Updated: Mar 27, 2018
It's something we all experience - that panicky sense that something is not right, which always begins somewhere in our abdomen. The familiar feeling of agitation building, which may due to a certain set of stimuli, like traffic or an annoying coworker, or something far deeper and darker within yourself that you can't control.
These feelings can quickly spiral into full blown anxiety or panic attacks, especially if you're prone to getting them. The crippling sensations include shortness of breath, racing heart, jittery hands, falling tears, heat flashes, tightening of muscles, and more.
You are not alone. Anxiety is a phenomenon that affects so many of us and the numbers just keep growing, which I believe, is a result of the standard western lifestyle people all over the world are pressured into leading.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety from the age of about fifteen years old and who's anxiety got so bad at a certain point, local authorities were forced to intervene, I get how debilitating anxiety can be. Please see the following techniques I use to sooth my anxiety attacks as they're happening. I hope they provide with the same relief they've provided me.
Tips I Use to Sooth My Anxiety Right Now
Some of these methods feel like they're taking you out of the present moment. Interestingly, they're actually solidifying your position in the here and now by separating your Self from your anxiety. There is no one method that works best for me. As with everything, it depends on my mood and the day. Try the following to see which techniques prove most effective for you.
Use my mind creatively - I usually do this by food styling, writing my journal, and coloring. Other options include: knitting, playing an instrument, creating a piece of jewelry, etc. The key is to do something that uses your hands and puts you in a meditative, or even trance-like, state. Not only will it distract you from your symptoms of anxiety, it will also just calm you down. By the time you stop, you'll be surprised to find yourself more at ease.
Focusing on my breath - To do this, i like to lie down with my left hand on my heart and right hand on my belly and practice deep belly breathing. With each inhale, feel your stomach and diaphragm rise and expand and with each exhale, relax and release. Notice the sensation of your breath on your upper lip. Aim to make your breath long and steady, and for extra benefits make your exhale longer. This will help bring you back to the parasympathetic state, which calms down your nerves.
Counting Breath - Some people like to count their breath because it helps activate the neocortex, the logical part of our brains, which is being overridden by the amygdala, the emotional part, while facing anxiety. To practice this Relaxing or 4-7-8 Breath, inhale for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts, and exhale for 8 counts. You can also just count your inhale as long as it lasts and then double the count of your exhale, for a simpler option.
Alternate Nostril Breathing - For this technique, take your right hand and place your thumb on your right nostril and ring and pinky fingers on your left. Inhale and exhale. Inhale. Close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale fully through your left. Inhale through your left nostril and then close it with your ring and pinky fingers. Exhale through your right nostril. Repeat this several times. This method reduces anxiety by calming and rejuvenating the nervous system.
Adding - When we face anxiety, its hard to focus on anything else but that anxiety. Notice it without fighting it. Hold that sensation but also notice the book in front of you. Now you have your anxious feeling plus the book. Hold your awareness of both. What else can you add? Birds chirping, the picture frame with a family photo, the feeling of your body making contact with your bed, the smell of your laundry, the bathroom fan, your yoga mat, etc. Keep adding things from your surrounding and notice how they ground you in the present moment. Has this shifted your perspective? Does your anxiety or frustration suddenly feel smaller?
Get Moving - Walking and yoga are always my go-to because they kind of combine all of the aforementioned suggestions. You can use your mind to think creative thoughts, add in what you see, smell, or feel in your surroundings, and focus on your breath. Also, expending physical energy in your body releases anxiety from the mind.
Do more of what you love - When a friend comes to you with advice, you soothe them. You can do this for yourself, too. If you love to cook, cook! If you love a certain artist, listen to some of his/her music. Show yourself compassion and care as you would another person.
Feel the Feels - It's okay not to be okay and just realizing and accepting that, alone, can bring you one step closer to calm. You're only human and its normal to not be happy all the time. When you're anxious, don't try fight it and definitely don't judge or beat yourself up for it. Try breathe through it and be nice to yourself.
Remember: "This Too Shall Pass" - One of the worst aspects of anxiety, for me at least, is the feeling of not knowing when it'll pass, feeling stuck in your own body and feeling hopeless and at a total loss of control. Recognizing that everything, including your anxiety, is impermanent (or nothing is permanent :p) may provide you with some relief. Before you know it, you'll feel much better.
Preventative Lifestyle Recommendations that Lead to Less Anxiety
Countless studies have proven that implementing the following lifestyle guidelines into your daily life
Developing a daily meditation practice
Limiting time using technology, especially Social Media
Consuming a diet high in healthy fats, green veggies, and fiber
Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption
Being mindful of your breathing and moods throughout the day
Keep a journal to release some mental energy and keep track of your emotions
Find a sense of purpose & do more of what you love
Develop a healthy morning and nighttime routine
Adopt a pet (if this is realistic for you, of course)