50 Ways To Calm Down Right Now
Recently, I had someone message me during the day to ask what to do while they were having a panic attack at work. I realized I had resources for reducing stress, relaxing, and plenty of self-care advice, but nothing for an in-the-moment crisis. To be fair, I think the reason for that is because I prefer to approach self-care from a proactive standpoint instead of a reactive one, meaning I want to give you the tools to begin practicing self-care now, even if you’re not in the middle of a crisis, so that when adversity arises you are best equipped to handle the issue as you can be because you’ve built up what I like to call “reserves”. That said, that doesn’t mean shit doesn’t happen. TW: Panic Attacks/Anxiety
As someone with Panic Disorder, I can personally testify that shit happens and shit happens unexpectedly, without your consent or control, and regardless of how much planning or work you may have done on a specific issue. I mean, I went through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy six years ago now (holy crap, has it really been that long?!), and one of the main things I worked on was being able to make a 360 degree spin without having to “unwind” myself. I actively worked on it because it greatly affected my daily life, and it was one of the things that I reacted the most severely to. I’ve talked about the homework assignments I had to do that helped me work on that issue in many places online, and after I “graduated” CBT I felt like I had pretty much conquered that specific issue in that I could make a spin without unwinding myself and not have a panic attack. The anxiety was still there, but it was substantially less, far more manageable, and the more I worked on it the more manageable it got.
Fast forward to a couple weeks ago when I was in IKEA and the sales lady told me I had actually missed the section with the door knob handles and I had to walk about four sections back, against those giant arrows drawn on the ground that direct you in the “correct” loop of the store. By the time I got to the knob section I couldn’t breath, was as red as a cherry, sweating bullets, dizzy, my heart was going crazy, I felt like I was choking. I could barely reach my shaking hands into my purse to get a Klonopin to take and slide down to the floor to ride the attack out.
When I was telling people about the episode later, I said it wasn’t really the anxiety that bothered me. I mean, yeah, it sucked. Panic attacks are never fun. But I’m diagnosed with Panic Disorder… it’s not my first rodeo. What really bothered me was actually the fact that it happened in the first place and the trigger for it. That this thing I thought I had written off years ago as “fixed” was now popping up out of nowhere on a day where I was otherwise 100% happy, content, and stable. If you would have told me I was going to have a panic attack at IKEA that day, I would have thought maybe I was going to run into someone from my past or have a flashback or something severe. Not because of something I currently view as benign.
I share this story to say that anxiety can come from anywhere at anytime for any reason. Some of us have anxiety disorders, some of us don’t. Some of us fall more in the “nervousness” category in terms of semantics, but that doesn’t mean you don’t experience overwhelm. We all do. And unfortunately it tends to come at times when we’re already busy, AKA times where we’re tied up with other responsibilities and can’t necessarily leave like at work, an event, a party, whatever. I’d like to say that one of the first rules of self-care is that you can ALWAYS say no and you can ALWAYS remove yourself from the situation. Yes, there are plenty of time sensitive things we do in our lives, but taking a three minute break to collect ourselves is probably way more beneficial for everyone involved than for you to push through in a panicked state and be distracted to the point where you’re half-assing your tasks because you physically can’t give this thing your all right now.
Remember that I’m not a doctor and I’m not here to tell you if you have anxiety or an anxiety disorder, or tell you if what you’re experiencing is a panic/anxiety attack. If you think you’re experiencing these symptoms, I strongly urge you to talk to a psychiatrist who can not only talk to you about your symptoms but can work with you on coping skills, possibly including the treatment of an anti-anxiety medication (even if it’s just used as a PRN, AKA an as-needed medication you’d take when symptoms arise instead of an every day thing). There’s a million ways to treat the same thing, and your care plan will always be different than mine and the person going after you in the waiting room. Be as open and honest about what’s going on because psychiatry is heavily reliant of self-disclosure.
Anyway, I wanted to come up with a list of ways that might be helpful for you to bookmark for the future. If you’re somewhere, even if it’s in the comfort of your own bedroom, and you’re overwhelmed and your goal is to calm down right now, right fucking now, then maybe this list can help you or at least give you some ideas and inspiration on what might work for you. My theory is to generally “throw everything at it“. So unless something sounds 100% repelling to you and like it would just make you way more overwhelmed to try, I say it doesn’t hurt to give it a whirl. Some of the things that have ended up being the best aids for me have been things I didn’t think would help me at all, so have an open mind when you try to help yourself. Remember that you’re helping a different version of yourself, the super tapped out stressed candle-burned-at-both-ends version of yourself in this scenario, and she might respond to things differently than your fully stable, functional, rested, happy, untested self would.
If you have any questions about this list, please feel free to leave comments below or personally e-mail me. This isn’t intended to be a replacement for professional treatment, just a supplemental aid for coping skills and techniques you can add to your wheelhouse. It’s always good to have extra tricks up our sleeves.
50 Ways To Calm Down Right Now
1. Deep breathing (in through your nose for 7 seconds, hold for 5, out through your mouth for 8), remember to use your diaphragm, and try placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth for increased relaxation
2. Be proactive – plan for the physical symptoms you usually experience during feelings of overwhelm so you know how to rationally get rid of them because we aren’t always thinking clearly in the moment
3. And also practice sitting with those physical feelings, for example spinning yourself around in a chair to get used to feeling dizzy and reduce the stigma and scariness, AKA low-key exposure therapy
4. Focus on your five physical senses to ground yourself — what can you see, smell, taste, hear, and feel right at this very moment? (Be as detailed as possible)
5. Take any medications you have been prescribed ( specifically if they’re for anxiety, but also make sure you’re up to date with everything and it’s not throwing you out of whack), and also responsibly consider the usage of kava, cannabis, wine, etc. as temporary outlets for anxiety during a crisis (and know yourself — if that gets you way more wound up, don’t do it!)
6. Write yourself a letter to read in the moment of your overwhelm, reminding yourself that things are okay, you’ll get through this, and this will definitely have an endpoint
7. Also have pre-written affirmations handy (I Am Okay, This Is Just Anxiety, etc.)
8. Call someone whose voice calms you down and ask them to just talk to you
9. Distract yourself; try counting the tiles on the ceiling, saying the ABC’s backwards, looking at pictures of cats on Google images
10. Fill out an anxiety diary in a notebook or use an app
11. Talk out loud to yourself and answer the worst “What if…” questions because the reality is probably that your worst case scenario is totally manageable AND it won’t actually happen, so wrapping logic around it could help you realize you’re overthinking things
12. Do a body scan and unclench all your muscles and joints, jaw, etc.
13. Reach for your self-care emergency kit (see ideas below)
14. Turn on some music, preferably something calming or instrumental
15. Leave the room, walk outside, move away from where the feelings started
16. Lay down, close your eyes, imagine yourself in your happy place (and proactively MAKE a happy place if you haven’t already)
17. List out loud things that make you happy
18. Drink water
19. Call your therapist (and proactively start seeing one)
20. Remove yourself from crowded areas
21. Take a shower, sing loudly (or scream or both)
22. Get some physical contact; a hug, hand squeeze, back rub
23. Turn off electronics and know it’s okay to not respond for a while (we’ll all survive, I promise!)
24. Push your palms together for at least five seconds (it triggers proprioception, a fancy word for recognizing where you and your body parts are in relation to the other parts of your body which can be helpful with mindfulness and grounding)
25. Pop a stick of gum in your mouth to chew on to decrease your cortisol levels
26. Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes/jewelry, get more comfortable
27. Sigh, Om, chant, scream, laugh, release verbally
29. Use a back or scalp massager, run your foot over a golf ball
30. Eat something if you have low blood sugar on top of everything else
31. Put your head between your knees for a few seconds
32. Try tapping/EFT (see how)
33. Squeeze a stress ball
34. Have an orgasm
35. Stretch your arms towards the sky, then down towards your toes
36. Mold Playdough in your hands
37. Blow cold air on the back of your neck, or place a cold washcloth there
38. Let yourself cry – don’t hold back tears, that will increase your anxiety
39. Hang out with an animal or watch animal videos on your phone
40. Laugh (and proactively, make a file of images, jokes/puns, videos, stand-up routines, etc. that you love)
41. Drink green tea
42. Shake out all your limbs
43. Scribble your feelings out on paper, even if it’s just nonsense shapes
44. Play with a fidget tool/spinner
45. Ignore/leave unhelpful people, including people who tell you to “just calm down”
46. Drip cold water onto your wrists (and/or the back of your neck)
47. Ask yourself basic questions to get to the root of what’s bothering you
48. Smell something citrus flavored to trigger norepinephrine neurotransmitters
49. Shake a galaxy jar, play in a zen garden
50. Accept that this is happening and you’re not a weak or bad person for it; you are still you, your anxiety is separate from you.
Do you have any tips you’d like to add for how you personally get yourself to calm down in the moment? Please share below!
Photos: Maura Housley