Whether it’s through a diagnosed anxiety disorder or from generalized stress about an upcoming event or temporary apprehension triggered by a situation that will resolve itself over time; anxiety is a common experience that many people will encounter.
Feelings of overwhelm, fear, situational depression or experiencing prolonged stressors can leave us exhausted and frayed. Anxiety symptoms like shortness of breath, sweating, dry mouth, distress, difficulty concentrating, etc can use up a lot of mental and physical energy. So what coping mechanisms can help us work through an anxiety attack?
There are a number of anxiety relief techniques that can provide a way to self-soothe and calm our nerves. One I’ve found incredibly effective recently when dealing with sudden, unexpected bouts of anxiety is using a distraction method, also referred to as grounding. This is a strategy that aims to refocus the mind away from trying to challenge/get control of emotions and feelings. It’s a way of redirecting attention; giving the mind a chance to settle into a more manageable response.
It’s worth noting that distraction techniques are not a one-size-fits-all approach to easing anxiety symptoms. It won’t be ideal for everyone, and its effectiveness will fluctuate at times; coping with anxiety and depression isn’t simple or formulaic. As a tactic, however, it can be utilized immediately; allowing it a decent chance at disrupting an anxiety loop (attack).
If you’re concerned about your anxiety and it’s impeding your ability to go about your daily life, seek advice from a medical professional. Helplines are included at the end of this article.
Here are some useful ways you can ground yourself …
When You’re At Home
- Clean, organize or sort an area of your home, garden or the room you’re in. Ordering things helps focus attention on what you’re doing rather than what you’re experiencing/feeling. It provides direction for your mind and may lessen the anxiety enough to pass.
- Doing something innovative can also redirect our minds in a calming way. Doodling, drawing a picture (it doesn’t need to be a work of art) colouring in, knitting or journaling, for example, are quick and convenient creative ways to help reset our emotional and physical stress responses.
- Have a very cold drink or place an ice pack that’s wrapped in a tea towel on the back of your neck (always have ice and/or ice packs in your freezer ready to go). The cold provides the body with an alternative sensation to focus on rather than how we may be physically responding to the anxiety we’re experiencing. Notice or describe to yourself how it feels on your neck, arms and face, etc.
- Undertaking gentle and calming physical activity will reduce the build-up of cortisol, our bodies main stress hormone and release endorphins, our feel-good hormone. Doing some bed yoga, stretches or walking outside are all positive examples of various exercises that can help improve anxiety and our general mental/physical well-being.
When You’re At Home Or Out In Public
- Practice some focused breathing; if you can, find somewhere suitable to sit, relax/lower your shoulders, steady breath in through the nose for 3 seconds, out through the mouth for 4 seconds, repeat. This will help settle your breathing and relax your mind/body, plus counting breaths in and out will provide the brain with something to concentrate on. There are many breathing techniques that can help reduce anxiety; I use the one outlined above because it’s simple and will likely go unnoticed if I have to do it in the presence of other people.
- A classic grounding technique is counting. By noticing the number of red cars or letters on a poster, books on a shelf or cans of soup at a store, etc; the brain is drawn to categorizing what’s around it and naturally concentrates on what you’re seeking. You can count anything that’s around you — but if that’s too visually stimulating or you’re visually impaired, recite sequential numbers in your head; I use the nine times tables (forwards and backwards).
- Similar to counting, categorizing things around you in terms of colour, type, size, etc is a great mental distraction. Noticing things within a theme can help your brain refocus and find some calm. If this is also too visually stressful or you’re visually impaired, think about categories of things you like (favourite food/smells/musical artists/songs or most calming textures or sensations, for example).
Living with anxiety can be really difficult so it’s important to find someone you can talk to. Every so often, a trusted friend or family member is all you need to cope with whatever is thrown your way. But talking about anxiety isn’t the most straightforward thing to manage. For those of us who experience it, anxiety often carries an incredible weight and fear that we’re being a burden to those around us; always remember the people who care about us want to see us thrive.
However, if you feel you can’t talk to family or friends, please check out the helplines and resources listed below. You deserve support — remember to be kind to yourself when dealing with the complexities and nuances of anxiety.
Further Info & Support:
NAMI Helpline – a free, nationwide U.S. resource that offers experienced peer-support guidance and advice
CheckPoint – global (by country) resources for mental health support
How To Help Someone With Anxiety – Hopkins Medicine