I'll be the first to admit that over the last few months I've had my fair share of anxiety spirals (read: attacks). The minute one takes hold my body and mind are flooded with emotions, my heart starts to race, my muscles tense up, my breathing becomes quicker but somehow heavier and I can literally feel the adrenaline coursing through my body. What was once mental can suddenly become physical and manifest in the form of a panic attack of varying degrees.
When you're feeling anxious your brain goes into high-alert, triggering your sympathetic nervous system into a "fight, flight, or freeze" response. Depending on your personality, what your triggers are and then environment you're in, you'll fall into one of those categories — all equally as tough to move through in my opinion. Until you have an anxiety attack, there is no way to know what your response will be, just know that there are ways to move through each of the responses, and ultimately, you will be OK.
It's important to know that what works for one person may not work for another. We all have our own way of dealing with things, processing emotions and working through trauma. Below, you'll find four ways to physically pull you out of an anxiety induce spiral and will ground you back into reality.
Shift Your Focus
Personally, this is my favourite technique that my therapist has taught me over the years as a way of interrupting my thoughts. Practice the 5-4-3-2-1 method, start by acknowledging five things you can see around you and list them either mentally or verbally (whichever is more effective for you), then name four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. What happens when you shift your focus back to your surroundings is you distance yourself from your tiggers and introduce a new focus, slowing down your breathing and bring sensations back to your body. You ground yourself back into reality.
Get Your Heart Rate Up
OK, so this one sounds counterintuitive because if you're spiralling, your heart is usually already racing, but this is another breath stabilising technique, and is great for expelling some of that adrenaline you might feel pumping through your system. Do something simple like ten push-ups or jumping jacks and count them out loud, this will stabilise your breathing, expel some energy and shift your focus. If you reach ten and you still feel anxious keep going or chuck in another exercise until you feel your body starting to calm down.
When you're having an anxiety attack in the small room of your small apartment, everything feels smaller. The walls feel like they're closing in and things can suddenly feel very claustrophobic. If you can, go outside. Feel the sun on your skin, take in big, deep breaths of fresh air and if you're able to, stand bare foot on the grass. Our feet contain a complex network of nerves and acupuncture points that are able to absorb free ions on the earth surface, similarly to the way that our lungs are able to absorb the ions in the air, that helps to alleviate anxiety and instantly boost your mood.
Water (natural or domestic) is scientifically proven to be calming for a number of reasons: the colours, the sounds, the temperature. If you feel yourself being overwhelmed with anxiety find a water source, it could be as simple as washing your face with cold water, showering or taking a dip in the ocean. The body's physical reaction to being surrounded by or submerged in water is naturally calming, our heart rate slows, blood pressure and cortisol levels drop and our breathing equalises.