Your heart starts racing, you feel your chest caving in on itself, your thoughts are scrambled. Maybe you freeze, maybe you drop to the floor, maybe your eyes well with tears.
The reality is, more than 284 million people in the world suffer from anxiety disorders, and even more experience symptoms of anxiety at some point in their life. Anxiety is, in simple terms, a survival response. It is a reaction to a threat, or even perceived threat, to our safety or state of mind. Without anxiety, the human species may not have even survived as long as it has, and it definitely would not have thrived. In a way, anxiety is beneficial to us, it warns us of danger, it triggers the fight or flight response, it can save your life. However, people who experience an excess of anxiety can have deeply affected lives, and it can become debilitating. When any small thing can trigger a panic attack, when the body is NOT actively in danger, but your brain tells you it is, these things really start to build up into an almost sort of trauma. The result of this “trauma” can actually cause a cycle of panic, especially as you experience it more and more. You start to fear your next attack. You may even create the very situation you’re trying to avoid.
In this blog, I want to delve into some coping mechanisms I have been taught over the years, through my own research, experience, and through counseling. Some of these things may seem obvious, some may seem silly, some may seem impossible. These are not one size fits all solutions, and if you do not resonate with a tip, you should not try to force yourself to do it.
1. Question your thought pattern. – What exactly are you feeling, don’t just describe the physical feelings, what are you feeling emotionally? What has triggered this emotion? Why are you afraid of this emotion or situation? Break things down into tiny little answers, and try to look at things objectively, as if you were listening to a friend explain their own symptoms. How would you reassure them? What would you say to them? If its different from what you would say to yourself, why? When you start to rationalize with your emotional brain, it can help your reasonable mind come to the surface.
2. Practice controlled breathing exercises. – I posted a little about this a few days ago, but controlled breathing can be a great way to slow your racing heart, and mind. The 4-7-8 technique is one of my favorites to use. To start, find somewhere comfortable to sit or lie down, and focus on sitting up straight, or laying out straight, with good posture. This is especially important in the beginning. Rest the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, just behind your teeth, and keep it there for the duration of the exercise. It may be difficult at first to exhale with your tongue on the roof of your mouth, but it gets easier with practice.
The following steps should all be carried out in the cycle of one breath:
- First, let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound,
exhaling completely through your mouth.
- Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your
nose as you count to four in your head.
- Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.
- Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight
These steps should be repeated for at least 4 cycles. Make sure before practicing this exercise that you are fully prepared to go into a deep state of relaxation. It can even help you fall to sleep.
3. Go for a walk, or even just step outside into fresh air. – A change of scenery can really help snap your brain back to reality, especially if you focus on your senses while you transition. What are you seeing, what colors, textures, etc.? What do you hear? Is the wind whistling through the sky? Can you hear noise from the roadways near you? What can you smell? Is the air crisp like a cold winter day? Does is smell like the rain? Can you smell any plant life or food being prepared? Focusing on your senses can really help to ground you, it helps to keep dissociation at bay, and help you realize what is reality and what is your brain overreacting.
4. Write down your thoughts. – Sometimes, writing down what you’re feeling can feel liberating. It can feel as if you’re getting the emotions out of your head and onto the paper, which can make those emotions feel less intimidating. Journaling is one of my favorite ways to release some of the tension that anxiety can create.
5. Watch something that will make you laugh, or at least smile. – They say laughter is the best medicine, and while this tip will not work every time, it can be a quick way to distract your from your thoughts and triggers. Do you have a favorite cat video? Watch it and remember the way you felt the first time you saw it. Maybe your favorite video is a funny dad/daughter dance on tiktok, enjoy that dance video babe! Sometimes I feel like its wrong of me to make myself laugh when I’m feeling anxious or depressed, but that’s just the bully in your head telling you that you can’t be happy. Let yourself laugh.
As always, these tips are not meant to replace professional mental health care, and I strongly believe in therapy to help you learn the best ways for you to cope. Ways that are curated for you, which a good mental health counselor should be able to do for you. Therapy can be difficult to get into, but most cities have resources for low income/free mental health care, so always look around to see who can help you find the therapist for you. You deserve to be healthy, happy, and anxiety free.