How to calm anxiety

It can be hard to identify a trigger to your anxiety. This leads to patients assuming that there isn’t one, but that’s not true, there’s always a trigger, whether you’re just feeling a little on edge or are having a full-blown panic attack.

You see, anxiety is our body’s internal alarm system. So it is triggered whenever there is a threat to your safety, whether that threat is real or imagined. If you’re disconnected from your internal thoughts, feelings and fantasies, you become unaware when anxiety starts to rise.  I once had a client whose only clue she was anxious was if she was having a panic attack or if her skin was breaking out in eczema.

To help you to calm your anxiety I’ve put together a list of 4 steps that you can work through.

1)      Is the anxiety a result of something external or internal?

You’ll need to take a minute to look around you. Is there anything in your environment that is making you feel unsafe?

If not, then it is probably something that’s happening internally. It could be a thought, a feeling, a memory, an idea or a fantasy that is triggering a response in your mind and body. You may not even be fully conscious of it at the time.

 2)      Distinguish between the symptoms and the cause.

Think of it like this; if I have a broken arm, I can treat the symptom of pain through taking pain relief. But that is not actually going to fix the broken bone in my arm. So, focusing on the symptoms will give you short term relief, but it won’t be effective in the long run.

The same thing applies to anxiety. 

Treating the symptoms alone (and avoiding the underlying causes) won’t be effective in the long-term. Studies show that anxiety can increase over time unless these underlying causes are addressed. So, if you treat one symptom, another one will rear its ugly head.

3)      Distress Tolerance skills

Distress tolerance skills come from a type of therapy called DBT. You can use these to reset the parts of your mind that are overstimulated. This will help your mind to move away from anxiety-triggering thoughts by giving it a powerful distraction.

–          You can try changing your body temperature. This can be achieved by holding ice cubes in your hand, taking an icy shower, putting your feet into a bucket of ice or holding a heat pack or an ice pack.

–         You could get your heart racing by performing some cardio exercise. This is effective for people that tend to ruminate or overthink as it helps them to slow their mind down.

–         You could engage or startle your body’s other senses. This can be done by eating chilli, sucking on a lemon, biting into an onion or drinking a bitter coffee.

These strategies help to create a distraction and bring you back to the here and now.

4)      Hone in on the signs

Once you’ve been able to take your mind off of the initial distress,  you need to focus on your body.

What happens when you start to experience anxiety? Do you get a tightness in the chest? Or a knot in the stomach? Maybe it gets difficult to breathe? You could also feel kind of dizzy?

You’ll need to keep an eye on the symptoms, there could be more than one.

Follow the steps…

Over time, you’ll notice that the symptoms start to fade away. This happens as your nervous system starts to regulate itself. You’ll need to work through the steps, but over time it’ll get back to a normal rhythm.

Dr Jamie Barnier

About Dr Jamie

I’m a Clinical Psychologist based in Melbourne who helps adolescents and adults cope with overwhelming emotions and remove the need to numb negative feelings through food, alcohol, sex or drugs. I focus on addressing the root cause of the problem with the goal of creating happiness, peace and lasting change.

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