According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults over the age of 18 suffer from an anxiety disorder. If you are one of them, you know how difficult your life can feel most days.
When anxiety strikes, the world around us can become distorted like a funhouse, only not fun at all. It’s important to be able to self-soothe when this happens, but how can you calm an anxiety attack subtly when you’re out in public?
As soon as you feel the first sign that your anxiety is ramping up, focus intently on your breathing and nothing else. Begin to take slow… deep breaths. Inhale for a slow count of five… hold for a count of five… and exhale for a count of five. If you can’t do a five-count at the start, just think of each breath being a little slower and a little deeper than the one before. Slow deep breaths send a signal to our body that we are not under attack and everything is okay.
Talk to Yourself
In your mind, remind yourself that you are having an experience, but that you are NOT that experience. Check around and assess how likely it is that you are in real danger. While you feel that something is wrong, remind yourself that you are actually safe and all is well.
Think of a safe space where you feel calm. This maybe your childhood bedroom or your grandparent’s home. It could be your favorite beach or your own bathtub. Put yourself mentally in that space by focusing on the sensory experiences of being there. Use your full imagination to feel yourself there and allow the calm to settle over you.
Carry Lavender Oil or a Calming Scent
Keep a small vial of lavender oil in your purse or pocket and inhale its scent. You can even rub some between your fingers and then rub on your temples to calm down. If lavender isn’t your thing, try to find a scent that is calming for you. We often strongly associate scents with emotions which can make them powerful supports.
Practice Listening Meditation
If you’ve never tried a Listening Meditation, I highly recommend it for everyone. It can be especially beneficial when you are feeling anxious because listening requires you to stop thinking. Try it now. Stop reading and instead listen to all of the ambient sounds that are in the room with you and outside.
What do you hear?
Let your sense of hearing grow and grow, picking up more subtle sounds. The buzz of the lights overhead… the noise of the ice maker… a bee at the window… your dog’s collar down the hall…
It’s actually a very fun exercise to do. And in order to REALLY GIVE SOUND YOUR FULL ATTENTION, you can’t think while listening. It’s a bit like trying to juggle while standing on your hands, it simply cannot be done.
Much of our anxiety comes from our anxious thoughts. It’s our reptilian brain trying to keep us alive by alerting us to all of the dangers around us. When we meditate, this mind chatter goes away. However, like everything it takes practice. So, if your mind starts worrying again, just gently remind it now it the time for listening and refocus on the sounds.
When an anxiety attack comes on, life can feel unbearable. The next time this happens to you in public, try one or more of these techniques.
If are interested in psychological treatment for your anxiety, please contact me to schedule a free consultation and learn how therapy can help.