Photo: Max van den Oetelaar/Unsplash
Whether it stems from a fight with a family member, conflict with a colleague, or a near-miss in traffic, anxiety can hit fast. You can feel your heart beating out of control, it’s hard to sit still, and your thoughts race at a million miles a minute. It’s difficult to make sound decisions and maintain a productive life from this heightened, unpleasant state. So, to help you decompress and settle back down into a more manageable mind-frame, here are five indispensable strategies:
1. Stake out your space
One of the best ways to slip back out of fight or flight mode is to set yourself up in an environment that radiates calm. If at all possible, consider locking the door to your office, apartment, or room. This gives you the breathing room you need to calm down and process things in your own time. Next, put on some calming music or ambient noise, and use an essential oil diffuser to fill the space with a comforting scent. The idea is to bathe your senses in calming input to help counteract the feeling that you’re under attack.
You’d be surprised at how often you hold your breath in life, and one of the most common times is when you’re under extreme stress. The other common breathing pattern evident in people experiencing anxiety is short, sharp, rapid breathing. So, while it may sound too simple to really be effective, focusing on taking long, slow, deep breaths can help immensely. If racing thoughts keep distracting you, try counting in your head to create a one-second inhalation and a two-second exhalation.
3. Don’t fight the fury
If you’re angry, scared, frustrated, or tearful, allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. Sit with it and breathe through it. Though these emotions are often labeled as “negative,” there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling them. Indeed, in some situations, they are a rational response.
Just keep in mind, there’s a difference between acknowledging your emotions and acting out on them. Allowing yourself to feel the fury and breathe through it until it passes is very different from punching walls or smashing your phone to try to force it out of you.
4. Cultivate compassion
Once the power of your emotional response has settled down, it’s time to allow some compassion into the picture. You’re in the midst of a difficult situation, so be your own best friend. Everyone makes mistakes, so if you’re responsible for the stressful event you’ve found yourself in, an important first step is to forgive yourself. Of course, that doesn’t let you off the hook, but it does save you from overloading yourself with guilt, shame, and unhelpful self-criticism.
If someone else has been involved in creating the stressful situation, it’ll be easier to cultivate compassion and forgiveness for them once you’ve gone through the process with yourself.
5. Get moving, get thinking
Something about the constant movement and progress of going for a walk outside seems to make your thinking so much clearer. It’s easy to spin in circles when you’re sitting inside by yourself. However, with the sunshine on your cheeks, a fresh breeze rustling your hair, and the scenery constantly changing, your thoughts begin to align themselves into more logical chains.
Take advantage of this exercise to flush out the last of the heightened emotions and work through your thoughts and feelings about the situation. By the time you’ve worked through each of the steps above, you should be in a much more calm and collected state.