Anxiety First Aid
We all are familiar with the feeling as anxiety washes over us. Increased heart rate with that uncomfortable pounding in your chest, the sensation of light-headedness as the blood rushes to your core, sweaty forehead and palms and often a slight ringing in the ears, maybe even tingling in your legs or arms. When left unchecked, it sometimes leads to panic. Sound familiar? Often times we “wait it out” and tell ourselves it will pass. Other times our thoughts race to a scary place and become concerned that these physical symptoms are the result of a serious health problem that has appeared. Not everyone experiences anxiety the same way. The physical symptoms and thoughts associated with it can vary. In that moment, it’s difficult to get a grip on it and ease the sensations and thoughts.
Quick tips to help manage anxiety or panic feelings on the spot
Here are 3 strategies that may help take back control of your body and thoughts.
1. Box breathing – The rule of 4.
Take a deep breath through your nose as you count to 4....Hold that breath and count to 4 again....Exhale through your mouth, also for a count of 4...Allow another count to 4 before you breathe in again, repeating the process.
Do this until your body feels relaxed and better controlled. This method can provide oxygen to the brain and help calm the body, resetting its normal physical breathing process.
2. Countdown – 5,4,3,2,1.
Wherever you are, you can apply this method without others noticing…for the most part. Look for 5 things you can see in the immediate area. Find 4 things you can touch. Your hair, clothes, skin, paper, chair. Vary the textures if you can. Find 3 things that you can hear. Kids, paper, typing, nature sounds. Find 2 things you can smell. Your clothes/jacket, hair, put on hand cream, lip balm. Find 1 thing you can taste. Candy or gum, lip balm, lick your lips. This can be a useful grounding technique to snap you back into reality by using your senses to bring you back to the present.
The goal here is to re-direct your focus, to set your attention onto something else. Depending on the setting, try one or more from the list to find what is most effective for you.
Counting – Count anything! Chair legs, ceiling tiles, magazines, windows. Whatever is in view.
Write – Write a grocery list, maybe a poem, places you’ve visited. No wrong answers here!
Entertainment – Listen to music, watch TV, browse the internet, read an article, play a game. Exercise – Stretch, walk, do jumping jacks (where appropriate…of course)
Pets – Spend time with them, get them a snack, pet them, play
Colouring – Invest in a cheap coloring book and some crayons/pencils. Doodling also counts!
These strategies are intended to provide immediate assistance to manage the anxious event as it is occurring. When the anxiety has passed, I recommend that you speak to your therapist about the event to help process it. Alternatively, you could take time to recognize that anxiety didn’t get to win this round.
Good luck and take care!!
You got this!
Darrell Hammond is Registered Psychotherapist and Child and Youth Worker. He has 25 years of experience in the field and specializes in youth and family therapy, trauma and anxiety recovery. Darrell, originally, an Easterner, moved to Kingston as a child in a military family. He enjoys classic rock, hates reading and finds joy in embarrassing his children.