There are many ways how to calm yourself down when in the grip of fear. Depending on whether it’s acute panic or ongoing lingering anxiety, read through the tools available and pick only one that seems right for that particular moment.
Don’t read the suggestions as a to-do list. Try each one at different occasions and settle for what works best for you.
Babies want to be held when they are in distress. When that’s not possible, they stick their thumb in their mouth. It’s called self-soothing.
Touch is healing. If no one is around who can provide a hug or hold your hand, be still and put your hands over your eyes. Or on your heart. Or your temples. Whatever feels right. Stay there for a little while and notice the tension going away.
Focus on your breath. Notice any small occurrences, like the cool air going into your nostrils and warmer air coming back out. Feel your belly rise and fall. Try to make a subtle whispering sound in your throat when you inhale and exhale. It will draw the attention away from your thoughts and into your body.
If you have chronic anxiety, be in nature regularly. Take a walk in the woods. Sit by a brook. Feed the ducks in the park. There is nothing as soothing as getting in touch with the larger world out there.
When trying to calm the mind, don’t attempt to force your thoughts out. Focus on your body. Let the thoughts arise, acknowledge them and let them go. Refocus on the center of your body. Flex the muscles in your belly or make a whispering sound in your throat (see 1). If the same thought arises, gently bring the attention back to the breath or the center. Don’t judge yourself. There is nothing to achieve.
5. Environment change
An anxious mind craves stillness, not stimulation. Turn off all electronic devices. Just be in the quiet. Look out the window. Sit in a church pew for a few minutes on your way to work. Step outside for a few minutes. If you are at work, go to the bathroom and open the window. Do nothing.
Hum to yourself. Put your hand on your chest and feel the vibrations of your voice. Hum a melody or just a simple note. Hear yourself.
Focus on the sounds around you. Birds chirping. Cars going by. The fans of computers. Some people like to download calming Apps if they have panic attacks in enclosed spaces. Use nature sounds: ocean waves, soothing melodies, singing bowls. Avoid energetic music.
The fainting ladies of the old days were brought back to consciousness by strong smells. It works the other way around too. Notice what scents calm you down: flowers, oils, fruits. Camomile and lavender have soothing qualities.
Move, but move slowly. Use your hands: knit, sew, build a birdhouse. Anything that slows you down and draws attention away from the thoughts and into the body. If you have chronic anxiety, cultivate a regular practice of yoga or chi gong.
Put a cloth over your eyes, drip some aromatic oil on it and rest.
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Last reviewed: 20 Jun 2012