How to Calm Down Anxiety With These 8 Quick Hacks
If you have anxiety, learning to feel more at peace on a regular basis can be a long journey. But in a moment where you feel completely overwhelmed, a quick anxiety hack can be helpful to calm you down. According to experts, something as simple as working on a jigsaw puzzle or baking a batch of fresh blueberry muffins can be surprisingly powerful at taking your mind off of the things that are worrying you.
If you've never been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you might not be sure whether you're just very worried, or if something deeper is going on. "Anxiety differs from worry in that anxiety is dual mental and physiological response to stress, whereas worry focuses mainly on the mental component," Tina Cummings, EdSp, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, a psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety, tells Bustle.
In a situation when this anxiety feels overwhelming, the physical reaction can be even stronger. "When we have panic attacks, those negative thoughts and fears we are experiencing become so overwhelming that our body mistakes them for danger." Every person's body experiences panic attacks in different ways, but people can commonly experience short breathing, a pounding heart, shaking or trembling, sweating, and an increased heart rate, she says.
Here are some tricks for managing your anxiety in the moment, according to experts.
1. Tapping Your Body
If you aren't familiar with the concept of tapping to relieve anxiety, it might sound a little strange at first. "Tapping involves just that — tapping on various points of the body which correspond to acupressure centers," Jodi Rose Gonzales, ATR, NCC, RYT200, a credentialed art therapist and national board certified counselor with a specialization in treating anxiety and chronic stress, tells Bustle. But this hack can actually be very effective. While you can tap the middle of your forehead, the upper lip, the chin, the heart, and the left wrist, if you're really in a bind, you could focus just on the heart area.
"One symptom of panic attacks is rapid heartbeat, coupled with shortness of breath," Gonzales says. "A quick hack is to simply tap over the heart with your fingertips." While you're doing this for several minutes, work to slow down your breath. This will help your heartbeat return to a normal rhythm.
2. Read Something Backwards
"My favorite and most successful hack that works quickly and is kind of funny is to read backwards," Dr. Lili Wagner, Psy. D., MSCP, a licensed psychologist and health and behavior coach, tells Bustle. This might seem like a pointless exercise, but it can work really well at taking your mind off of your anxiety so that you can calm down quickly. "The brain can't do two complicated tasks at once," she says, so it will take your entire focus to sound out something from right to left. Plus, if you're reading aloud, the words will probably sound pretty funny, which could also help your mind shift out of panic mode.
3. Illustrate Your Thoughts
If you're having bad anxiety, it can be hard to get out of your own head. But getting your thoughts out on paper can sometimes make them seem less intimidating. "Take a pen and paper and sketch or draw out what you think you look like as a cartoon," Wagner says, "and then put silly thoughts in the thought bubbles." This helps your mind to shift gears and look for the funny instead of the catastrophic, she says. If drawing really isn't your forte and is even more stressful for you, you can also try writing out your thoughts until they feel more manageable.
4. Address Your Physical Needs
"Oftentimes when we are anxious, there's a secondary need we have neglected," Cummings says. To help yourself evaluate what your needs might be in a time of intense anxiety, remember the acronym HALT, which stands for "hungry, angry, lonely, tired." Ask yourself whether you've taken the time to eat a solid, nourishing meal recently. While food won't necessarily take away your anxiety, appeasing your hunger can take away one more concern that your body has. Also, if you haven't been sleeping enough, if you're calm enough to take a nap, that might help give your mind a much-needed rest.
5. Do A Puzzle
Puzzles can be fun to do when you're feeling bored, but they're also a great resource when your mind is racing. Whether you're a fan of the traditional jigsaw, or prefer something like a crossword or sodoku, completing puzzles of any kind can provide us with some sense of control, Victoria Tarbell, a licensed mental health counselor specializing in stress management and a registered yoga teacher, tells Bustle. "Most of the external causes of stress and anxiety don’t have clear, black or white, right or wrong answers," she says. "This can be incredibly frustrating and magnify feelings of not having control." Puzzles, on the other hand, do have solutions, so finding the right answer in a puzzle context can be very satisfying for your brain.
6. Bake Something Yummy
Enjoying a tasty baked good can be soothing for your mind, but the actual process of baking something yourself can be even better. "The anxious mind often feels as though there is a lack of control," Tarbell says. "Baking is all about control — precise measurements, temperatures, techniques, etc." When you're in the kitchen, you have to be methodical by following a recipe, and you have to have a strategy for determining whether the mixture has been fully cooked or not. This kind of tasks gives you a sense of control in a healthy way, she says. Plus, you get to eat your delicious creation at the end.
7. Engage Your Senses
"One of the first mindfulness strategies that I teach many of my clients is to find something that will allow them to engage their senses," Tarbell says. "Whether it’s focusing on what you can see, hear, feel, smell, taste, or all of the above," she says, "shifting our attention to something in our physical environment can be incredibly grounding." If you're feeling anxious, try petting your dog's soft fur, smelling a lavender candle, or listening to an album that reminds you of a happy time in your life. This strategy can help you get out of your head for a bit, plus it's something that you can use no matter where you are because you'll carry your senses with you.
8. Challenge Your Thoughts
If you're experiencing some of the physical symptoms that can come with anxiety, like an upset stomach or back pain, you might not immediately realize that your mental state is causing this discomfort. "When we recognize that our anxious feelings often come from our anxious thoughts," Tarbell says, "we give ourselves the opportunity to change it up." Ask yourself if what you're thinking is true and if it is helpful. "If the answer to one or both of these questions is 'no,'" she says, "experiment with changing up that inner dialogue." Support yourself with affirming statements, like "I am capable" or "I am safe."
Dealing with anxiety can be difficult, even if you are equipped with hacks to deal with it in the moment. If this is something you experience regularly, be sure to see a mental health professional for guidance.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.