After a few years of dealing with anxiety (which I'm sure most people have at least some point in their lives), I've worked out ways to
cope in anxiety-inducing situations.
These tips have helped me, and I'm not saying that they will be good for everyone, but I have recommended them to some of my friends with anxiety and they've said they they have helped. Coming from a psychology background (which is what I did my degree in), anxiety is definitely a 'mind over matter' situation - it's just about controlling your thoughts in a positive way, instead of letting them ruin experiences and opportunities. There is the common theme of distraction in these tips as I've found that's what has helped me, and others, the most. I wish that when I was in the thick of it, I was given practical tips; so here you go, I hope these help you as they did me. *I must say now that I am in no way an expert, these are just personal tips that have helped me.
1. Focus on a material object
I've realised that if I look at something and focus really hard on it, such as it's colour, shape or it's uses, it takes my mind off the rising feeling of anxiety and gives me something else to concentrate on. I've done this so many times and there will always inevitably be some sort of object around you such as a book, a purse or even a gear stick! Really focus on the details until your anxiety reduces and you feel more calm.
2. Move a part of your body in a rhythmic, repetitive way
What I like to do is cross my legs and bob my right leg (the one that is on top of my left) up and down. This encourages me to focus on keeping a rhythm going in another part of my body and basically gives me something to do. It distracts me from what is really going on (a racing heartbeat, sweaty hands and finding it difficult to breath) and I've found that this works really well - I've been doing this for years; in lectures, at meals when I'm with unfamiliar people, even on the bus on the way to somewhere. I sometimes also rub my left thumb with my right thumb over and over and that helps to take my mind off things, too.
3. Remember - I'm okay
Panic is just our body's way of saying 'shit, I'm in danger here'. It dates back to years and years ago, where we would come across a threat (eg. a tiger) and would have to fight or flight. Some of us channel that adrenaline in a positive way, and some of us fear it. I, for one, fear it, therefore anxiety creeps up on me. I then have to keep telling myself, in mantra form, 'I'm okay, I'm fine, nothing is going to hurt me, I'm safe'. I've found that when I tell myself this, I start to relax and the anxiety dissipates.
4. Be mindful of your surroundings
It's amazing how much us anxiety-sufferers live in the mind. I've been told so many times by my boyfriend to try and not catastrophise and to realise what is really happening right now. And it's true. We forget to look around us and focus on the things around us so much because we are too busy imagining the worst possible thing that can happen to us. So my tip is to look around you, live in the moment and recognise that there is no danger. It might help to try and listen in on a conversation or to smell something familiar (eg. I have a 'This Works Stress Less Rollerball' which I sniff every time I'm anxious - I never travel without it).
5. Make sure someone you're with knows how you get in stressful situations
It's so important to talk to other people about your feelings, which is obvious I know, but even more so when dealing with anxiety. I can't tell you the amazing feeling of a weight being lifted off my shoulders when I started telling people about how I 'get' when in certain situations. The more people are aware, the less pent up anxiety there is, as I think to myself 'well, since they know how I get, there isn't the added anxiety of 'oh crap, they're going to wonder what's going on with me when I'm freaking out''.
6. Look at the sky
This is a very personal one and may not work for everyone, but looking at the sky (where possible) really helps me as it makes me feel free. I can imagine myself as a very small being in a big world and that there are bigger problems than my current situation, and this really helps me so much. It's more a perspective thing and makes me realise that my current state is only temporary. I also just think the sky is pretty beautiful and I've associated it with feeling calm. That's actually another tip; find something that you associate with relaxation and try to ensure it's something you will always have at hand.
7. Remember past victories
I've overcome so many stressful situations that I would never have thought I'd be able to do! An example of this is that 4 years ago, me sitting in a cinema would have caused a ridiculous amount of anxiety, whereas now I don't even think about it. Now this is because I've practised these tips and also because I constantly remind myself that I have done this before and can therefore do it again. Remembering past victories and successes is so important at giving things another shot and being able to do them again.
I found an amazing book a few years ago called 'The Little Book of Mindfulness' and it was the first book that ever gave me the idea and the confidence to practise meditation. It makes it seem so easy and also includes lots of other tips for staying calm. Meditation is extremely important for calming the mind. Sometimes we forget to take care of our mind as we're too busy with our lives - or even too busy exercising our bodies - but our wellbeing is equally, if not more, important. I was always so sceptical of meditating but I do it the night/morning before I know I have a stressful or anxiety-inducing situation coming up, and it really helps to clear the mind and focus on positive things. Many people don't realise that you can also meditate on a bus, on a bench, anywhere really (obviously not when driving etc!) but you don't need to be in your living room to do it. Meditation can also be from anywhere between 5 minutes to 5 hours (and more) - you just need to be willing to give it a go.
9. Try not to use the term 'panic attack'
One of the worst things I ever did was dub myself as having 'panic attacks'. The term itself is just bloody scary. The term 'panic' already makes my heart go, and the term 'attack' is completely irrelevant as there is nothing attacking you when you're feeling anxious! So putting those two words together was a match made in anxiety heaven as they induce so many negative feelings. Try to think of yourself as having an overreactive system - one that feels emotions strongly and reacts to them unwillingly, but a system that you can control.
10. Control your breathing
And finally, the most important tip (in my opinion) is to control your breathing. This means listening to your breathing, recognising that it is going too fast, slowing it down by taking long, deep breaths in and out, and recognising the slowing of your heartbeat and relaxation that then follows. It honestly feels amazing. Something so simple as this can virtually make my anxiety disappear within a few minutes. The reason we feel anxiety is because when we begin to panic, our heart rate speeds up as we feel as though we're in danger. This then makes us worry even more as we feel as though we are in danger due to our fast heart beat! It's a viscious circle that unfortunately only the anxiety sufferer can break - but what an incredible thought it is to think that we have the power to control this with a simple breathing technique.
Please let me know if any of these tips help you, or even if you have any tips of your own. If you'd prefer not to comment, then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org as I'd like to hear of your experiences.
As I said before, I'm no expert, but these tips do help me.
As I said before, I'm no expert, but these tips do help me.
You're in control, your anxiety does not control you.