What to Do When Anxiety Strikes

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What to Do When Anxiety Strikes

It is easy to feel overpowered and overwhelmed by stressful things in life. There are a lot of things going on in the world around us that can cause suffering, and feel uninvited and beyond our direct control. This means that feelings of anxiety are a regular part of being human.

However, these feelings are often not helpful, especially when the feeling of panic becomes too strong, to the point that it becomes difficult to function in the world around you. Anxiety can make your mind race, reflecting on scary situations over and over until it becomes difficult to think about anything else.

It can disrupt your sleep, cause headaches and upset stomach, and make you feel lightheaded with a racing heart. The key to making anxiety easier to deal with is to change the things you can, and learn to accept the things you can’t.

Why Anxiety Feels So Strong:
Anxiety is generated as part of the body’s “fight or flight” mechanism. When you encounter something that generates fear, your body amps itself up to prepare, generating adrenaline to motivate you for action, prepare you to face the threat, and have more strength to complete your tasks.

When early humans lived in threat of predators, this could be a life-saving bodily response. It can continue to be useful today, helping us prepare and have more energy for facing difficult tasks. The problem comes when fear is generated when it’s not needed, or to levels that end up hindering your functioning. Those are the times when it is helpful to dedicate your energy to calming yourself down, bringing your attention to your body and mind so you can work to calm yourself down, undoing the work caused by a rush of adrenaline.

Get Real:
Draw your attention to what is right in front of you. Anxiety becomes overwhelming and unhelpful at precisely the moment it makes you draw in on your feelings and ignore the other things that are really going on around you. Drawing your attention to your surroundings can be a really helpful way of helping you cope, and bringing your anxiety down.

One helpful exercise is called “grounding,” where you try to find five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This will help bring your focus to the present moment, and distract your mind away from worry. It may also be helpful to think about your own body and self. You can think carefully about your breath, and focus on it, causing it to slow down, in a way that can often bring a great deal of relief.

Examine Your Thoughts:
Anxiety is sustained by catastrophic thinking. The anxious brain can easily shift over to the worst case scenario, and then refuse to leave your mind alone, playing over and over again the possibility that things are at their worse, or that you are in great danger.

Often, the truth is that your thoughts and fears are not tied to the reality in front of you. The truth is that things are fine, you are doing better than you fear, and any challenges are not insurmountable. Remind yourself that your fears are not coming from a truthful place. It may be especially helpful to spend some time dwelling on positive experiences or good things in your life or environment right now.

For many people, negative feelings or sensations can be easier to dwell on than positive ones, and so you might have to make a special effort to let those thoughts really “sink in.” Taking the time to think carefully about what you are thinking, and evaluate how it lines up with reality is an important way to help reduce your anxiety.