When Anxiety Attacks: Getting Back to Calm

We all feel anxious from time to time. Money may be a bit tight and we’re not sure how we will pay our bills at the end of the month. We have a looming confrontation with a friend. We are up for our annual review at work. For some, though, this unpleasant sensation is a more frequent companion and it can come on quite strongly, often without any outside trigger. In these moments, you are consumed with anxiety. It is intense and you feel helpless. There is a sense that something terrible will happen, no matter how illogical that may be given the circumstances. These experiences can be debilitating and greatly impact our quality of life, causing depression or social isolation. Here are some tips for getting centered and weathering the storm.

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ACKNOWLEDGE THE EPISODE AND ACCEPT IT

This piece of advice may not seem very satisfying but it is the most helpful without a doubt. You see, when we resist the negative feelings we’re experiencing, we feel even worse. By resisting the intense anxiety, you may create even more of it. Don’t push against it. Don’t pretend you don’t feel it. Don’t try to force yourself to calm down. Don’t berate yourself for having the episode. Remind yourself that you are simply feeling fearful, but you aren’t in any immediate danger. You have to work with the anxiety, not against it. You don’t have to try and force it go away…it will eventually pass as it always does.

WORK IN THE PRESENT MOMENT

Do a quick reality check. Ask yourself what is really happening right now. When you go over the facts of the present moment, it will sink in more clearly that you truly are okay. You may not feel great; your anxiety may have been triggered by an unpleasant situation that you would have rather avoided, but all in all, you’re safe. There are no real threats to your well-being. Being more in the present will get you grounded because the anxiety is being caused by a fear of something happening in the future. Re-engage in the activities you were doing before the anxiety surfaced. Tune into your body; note where you are feeling tension and try to relax with some stretching or some kind of movement.

BREATHING EXERCISES

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Consciously working with your breath can do wonders for anxiety and there are all sorts of breathing exercises designed to produce specific effects. Some are meant to stimulate while others are meant for calming. Breathing exercises can be particularly helpful for anxiety because the shallow breathing that usually accompanies an episode can induce even more anxiety. Here are three kinds that may work particularly well when the anxiety is coming on strong:

  • Coherent Breathing: Coherent breathing is breathing at a rate of five breaths a minute. Breathing in and out at about five seconds each will get you there. This rate of breathing optimizes heart rate variability, which is an indicator of how well the nervous system is functioning. The higher the rate (i.e. the longer each inhale and exhale), the better the stress response, meaning the more easily you will be able to calm yourself.
  • Resistance Breathing: Resistance breathing is pretty self-explanatory–breathing in such a way that you create resistance to the normal air flow. It is commonly used as a way to strengthen respiratory muscles or in disciplines like tai chi and yoga. You can perform resistance breathing by pursing your lips and resting the tip of your tongue against the inside part of your upper teeth, holding your nose or breathing through a straw.
  • Breath Moving: Breath moving was created by Russian monks in the 11th century to help holy warriors protect and empower themselves while protecting their territory from invaders. It involves imagining sending your breath to different parts of your body. This can serve as a helpful distraction from the anxiety at hand and be quite relaxing. As you inhale, imagine your breath moving to the top of your head, and as you exhale, imagine it traveling down your spine. Do this for 10 cycles. It is important to keep in mind that breathing exercises are good to do even when you are not having an anxiety episode. The more you can create a sense of calm in your life overall, the more resilient you will become mentally and emotionally. The anxiety will decrease and when it does strike, it won’t be as intense and won’t last as long.

It is easy to feel helpless and like a hostage to an erratic and unpredictable mind. Commit to experimenting with different techniques to see what works for you, and be more proactive in tending to your mental and emotional health. Article Resources: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coherent_Breathing

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