5 Subtle Exercises to Calm Anxiety in Public

Anxiety Help in Public

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 a sort of funhouse, only not that much fun. The world can feel like it’s spinning, and your senses feel out of whack. It’s important to be able to self-soothe in these instances. But how can you calm an anxiety attack subtly when you’re out in public?

5 Simple Steps to Help Calm Anxiety

Anxiety Help Step 1: Breath Work

As soon as you feel the anxiety coming on, focus intently on your breathing and nothing else. Begin to take slow… deep breaths. Inhale for a slow count of three… hold for a count of three… and exhale for a count of three. Slow deep breaths send a signal to our body that we are not under attack and everything is okay.

Don’t worry if your thoughts want to spring back to whatever is causing the anxiety. Your brain’s job is to try to analyze, evaluate, and solve problems. This anxiety is going to be labeled as a problem. However, your brain-body connection means that the thoughts you have while anxious will be colored by the anxiety. They will not be objective and helpful. Instead, they will be anxiety-driven thoughts that are usually not true or not helpful.

So, when your thoughts want to ping back to whatever is causing the anxiety, just notice it and gently redirect yourself back to your breath. Keep doing this as many times as you need to until you notice that your breathing is regular and your body is relaxed.

Anxiety Help Step 2: Talk to Yourself

Most of us have a constant inner dialogue going on in our minds non-stop. A lot of the time, this is unconscious. Left unmonitored, this inner dialogue can ramp your anxiety up into a hot mess quickly. However, if used intentionally, your inner dialogue can be your salvation.

Here’s how: In your mind, remind yourself that you are having an experience but that you are NOT that experience. While you feel that something is wrong, remind yourself that you are actually safe and all is well. Look around you and actually see the evidence that all is well.

If you’re alone, don’t be afraid to actually say these things out loud. Research shows that the vibrations of speech or humming help to calm our nervous systems. Additionally, when you hear something, it triggers a different part of your brain than when you are thinking something alone. So, saying the words out loud allows you to connect this positive, calming perspective in multiple areas of your brain. It’s a win-win.

Anxiety Help Step 3: Visualize

Think of something that calms you. This may be your childhood blankie or your grandparent’s home. It could be your favorite beach or your own bathtub. Simply put yourself IN that space.

Use your full imagination to feel yourself there and allow the calm to settle over you. Think about what you smell, feel, and hear in this place. Notice the colors, lighting, and beauty of it. If there is a taste associated, really let yourself pull to mind the essence with as much detail as you can. The more you engage your senses in this visualization, the better.

Anxiety Help Step 4:Carry Lavender Oil

Scent is one of our least utilized and most powerful senses. It can trigger a memory faster than any other sense. It’s one of the hidden triggers behind PTSD flashbacks, unfortunately. But it’s power also can be harnessed for good, too.

Lavender is known to have a relaxing effect on the brain. Many children’s soaps and lotions have the scent of lavendar meant to help them calm and get ready for bed at bath time. You might keep a small vile of lavender oil in your purse or pocket and inhale its scent when you find your anxiety spiking in public. You can even rub some between your finger and then rub on your temples to calm down.

If lavender isn’t your thing, feel free to experiment with different smells. They don’t even have to be pleasant smells to disrupt the anxiety train. For instance, the smell of something terrible like skunk spray or something rotting might get your attention more fully, allowing you to be present with the smell and separate yourself from the anxiety.

Anxiety Help Step 5: Practice A 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, and here’s why. Listening requires you to stop thinking. If you’ve noticed, many of these recommendations involve a common thread: they help you change your focus. Anxiety is like a tomato plant. The more you water it, the more it grows. When you want to curb your anxiety, you want to turn your focus to something other than the anxiety, and it will dry up and wither.

So, try a listening meditation now. Stop reading and instead listen to all of the ambient sounds there in the room with you, outside the door and window.

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. But when we meditate, this mind chatter goes away.

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. Let us know how they work for you or add in your own trick for managing panic in the comments. We love to celebrate new, creative ways to manage anxiety!

And if you’d like to speak with someone about your anxiety, please get in touch. We’d be happy to explore treatment options.

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