Ways to Cope When Anxiety Strikes
“Some days I can’t even get out of bed. I feel paralyzed by anxiety.”“It’s like my body freezes, my heart starts racing and before I know it, I’m spiraling into another panic attack.” Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. It is estimated that approximately 40 million Americans between the ages of 18–54 are affected by anxiety. Left unaddressed, anxiety can contribute to other severe health issues, including heart disease and/or depression. I work with young women and men who experience the debilitating effects of anxiety and panic attacks. As a therapist, I help clients develop tools to increase awareness and education around anxiety so that it doesn’t negatively impact their ability to thrive in social settings, relationships and work.
Here are a few of my favorite tools for coping with anxiety:
Grounding is an activity that deepens and anchors our sense of mindfulness. If you’re feeling anxious, use your five senses to name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. This activity will allow you to redirect your focus and reconnect with the present moment.
2) 4–7–8 Breathing
4–7–8 breathing is a simple exercise that activates the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for our body’s “rest and digest” response. Inhale for 4, hold for 7, and exhale for 8 seconds — this will help lower your heart rate and relax your internal organs.
3) Focus on What’s Working in Your Favor
When we’re in an anxiety spiral, it’s so easy to think of all the things that are going wrong and all the potential catastrophes that may occur. Practice challenging your brain’s natural tendency to assume the worst: name all the things you are grateful for, and all the things that are working in your favor.
4) Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing allows us to access a parasympathetic state where restoration and healing can take place. To start, inhale deeply. Press both nostrils closed with your thumb and index finger, holding your breath for a count of 3. Release your right nostril and exhale. Inhale through your right nostril, pressing the right nostril closed and releasing your index finger from your left nostril, breathing through your left nostril, then pressing the left nostril closed and releasing your thumb to exhale through your right nostril. Repeat this cycle 8–10 times or until you feel you are able to turn inward and focus only on your breath.
5) Positive Affirmations
When you recognize yourself experiencing physical symptoms of a panic attack, practice returning your thoughts to the present by stating a positive affirmation or mantra. My favorite affirmation is “In this moment, I am complete and whole.” Choose a mantra that feels simple and easy to remember and repeat when you are feeling overwhelmed.
These tools are simple, but not always easy to incorporate. Consistently practice these tools when you are not in an anxious state so that you are prepared to utilize them when anxiety kicks in. We are highly unlikely to remember or to be effective in practicing a new tool when our bodies are already in active “fight or flight” mode.
Remember, anxiety is a common response
to change and uncertainty. However, our life transitions don’t have to derail us. There are countless ways to get help, and seeking therapy can help you get clarify in finding a solution that is unique to your needs.