Intervention Skills to Calm Your Anxiety
It is estimated that approximately 40,000,000 American suffer from an anxiety disorders, especially generalize anxiety and panic disorder. Sometimes general “talk therapy” fails to help improve your condition; you may need cognitive-behavioral therapy with research-based mindfulness skills or dialectical behavior therapy. CBT, MBSR, ACT and DBT are the evidence-based, recommended therapies here. Generally psychodynamic therapies
take way too long to bring about positive effects; meanwhile YOUR suffering continues. I have listed below several action-based skills (cognitive and behavioral activation techniques) that might be helpful to you. You will need to practice these approaches – no quick fixes. Some people also benefit from carefully prescribed and monitored medications. Although the biological interventions is often the first effort in primary care and psychiatry, I suggest you may be better off with trying psychological skills-based interventions first. No negative side-effects.
- Mindfulness of the Present Moment is very important. Anxiety is often future-oriented, and depression is sometimes past-oriented. When you feel anxiety coming on, stop and place your complete awareness (intention and attention) into the present moment of the experience. Allow it; observe it: and, activate skills like calm breathing to reduce the suffering effects.
- In more serious suffering, for example panic attacks, you may apply the skills noted in #1 above AND remain highly cognitive. Although it feels like you could die, you will not. In fact you may want to reframe what is happening right now. You are experiencing very strong fight-or-fight reactions in your body and mind. Remain focused on it, and recognize strongly that the F-F reaction is actually in place to keep you alive and functioning. Ground yourself, breathe calmly, and re-focus attention on your capacity to limit the attack and/or shorten its duration.
- Get back into cognitive mode by re-cecking your anxious thoughts about some up-coming situation. Be in charge, cognitively. Do your best to change the valance of your thoughts from negative to neutral or positive. Work to convince yourself that “I can do this!”
- Learn and use various relaxation-oriented breathing techniques common in mindfulness, meditation, and yoga. Deep calm breathing, slightly extending the exhalation, and using imagination to feel the calming breath moving through you – nose, chest, lungs, stomach. If you suffer from untreated or poorly-treated trauma, or if you have some type of polyvagal system malfunction, deep calm breathing may actually make you more anxious. Sometimes clinicians suggest that you breathe into and out of a paper bag. See if that works for you.
- When your body and limbic brain area are on “out-of-control mode, try the 3-3-3 process. Go to your sense and name three things YOU see and hear; then simply name and make attentional contact with three neutral parts of your body. This should ground you.
- Do something different! Complete some simple task to get your mind off of the anxiety-provoking conditions and body feelings. Behavioral activation can be helpful here.
- As ancient mindfulness texts suggested, change your body posture. Stand up, walk around, sit down, lay down – skip if you want to. Once your body takes over in a task, your anxiety may diminish.
- Do not self-medicate your anxiety with alcohol or other depressant drugs, food, sexual behavior, or isolation. Eat less sugars of all types, and reduce all caffeine intake.
- Socialize if you are able to do so. This can be especially helpful if you are with people who care about you.
- Humor may help. Smiling and laughing causes brain-based changes that may curb your anxiety (and depression).
- If not doing so now, seriously consider regular (daily if possible) practice of meditation, yoga, tai chi or qi gong. For many people, these practices reduce anxiety.
- If you are in psychological or medical treatment, but it is not working – get a second opinion or change your provider to someone more expert in anxiety disorders.
For more information refer to Quintiliani, A. R. (2014). Mindful Happiness…Shelburne, VT: Vermont Voices Press. You may want to refer to Chansky, T. E. (2012). Freeing Yourself From Anxiety…Cambridge, MA: Life Long- Perseus Books. See also Hughes, L. (March 8, 2017). How to Stop Feeling Anxious Right Now. WebMD.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness