What do we do when the fear, anxiety, and overthinking leaves us paralyzed? How can we stop the panic, the rapid breath, and the inability to think clearly? These are questions I asked for years. I’ve tried so many different suggestions from therapists, doctors, yoga teachers, and books. What I eventually put together is a three-step method to calm anxiety that has been working wonders.
Recently, I shared elements of this in a post on Instagram, where I wrote down the story of my common experience with extreme anxiety:
get here again?” I’m sweating, rather excessively. It feels like an
elephant just sat down on my chest and why on earth is everything suddenly so
My thoughts are out of control, nearly making me dizzy. I’m down some self-loathing rabbit hole, identifying all the possible ways in which I could be “failing my life”. Anxiety strikes again.
But it’s okay.
I excuse myself to a bathroom stall, where I begin to shake out my hands and arms, moving into a ridiculous looking full body shake.
Sitting on the toilet, I allow myself to suck in a full belly breath of air, still feeling a bit shaky, I challenge myself to extend a long, heavy exhale.
I repeat the breath. Again. And again, focusing on the belly movements of each breath.
My body relaxes. My chest is light again.
I gently remind myself, “it’s okay.
Anxiety Diva, thank you for trying to be helpful, but I’m good without your input right now.” Breathe.
Everything’s okay. I’m good.
Actually, I’m doing great! I was able to notice my anxiety and shut her down. In five minutes! Is that a new record?!
I have hundreds of stories like this one, my own and from my clients. And they’re BIG wins!
For some of us, anxiety doesn’t just do away. We don’t have a “cure” for it. But what I help my clients do is find new tools to help feel in control. It makes a huge difference.
Since then, I’ve had many people reach out and ask me about solutions for calming anxiety. Of course, it’s best to try things out and adjust accordingly to what feels good for you. However, these three steps have really helped my clients to calm anxiety and I hope you give them a try.
Plan for Calming Your Anxiety
Before we dive into my three steps, we may need to change up our location to get started. If you’re at home or somewhere alone and private, you’re all good to start step one.
As many of us feel an increase of anxiety around other people, you likely experience it in public places. In this case, getting a private space alone is key.
My favorite spot? The bathroom.
No one can condemn you for needing to pee, right? Plus, people shouldn’t follow you in there, whereas they may follow you if you choose to step outside. That’s why the bathroom is my favorite spot to do these three steps.
Step one: Shake Out to Calm Anxiety
Shaking shit out is something I practice regularly because it works. When I’m caught in overthinking, shaking gets me back to earth rather quickly.
With this step, the bigger, the better. If you’re in a private bathroom with plenty of room to reach out, try to get the body shaking. Every single part.
The goal? Get as much of you shaking at once.
Of course, if you’re in a smaller stall or something, you may have less room for big shaking, but you can totally do it. You may even surprised by how much shaking you can accomplish in a tiny space. At a minimum, you can shake out your arms, hands, and fingers.
I regularly shake out my hands in public as a signal to my brain to chill out when I find myself obsessively overthinking.
What’s more, if you’re home alone (or even with your kiddos for you mommas reading this), put on some music to shake to. Care less about dancing beautifully and focus more on just releasing through full body shakes.
Fun fact: Animals do this too! Some animals, such as zebras, will shake and tremor after getting away from a scary situation, such as escaping a lion. In order to release the traumatic experience, they’ll stand shaking, allowing the release of the adrenaline and cortisol that had flooded through their bodies after the chase.
Step Two: Heavy Exhales to Calm Anxiety
I know, everyone suggests that you focus on your breath during a panic attack. That’s actually because it can be pretty useful, if done the right way.
What most people get wrong is trying to breath deeply when they’re deep in their anxiety, and it feels freaking impossible. The reason we shake first is to help us get to a state where we calm enough for the breathing becomes a possibility. That’s why breathing is step two.
But we also say, “take a deep breath,” which may help, but not as effectively as taking a heavy exhale.
You see, when we focus more on taking a breath IN, we continue to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, which is associated with the fight or flight energy of anxiety. With a focus on a longer, slower exhale, we engage the parasympathetic nervous system and calm the body.
A long exhale sends a signal to your body they everything is okay, that you’re safe. Studies show that taking at least six steady breaths can help us feel this major shift.
So that’s it, breathe at least six breaths with a focus on extended exhales. Bonus if you can also bring awareness to using the full diaphragm and belly as your breathe.
Step Three: Self-Compassion to Calm Anxiety
Once you’re feeling much calmer, it’s time to speak kindly and compassionately to yourself.
We can sometimes keep ourselves in the spiral by being hard on ourselves. Even something as simple as being annoying with yourself for having anxiety in the first place. This criticism can actually send you right back into the fire.
Identifying what kind words to use here is a lot of the work I do with my clients. When we are more aware of our triggers, we can use words at this time that re-write the story. For example, a client who is worried about everyone judging her might say, “everything is okay. Their opinions don’t impact me.”
Regardless of your situation, common things to remind yourself might be:
- I’m okay. I am safe.
- It’s okay. I just had anxiety. No big deal. Everything is okay now.
- Everything’s alright. I calmed myself down and am totally capable of doing that again.
- I’m good. Just had some anxiety, but it’s alright. I’m not broken. I’m perfectly human and it’s okay.
Of course, with practice, you’ll find the words that feel best for you. The important thing here is to be gentle, remove blame, and reassure yourself in a way that feels good for you.
Always remember, your anxiety, overthinking, stress, depression, etc. do not define you. You’re doing great and simply taking the time to read this article shows that you’re committed to self-care.
Give yourself some praise and gratitude simply for being curious.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions. I’m also happy to hear about your experience using my method.
You can also reach out to me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’re powerful and capable.