the teacher that I was “tender-hearted”. It was a descriptor that stuck with me long past my public school days. All these decades later, that tender-heartedness has turned into full-fledged anxiety.
Anxiety is still a big part of my life. It’s a monster I battle each day. Below are 7 things I do to try to take its power away.
It sounds simple enough, right? Well, it’s not. Breathing is one of the hardest things to do in the midst of an anxiety attack. Shallow breaths come easy and fast and can cement you in the fight or flight mode. I tend to hold my breath when I’m struggling. I don’t even have to explain why this a foolish thing to do. One thing I’ve found that really, really helps is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. It’s a great way to reset your brain and center yourself. And it’s pretty easy.
- Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold that breath for 7 seconds.
- Exhale for 8 seconds.
- Repeat as necessary
It’s really a fantastic exercise to regulate your breathing and bring your mind back from the brink. If the 4-7-8 technique isn’t your style, taking deep slow breaths will also help. The fast shallow breaths that are common during an anxiety episode do more harm than good. Breath deep, from the bottom of your diaphragm. Those long deep breaths are the good ones that will help you center yourself and calm down.
Ask For Help
The only thing harder than remembering to breathe correctly often is to ask for help. It’s painful and frightening to open yourself to others. But we are not islands. We need each other. Find yourself a tag team partner. Someone who will support you and work with you as you navigate the bullshit that is anxiety.
Whether it’s holding your hand, making you lunch, or just reading the words you need to type, having a circle of people you can turn to is so very important. Ask them for help. Let them help you share the load.
Sometimes what you need during an attack is not just a change of space but a change of mind. Going outside can do both. It doesn’t matter if you live in a city or are in the middle of the country, going outdoors is a great way to help bring yourself back. Sunlight, fresh air, and the sounds of nature foster a sense of serenity. Being able to have space and absorb them is a great way to become unflustered.
Some of the best art comes from the darkest places. If you are able to harness some of the power of anxiety and use it for good you might be amazed at what you’ll create. It doesn’t have to be great, just make something! Write some words, doodle some drawings, take some pictures, bake a cake, build a birdhouse! Just put yourself in motion and use your powers for good, not the self-harming evil they can be used for.
The first thing I ask whenever one of my kiddos comes to me with a complaint is “Do you need some water?” Staying hydrated is important. It’s also something that gets overlooked quite often. As someone who drinks more coffee than I should, sometimes just taking a moment to drink a glass of cold water changes my mindset. Water, dirt, fire, and salt. They are all three things that connect us to the planet. They are all things we need. In the middle of our chaos, I firmly believe these things can ground us.
Find a Positive Distraction
We live in a time where podcast, audio books, and most tv shows we love are streaming on demand. We don’t have to wait to for a certain time on a certain day to lose ourselves in a mindless distraction. It’s available anytime we need it. And when you’re fighting anxiety, you need it whenever the episode happens. Finding something positive that you can quiet your mind and enjoy in the middle of a rough time is wonderful to keep you grounded. Some of my favorite things to listen to are podcast. One of my very favorite podcast is Levar Burton Reads. Its Levar Burton and his wonderful voice reading amazing stories. It’s incredibly calming and interesting. Being able to focus a speeding mind on something as enjoyable as Levar’s voice is great calming technique.
Even harder than remembering to breathe and asking for help is remembering to stay in the moment. When your head is playing the highlight reel of every horrible thing you’ve ever done, its hard to remember to be in the here and now. The following is a grounding exercise I use daily to help me focus on what is and what is not:
5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see.
4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch.
3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear.
2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell.
1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste.
No matter what methods we use, we must realize that we are stronger than anxiety. While this is a monster that lives in our world, we do not have to make our world about it. It is my hope that some of the tips effect you in a positive way. As with anything, find what works for you and do that.