When your mind, body, and soul are feeling stressed, it can manifest in the form of anxiety. In Canada, over 25 percent of people suffer from the uncomfortable, and often debilitating, effects of anxiety.
Anxiety can look completely different for everyone who is experiencing it. One person may feel stomach pain, while someone else may feel muscle fatigue. For me, anxiety takes on the form of intense pressure in my chest. My breathing becomes heavy and it feels as though the air in my lungs has turned into tar. Agitation consumes me and manifests in my lower back. The smallest discrepancies can send me into a fit of ruthless rage. I’ll pick fights with my friends and family through snarky and savage remarks, all the while knowing I’m being irrational, but not knowing how to stop.
It is not only exhausting for me, but for everyone around me too. If you want to take back some of the control in your life that anxiety has taken from you, then try these five tips for calming yourself down when you’re starting to feel anxious. I’m not a doctor in any way whatsoever, but I find that these strategies work really well for me, personally.
The first step in calming yourself down during an anxiety attack is to acknowledge what you’re feeling. When you start to feel agitated or the physical pain starts to trickle its way through your body. Give yourself a chance to notice and acknowledge, “I’m starting to feel anxious”.
You don’t need to figure out exactly what has made you anxious, because often it is something irrational, and that’s okay. Right now, all that matters is that you pay attention to how you are feeling. Once you’ve done that, you can start to work on a coping strategy that works for you.
2. The 4 of 4 method
One day I was going for a walk with my dog and a car drove by really fast. The sound of the zooming engine and the screeching tires triggered my anxiety. My chest tightened, my knees started to hurt, and I just could not catch my breath. Even though I was walking at a leisurely pace, my body felt like I had run an entire marathon. I started to panic because I was so far from home and I didn’t want to faint in the middle of the sidewalk with my dog.
I remembered reading in a book once that a great way to keep yourself calm is to be completely in the moment, so I thought I’d give this a try. I sat on the curb of the sidewalk and for the first time, I tried what I call the 4 of 4 method.
To use the 4 of 4 method, you must tap into four of your senses. To begin, close your eyes and name four sounds that you hear. Can you hear the birds chirping? Are there cars driving by? Perhaps, there are children playing nearby?
Now, open your eyes and name four sights that you can see. Is it cloudy out? Do you see cherry blossoms on the tree? Are there any planes in the sky?
Then list four things that you can feel. Is the sun warming your skin? Is there a breeze blowing through your hair? Are your bare feet comfortably nestled in your shaggy carpet?
Lastly, name four scents that you can smell. Are there flowers outside? Did someone recently spray perfume in the hallway? Be creative and really use your senses to discover senses you may not have noticed before.
If you’re still not feeling great, repeat the process as many times as needed.
3. Just breathe
You may have heard the term, “focus on your breathing”, but what does that actually mean? How do you actually focus on your breathing? Am I supposed to just continue breathing until I feel better because I feel like that seems counterproductive considering the fact that breathing becomes a struggle for me during an anxiety attack…
With that said, I’m a very visual person and with some trial and error, I found a way to take a breathing strategy and make it work wonders for calming myself down when I’m feeling anxious. Pairing breathing techniques with visualization forces me to focus my attention on the task at hand: breathing.
To try this, slowly breath in through your nose and visualize your lungs puffing and filling up with air like a balloon. Also imagine that with the air, you are bringing positive energy into your body. Breath in for as long as you can, and when you can’t fill your lungs with any more air, push it all out of your mouth as fast and as hard as you can. As you do this, imagine all of the negative feelings inside of you coming out with the air.
Personally, I imagine myself inhaling bright and colourful air, and when I exhale, I imagine the air coming out is black and cloudy. I imagine the cloud floating up and away from me. Out of sight, out of mind.
4. Mantras and Affirmations
Having a mantra or reciting daily affirmations is a wonderful way to boost morale and to manifest the mindset that you want. It is also a great way to keep yourself calm when you are starting to feel anxious. Repeating an uplifting affirmation to yourself over and over again will reset your mindset and direct your focus on to something more positive.
Your mantra or affirmations can be anything. The only rule is that they must be worded in a positive-forward way. For example, instead of saying, “I want to be happy and full of positive vibes”, phrase it like, “I AM happy and full of positive vibes”. By stating it as a fact, you are giving your affirmation more power.
The law of attraction does not understand positives or negatives. It just understands facts. If you’re constantly telling yourself, “I don’t want to feel anxious”, all the universe is going to hear is “I want to feel anxious”. If you find that you’re saying “I want to live a happy life”, the law of attraction is going to present you with situations where you are constantly “wanting” to live a happy life. However, if you start to tell yourself “I live a happy life”, the law of attraction will present you with experiences that make you feel like you are living a happy life.
When creating your mantras and affirmations, be as specific as possible and be very cautious of your wording to make sure you’re actually manifesting exactly what you want.
5. Write it out
Keeping a journal and writing out your raw feelings is a great way to keep your anxiety at bay. When you start to feel upset, transfer your thoughts and feelings on to a piece of paper. Write exactly what you’re thinking as it comes to you. Release it from your mind and let it flow through your pen and on to your paper.
Writing is also a fantastic way to track your feelings. You can use it as a tool to recognize any antecedents that caused your anxiety and for how long you’ve been feeling a certain way. This can help you to plan future coping strategies and possibly curb your anxiety attack completely.
The bottom line
Having strategies ready to go in the back of your mind will help you manage your anxiety. You may read this once and never think about it again, but you’ll be surprised at how your brain will flip through its mental library, pulling out the coping strategies you need in the moment. I hope these strategies are useful to you and help you to take back some control in your life, leaving you with a happier and more uplifting mindset.