How to Calm Yourself From an Anxiety Crisis
Sometimes life just gets overwhelming. An anxiety crisis can seem to come from nowhere, or what initially started as a low-level worry can build its way into becoming a full-blown attack of nauseating angst. The triggers might be obvious or seemingly innocuous, yet suddenly you can barely think straight but for the crushing weight of life itself. Between work, family commitments, studies, parenthood, and myriad other expectations from all different angles, an anxiety attack can leave you feeling trapped and terrified about everything you’re carrying on your shoulders and all that you cannot control.
The problem with an anxiety attack is that it makes us lose perspective. Physiologically, the body thinks it is in mortal danger, even if rationally you know that no one will die if you don’t tick off everything on your to-do list right away. Even when there are huge, scary things going on in your life, an anxiety attack will not help you deal with them; rather, this intense flood of stress hormones will have you flailing about without purpose or solution, caught up ruminating on obsessive or intrusive thoughts. This is why the first thing to do is ground yourself and calm your nervous system.
Do This Now: Find A Way Back To Yourself
Come back to the present moment with an intervention technique such as the 5-4-3-2-1 method. This involves looking around you and identifying five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Counting ten deep breaths might just do the trick, or you can take a 10-minute time-out to reach for one of your go-to self-care practices if you need. This could be something like blasting your favorite song, going outside to stand on the earth with your bare feet, applying some lavender oil to your pulse points, or cuddling your pet if you have one.
Do This Today: Get Your Body Moving
Go for a walk, stretch out your tension areas, or pummel a boxing bag – do anything that shifts your energy. Your anxiety might tell you that there’s no time, but consider the possibility that you’ll get tasks done quicker and more effectively when you are in a calmer headspace. Five minutes of movement medicine could save you 20 minutes of staring at the screen in existential dread, or several hours of ruminating over every single possible outcome for all the problems you are facing.
To Do This Week: Lay Out All Your Fears
There are several approaches to unpacking the root of your anxiety. You can do it alone through journaling, or by voice-noting yourself if you prefer a spoken over written approach. List out all of the different things that are cramming your brain with worry, guilt, shame, frustration, and sadness. Follow the thread of each one to its worst-case conclusion. What are you most afraid will happen? Laying out and examining our deepest fears is brave work, but it takes so much of the power away from those fears. Write down all of the nasty things your inner critic is saying about your capabilities, and then respond with the same compassion you would give your best friend. If you don’t even know where to start, then find a qualified therapist, counselor, or wellbeing coach to support your journey.
Do This Month: Start Managing Your Mental Health
The one good thing that can be taken away from an anxiety crisis is a lesson about the repercussions of ignoring your own needs. It’s like an intervention from your body that says “Hey! This lifestyle is not sustainable!” Ignoring our own needs can lead to acute injuries and chronic illness, so this is your chance to start looking after yourself in a way that will protect against future anxiety crises and other health problems. Start by examining your relationship with the four pillars of healthy living: exercise, nutrition, relaxation, and sleep. These all feed into each other, but getting nourishing, restorative rest is a particularly unheeded area of well-being that modern life deprives us of. Commit to finding some practices that you can build into your daily, weekly, and monthly schedule – and hold them absolutely sacred. Not only will this build your resilience, but you’ll soon begin to notice positive outcomes in your work and personal life that your anxiety couldn’t even have imagined.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Mind-Body Interventions for Anxiety Disorders; Self-help strategies for sub-threshold anxiety; Polyvagal Theory: A Primer.
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