For many of us, anxiety is an ingrained part of our lives and we don’t even notice it. I live with anxiety in varying degrees on a daily basis. Some days it’s worse than others, and I have to find ways of coping with it.
There are many things that can send anxiety through the roof, including but not limited to: Social situations, going to places and doing things that are unfamiliar, financial concerns, relationship worries, children, stress at work, travel, confrontation, too much caffeine, politics, the environment, mean people, other people’s anxiety—yes, anxiety can be contagious, mental health issues, sex, and that’s just the start. Is it any wonder experiencing anxiety through the roof is so common?
Even if your anxiety is through the roof, there are ways to calm it. So I put it out to some experts to hear what they suggested as a way to lessen the impact of anxiety.
If Your Anxiety is Through the Roof, Here’s What You Do
Recognize what’s happening:
When anxiety is through the roof, it can mimic other issues—some very serious such as heart attacks, and others not as concerning like the flu. When you’re clear on what you’re dealing with, you may be able to soothe yourself and calm down. “Face it, work with it, and learn from it,” says coach, speaker, and former aerialist, Casandra Pavolic. “Look at it for what it is, work with it and not against it. This is an opportunity to learn what triggers cause this anxiety.”
Focus in on your breathing. You don’t have to do anything fancy, just breathe in and out. “To start with, it’s important to breathe,” says psychotherapist Natalija Rascotina. “This sends oxygen to the brain, which is key for relaxation and calms down the amygdala. The amygdala is a specific part of the brain that governs our ‘animal’ response to fear. The amygdala is the reason why we are afraid of things outside of our control. Simple breathing and thought exercises can help control this part of the brain, which is fundamental for dealing with anxiety.”
We can give anxiety control over our lives, or we can empower ourselves. “Anxiety seems to have control over us, especially a panic attack, but it doesn’t have to be like this,” says Tasha Mayberry, positive living coach. When on the rare occasion she gets anxiety, she has a routine that she follows. “I say out loud ‘I am feeling anxiety right now.’ [Next step is to] tell another person ‘I am feeling anxious right now, but I will stop it,’ (believe that you can, and you will). Designate an action that you can take, and after you do this certain action, your anxiety will go away.”
Put your attention on your physical body:
Your body tells the truth, even when you’re not ready to listen. “When you notice anxiety creeping in, focus all of your attention on your physical body and notice where you are holding the tension that the anxiety is causing,” suggests leadership coach and author, Keith Macpherson. “Is it [the anxiety] in your chest, belly, head? Where are you physically feeling it the most? Once you locate it, take a few deep breaths and imagine each breath washing away the tension and dissolving all of the anxiety that was felt in that area of your body.”
Recalibrate your thinking:
Stop for a moment and remember that even if your anxiety is through the roof, you’re not anxiety, anxiety is something that’s happening to you. “When we recognize that our anxious feelings come from our anxious thoughts we give ourselves the opportunity to change it up,” says licensed mental health counselor Victoria Tarbell. “Ask yourself is what I’m thinking true? Is it helpful? If the answer to one or both of these questions is ‘no,’ experiment with changing up that inner dialogue. Give yourself some more supportive and encouraging statements and see how this impacts how you feel.” Don’t overthink the situation; it will only make it worse.
When your anxiety is through the roof, it’s not helpful for you to go from recognizing that you’re feeling anxious to thinking you’re going to have a heart attack. You are having some anxiety; you can handle it. It’s not helpful for you to think of the worst-case scenario. You don’t want to get stuck in an endless loop of “what ifs.” You want to calm your anxiety; not intensify it.
If you can, go somewhere where you can be alone and won’t be interrupted. Close your eyes and think about each step of the task or activity that’s making you anxious. Picture it in as much detail as you can. Try to put you in that place as if it’s actually happening. “Visualizing success is 90 percent of the battle, “says Shauna Jain, MD, FRCP. “Remember what the mind can see, the body can achieve.”
Experiencing anxiety through the roof is hard—it’s hard on your body, on your mind, and on your emotions. If you blame yourself, then that’s not going to make the situation any better. Now is the time to have some compassion and show yourself a little kindness. “It’s all too easy to be hard on ourselves when we’re feeling anxious, isn’t it,” asks Rev. Connie L. Habash, LMFT. “We think we shouldn’t feel this way. We may believe that everyone else seems to have it together and we don’t—just get over it! But these reactions simply increase our agitation. Instead, hold yourself with the kind of caring and compassion that you’d want from your best friend.”
Say thank you:
Instead of treating your anxiety as the enemy, try a new tactic and honor the feeling. “You’re entitled to your experience. Anxiety tends to surface when you’re upset or stressed anyway, so kindly assure yourself these feelings are valid. Talk to them like a frightened friend expressing frantic concern for your safety,” says coach and author, R. Jade McAuliffe. “Say, ‘Thank you, I understand your concern and know you’re only trying to protect me. I’m safe right now so you don’t have to worry. I’ve got this.”
Grounding is a technique that uses all five of your senses to connect to the present to feel safe. Grounding can be done several ways but Alyssa Prete, LMHC suggests, “You either describe an object you are holding or can see in the room using your senses (what does it feel like, what might it taste like, etc.) or name one thing you currently smell, see, etc.”
Victoria Tarbell adds, “Anxious feelings typically start with an anxious thought, where we are fully aware of that thought or not. So, getting out of our heads by intentionally engaging our senses can slow our anxious minds down just enough to allow that tough moment to pass. The cool thing about this strategy is that our senses are always with us, so we can do this any time, any place!”
Talk to someone:
Never underestimate the power of expressing your feelings out loud. Talking to a therapist or a friend can help give you a new perspective on your anxiety and illuminate some ways to handle it that you might not have thought of on your own. If you suppress anxiety, especially if your anxiety is through the roof, it will only empower it.
“Find a supportive friend, family member, and/or therapist to process your anxious feelings with,” advises Tarbell. “When we share what’s weighing heavily on our minds and hearts, it allows for the potential of some of that weight to move around and be lifted. Know that you don’t have to go through anything alone—there are always people who want to help and are willing to listen.”
Rather than overthinking about a potentially anxious situation and then getting overpowered by it, make a plan on how you’ll deal with it in the future. Cassandra Pavolic says, “If you know ahead of time, you’re about to do something that may set off those anxious feelings, a little preparation will ease the mind and calm your nerves.” Consider what methods have helped you in the past and what your coping skills are, then you can put any kind of emotional backup plan in place.
Participate in activities you enjoy:
There’s nothing better to get out of your head than to do things that you like to do. Experiencing anxiety through the roof can feel like a punishment, so to counterbalance those feelings, do something fun and connect with your inner child. When you’re enjoying yourself, anxiety may have a harder time getting its hooks into you.
Writing down your feelings is an invaluable tool. The process of putting words on a page is therapeutic and helpful to get your thoughts in order. “Giving yourself space to meaningfully reflect on what’s contributing to your anxious thoughts and feelings can be incredibly grounding,” says Tarbell.
“Journaling will not only be an outlet for your anxiety at the moment you’re experiencing it, but will also help you develop insight and better manage your anxiety in the future. Sometimes just the simple act of taking pen to paper with the intention of checking in with yourself is exactly what’s needed!”
Clearing your mind is like doing a brain detox. “It’s been scientifically proven that daily consistent meditation, even just for five minutes, can improve your stress levels, calm your nervous system, improve your mood and your sleep quality, and keep anxiety at bay,” says Kelly Diciero, founder and CEO of Yoga for Balance.
Change your environment:
Sometimes physically changing your location can help alter your mindset in a positive way. “If I feel anxiety and I’m sitting down working, I get up and change my environment. I step into another room. Stepping outside is the best option,” says Tasha Mayberry. “Even putting on one of your favorite songs, videos, or shows works well. Anything to get your mind on something else and not the panic feeling you are experiencing.” Try to make your environment as comfy and cozy as possible—a place where you can relax and feel safe.
There will always be moments where you feel anxious, but developing ways to preempt mild anxiety before it becomes anxiety through the roof will help you cut down those times and help you to take control of your life and your feelings.