When your body or mind detects a threat, it goes into the fight-or-flight mode. Through a symphony of physiological events (e.g., increased heart and breathing rates, blood redistribution to major skeletal muscles), your body prepares to fight the threat or flee from it. This can feel scary for two reasons: You might be frightened not only by the outer threat (e.g., a stranger following you, an unexpected sound) but also by your bodily reaction to the threat (e.g., extreme muscle tension, nausea). So, in today’s post, I discuss several ways to stay relatively calm when reacting to a very stressful situation.
When you are anxious, you might feel lost and confused. One solution is called grounding. Whether you have become anxious while in your office, in your room, or in the car, look for a way to ground your anxious and emotional self in the immediate physical reality. How to do that?
Touch objects close to you (such as your chair or the ground). Some people prefer touching wooden objects or rocks. You may even carry something with you that has a special significance for you (e.g., a picture of you looking peaceful and relaxed). Other grounding techniques include counting objects of a certain color or saying the alphabet backward. Whatever you choose to do, look for a way to bring yourself to the here and the now.
Another way to find stability is through noticing the coming and going of the breath. Think of yourself as a person on the shore and your breath as waves arising from the belly of the ocean. You notice the waves gently crashing against the shore, over and over again. Like variations in the breathing rhythm, sometimes the waves are bigger and stronger and sometimes smoother and gentler. And like breath, the waves are always there.
There is something hypnotic in watching these waves; perhaps there is even something reassuring. Watching your breath coming and going, like ocean waves, might help you become grounded in your own body.
People familiar with my previous posts on cognitive-behavioral therapy know what I am going to say here, which is that analyzing your thoughts may help reduce the intensity of your emotions.
Write down what is happening (e.g., my friend rejected me), how you are feeling (e.g., I feel depressed, hopeless, powerless), and your automatic thoughts (e.g., nobody loves me, I will die alone). Then, analyze your automatic thoughts. For instance, what is the evidence that you will die alone or are unlovable? Is there any evidence to the contrary? Is it possible that you are thinking this way because your friend rejected you? Could thinking this way make it more difficult for you to find friends?
Do this practice regularly; see how it influences your mental health.
Going and going
At times, the previously discussed methods—observing the breath, grounding oneself in the physical environment, and analyzing your thoughts—are not enough, and you are still left with some degree of anxiety. In such cases, you might want to work on acceptance. Indeed, many people who are working toward accomplishing important goals also experience occasional episodes of anxiety and depression; however, they do not let these episodes stop them.
Acknowledge that you are feeling very anxious, but remind yourself of your goal. Tell yourself that you are doing something positive and constructive; you are not letting uncomfortable sensations or unpleasant feelings stop you from living the life you value. You could go home and stay in bed all day, but you are out there, challenging yourself, and becoming the hero of your story.
**The content of this article is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice.