Last updated: 20/09/2015
Anxiety and panic attacks are horrible and debilitating things. The moment you feel that awful rush of impending doom, you want to know immediately how to get rid of the feeling and then obsessively fixate on never ever feeling that way again.
Sometimes however it gets to the point where the anxiety is so bad that you’re left feeling overwhelmed, and you become afraid of both dying and living at the same time. You start to fear fear itself and are unable to get back on your feet. You’re firmly within anxiety’s grasp and start feeling like your world will never be the same again.
So, with so much weighing you down (and believe me, anxiety weighs a ton!) the question is: How to calm anxiety?
Originally a a multi-part series of posts on Anxiety Killed The Cat, I’ve decided to compile everything into the one place (I’m nice like that), calling it How to Calm Anxiety: The Definitive Guide.
As time goes on I’ll be regularly adding more and more content to hopefully create, well, a definitive guide on kicking anxiety to the curb. 🙂
The First Steps – START HERE
I know that the first step is always the hardest to take, but it’s the only way to reach the second step. I’ve been there, and I want to assure you, overcoming anxiety and panic attacks IS possible. Just remember that you don’t have to struggle with how to prevent anxiety on your own.
You are not alone and definitely not the only one to ever feel this way.
The overall goal in The First Steps is to visit your doctor, but I realise that for any number of reasons this may not be possible from the get go. With this in mind I’ve put together a simple list of the things you can put into practice to reduce the severity of your anxiety in the meantime.
If you find yourself struggling for ideas on how to calm down, try a few (or all) of these:
- Take a deep breath
It almost sounds trivial, I know – but it works, and that’s why it’s my first step on how to calm anxiety. In moments of extreme anxiety or if you feel you are having a panic attack, take a deep breath through your nose. Hold it for 3 seconds and then exhale through your mouth. Repeat this until the anxiety passes. If beneficial, concentrate on the feeling behind the affirmation “This too shall pass” because your anxiety WILL pass.
- Go for a walk
If you are able to, go for a walk and concentrate on your surroundings as you go. Let your eyes wander and make a mental note of what you see. If it’s sunny, how does the sun feel on your face? What noises can you hear? Focus on your movement as each foot lifts off the ground. Being present in the moment can distract you from the thoughts you may have that cause anxiety. This has got to be the best tip on how to calm anxiety that I picked up from my psychologist!
- Force yourself to laugh
I know.. Laughing is the last thing that you feel like doing, but trust me. Think about something you find funny. For instance, during my own times of feeling anxious or when I felt a panic attack about to come on, I would imagine myself in the exact same situation, be it on a bus or at home washing dishes, except.. I was a banana. Yep – a banana with arms, legs and big googly eyes! Of course I would then start laughing and the feeling of ‘impending doom’ slips away.
- Call a friend
Give a friend who knows about your anxiety and is willing to help a call. Tell them straight up that you’re struggling with feeling anxious or that you’re having a panic attack and ask them to talk to you about something lighthearted, like what they’ve done so far today. This will help take your mind off of any physical symptoms you might be experiencing as you will be focusing on your friend.
- Evaluate your bed-time routine
Upon inspecting your nightly routine you may find that there are small changes you can make. Getting enough quality sleep is key to having the energy you need to combat how you’re feeling. For tips on altering your bed-time routine to reduce anxiety, as well as a few points on how to calm stress brought on by worry, try my post on how to stop panic attacks at night.
- Try what has already worked for others
There’s no point trying to reinvent the wheel, right? There are a number of anxiety treatment programs that you can try, some even from the comfort of your home, but there’s only one that I personally recommend – and it’s already helped thousands of people. BONUS: If you’d like a free eBook from the program, enter your email at the top right of this page and I’ll send it to you!
And the last of the first steps..
Visit your doctor
When you are able to it is important that you consult your doctor and have them assist you in overcoming anxiety.
The mental health system has really come a long way and your doctor can discuss with you the various treatment options available – be it talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medication. With medication, your doctor will be able to tell you what to take for anxiety better than anyone else could. Alternatively, you can always get a referral to a naturopath that can suggest some vitamins and/or supplements to calm anxiety if you’d prefer to try natural remedies.
Be open and honest with your doctor and don’t be afraid to tell them the approach you’d like to take.
Calming Anxiety Through Your Diet
Studies have shown that having a healthy diet may reduce signs and symptoms of anxiety. Okay.. So food alone won’t necessarily cure an anxiety disorder.. But there are a number of healthy practices you can incorporate into your diet so the odds may ever be in your favor.
- Avoiding or limiting caffeine intake
For most healthy adults a daily consumption of 200-300mg of caffeine, or 2 to 4 cups of brewed coffee, isn’t a cause for concern, but some people are more sensitive towards caffeine than others. Such side effects can include nervousness, restlessness, irritability, fast heartbeat, stomach upset.. Trying to overcome feeling tired by consuming more caffeine only makes the long-term problem worse. See my article The Link Between Caffeine and Anxiety for a more in-depth look.
- Avoiding or limiting alcohol intake
Similarly to caffeine consumption, alcohol can worsen the symptoms of anxiety, as well as disrupt sleep. Many people reach for a drink to calm their nerves, but the consequences of drinking too much can quickly outweigh any benefits of relaxation felt initially. For many, a hangover and the dehydration that goes along with it can easily make you feel worse than before you had anything to drink. In excessive amounts, alcohol actually acts as a depressant. Like a simple sugar, alcohol is rapidly absorbed by the body and can increase signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia and cause mood swings.
- Eating complex carbohydrates
During periods of anxiety, tentatively turn to carbs. Complex carbohydrates act as a mild tranquilizer and increase the amount of serotonin which is a calming neurotransmitter in the brain. Complex carbs include potatoes, wholewheat bread, and pasta and they take longer to digest than sugary simple carbs like white bread. Have you heard of Low GI? Originally a weight loss diet, Low GI has you eating foods with a low glycemic index. You end up feeling fuller for longer and your blood sugar is likely to stay steady. This in turn assists in also eliminating stress and anxiety!
- Drinking 8+ glasses of water each day
Considering that the amount of water in the human body is anywhere between 50-75%, drinking enough water each day is very important! Dehydration can lead to fatigue, headaches, anxiety and stress. Ensuring that your body is well-hydrated by drinking lots of water every day can decrease symptoms of anxiety and have you thinking clearer and also feeling an increase in vitality.
- Taking multivitamins and mineral supplements
Vitamins to calm anxiety mainly consist of the Vitamin B family, whose job is to unlock and assist in utilising the energy in food. Also, Vitamin B6 helps create the calming neurotransmitter serotonin. Be sure to select a high quality daily vitamin supplement that supplies a large percent of the daily recommendation. There are also herbs to calm anxiety such as St. Johns Wort and Passion Flower.
Start Listening To Your Body
Although tension and daily stresses are unavoidable, as touched on above, you can relieve tension and manage stress and anxiety better by watching what you eat and drink. Remember: A healthy body and a healthy mind are more often one and the same thing!
Your body already knows how to calm down anxiety that you feel, it’s just a matter of reconnecting with yourself and listening to what your body is trying to tell you. It’s all really trial and error as to what works best for you but hopefully some of the tips on this page help!
- Move it, Move it
Exercise can do wonders for your mental health. Anxiety is often referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response. Effectively, fueling you to fight the T-rex in front of you or spurring you on with flight to run in the opposite direction, away from the perceived danger. The next time you start to feel a panic attack coming on, put on your sneakers and head out the door. Whether you walk, jog or run is up to you and obviously what you are capable of. Exercise releases endorphins which are your body’s natural painkillers. They’re primarily released to prevent exercise from causing pain, but they also play an important role in regulating mood.
Do you ever find yourself feeling exhausted? For some it may be exhaustion caused by leading a busy life and not taking time to release stress. A lot of the time, we never notice that our stress levels are so high until a panic attack blindsides us from an apparent nowhere. For others it may be an emotional exhaustion caused by being ‘strong’ for too long. Listen to your body and be mindful, giving yourself permission to rest and relax, both physically and emotionally, when you need to.
Nearly every function that the body carries out is effected by the amount of water running through our system. Water transports hormones, chemical messengers, and nutrients to vital organs of the body. When we don’t keep our bodies hydrated enough, they may react with a variety of signals, including anxiety. So drink up!
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is pretty much a fancy name for tensing and releasing your muscles in sequence. It is actually a really great tool for feeling calmer. Get comfortable, and then tense each muscle for 10 seconds, starting with your feet and moving all the way up to your face. Tensing and then releasing your muscles relaxes them and also decreases any feelings of anxiousness or nervousness. Give it a try!
Reconnect With Your Senses
Try What Has Already Worked For Others
Treatments for anxiety disorders have really come a long way, and new research is showing improved therapies and treatment options that can help most people with their anxiety disorders. Many former anxiety sufferers go on to lead productive, fulfilling and fear-free lives – which is great, right?
There’s a number of programs that you can try but there’s only one that I personally recommend – and it’s already helped thousands of people. (If you’d like a free eBook from the program, just enter your email address at the top right of this page!)
Treatment programs that work:
Panic Away – RECOMMENDED
The brain child of Barry McDonagh, Panic Away has successfully helped more than 70,000 people worldwide free themselves from anxiety and panic attacks.
The program effectively changes the way you process your anxiety which enables you to end panic attacks and general anxiety once and for all.
It costs no more than a dinner for two but can change your life so much for the better.
Invest in the right kind of information.
Information that puts you back in control of your life.
That is the best kind of investment you can make.
Created by practicing professional therapists, CBT4Panic consists of high quality workbooks, videos and audio, and also includes therapist support. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been proven to be one of the most effective treatments for anxiety and panic attacks. CBT4Panic is also fully endorsed by the popular support forum NoMorePanic.co.uk.
CBT4Panic is real therapy from the comfort of your own home, with real results.
Other treatment programs:
Unlike Panic Away and CBT4Panic above, I have no personal experience with the following anxiety treatment programs. I have however heard amazing things about them!
Anxiety Killed The Cat’s How to Calm Anxiety: The Definitive Guide is now a whopping 2,264 words. 😮
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