A 3-Step Plan For When Anxiety Strikes
Are you working to cure your anxiety, or are you just coping with it?
When most people are hit by anxiety, they don’t want to deal with it. They just want to make it “go away” as quickly as possible.
Sometimes, that means popping a pill.
Other times, that means trying to pretend it’s not happening and burying their anxiety deep down inside – only to have it rear its ugly head when they’re trying to sleep, slay an important work meeting or share a special moment with the partner they love.
Sometimes, that even means avoiding the situations that trigger their anxiety all together.
Usually it’s a combination of all three.
If these response patterns sound familiar, I have a question for you:
How are they working for you?
If you’re like most people who struggle with anxiety, you know that none of these are truly effective methods for dealing with anxiety.
They’re only temporary coping mechanisms that intensify the problem. Because, ultimately, they’re telling your mind, “You soooo can’t handle this. You’ve got to escape ASAP.”
And with this belief, every time the trigger comes up again, the anxiety comes roaring back. You never face it head on, so you end up convincing yourself you’re just an anxious person.
Your anxiety goes from state to trait. The feelings you experience in a state of anxiety become a characteristic of your personality that you accept as permanent.
How “Temporary” Coping Mechanism Turn into Long-Term Anxiety
I’ve seen the devastating effects of these temporary coping mechanisms first-hand more times than I can count, but one client’s story especially stands out in my mind. Her name was Natalie, and she had been struggling with anxiety and panic attacks for twelve years when she first came to me. Her biggest triggers were airplanes and subways. And because she had to use both relatively often, Valium because her best friend.
Every time she’d travel, she’d pop enough Valium to “numb” herself up and get through it. Sometimes, though, even Valium wasn’t enough.
What was? The exact same three-step process for beating anxiety that I’m about to share below!
How to Overcome Anxiety Without Medication: Attend & Befriend Anxiety
I know, I know. It sounds a little crazy. But instead of “fighting” and denying your anxiety or “flighting” to avoid your anxiety triggers (which is typically our default behavior), the most effective response to anxiety is to “attend and befriend” it.
In the moment that anxiety arises, take a minute to actively listen and attend to what’s happening in your mind and body. Then, create a safe, comfortable environment in which you can address it.
Here’s how to do it:
The first step in the process is physical relaxation.
When you get anxious, a variety of physical symptoms can appear. You might feel your heart racing, and experience chest pain and shortness of breath. It’s very hard to calm the mind when the body is giving you these signals that you’re still in an emergency state.
So we start by calming the body, and then we focus on the mind.
You can bring on physical relaxation in many ways. Depending on where you are and how much time you have to react, some of these techniques will work better than others.
One of my favorite ways to bring relaxation into the body is through specific breathing exercises meant to balance the nervous system, like Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing.
Just a few minutes of Nadi Shodhana can calm anxiety, clear your mind and allow you to focus more clearly.
To practice Nadi Shodhana:
- Sit comfortably with a straight spine (or stand if sitting isn’t possible)
- Take a deep breath in and out
- Using your thumb of your right hand, close your right nostril and breathe in deeply
- Keeping your right nostril closed, exhale fully
- Pause briefly after the exhale
- Release your right nostril
- Use your ring finger of the same hand to cover your left nostril and inhale
- Keeping your left nostril closed, exhale fully
- Repeat 5-10 cycles
You can also try something as simple as placing your hands over your heart while taking deep breaths in and out from your belly. What’s the magic of this pose? It is like an on-switch for your parasympathetic nervous system, which then releases the oxytocin that causes your whole body to calm down and rellllaaaaax.
This is the opposite of what the sympathetic nervous system does. When you get in a car accident or forget about an important work meeting or just end up in a threatening or stressful situation, that system is the boss. And, as you probably guessed, that system is also what goes haywire when an anxiety attack hits.
But when you switch over to your parasympathetic nervous system, everything changes. Your body naturally slows down and relaxes so that things like rest and digestion can happen.
So by “turning on” your parasympathetic nervous system through posing, you’re actually turning on your body’s ability to chilllll ouuuut – even during an anxiety attack.
There are other things you can do to calm your body as well, like grounding exercises, mudras, acupressure, tapping, and using specific essential oils.
So the next time you’re feeling anxious, try these relaxation techniques out and see how they make you feel. In Natalie’s case, she practiced this first step – relaxing her body – over and over again, every single time she started feeling anxious, until it felt like a natural reaction to stress. It was hard to learn how to relax her body on her own instead of relying on medication to do all the work…but slowly Natalie started seeing progress.
Don’t be afraid of trying new relaxation techniques until you find the one that works for you, either! While breath work like Nadi Shodhana is the fastest way to get your body to calm the heck down, some people need something more powerful. That’s where tapping – and my Tapping Solution for Anxiety bundle – come in. In it, you get a video that shows you exactly how to use tapping to zap your anxiety, whether you’re in the car, at your desk or even on a plane. Plus, you get a worksheet and simple tapping script that will help you develop the best tapping sequence for you. Learn more by clicking here.
Regardless of what relaxation techniques you do try, or even if you use a combination of a view, relaxing your body is only the first step in beating anxiety without medication. Now you’re ready for step two: being mindful.
- Be Mindful
Mindfulness is often a misunderstood concept. Frequently thought of as synonymous with meditation, mindfulness simply means non-judgemental observation.
Approaching our anxiety without judgment allows us to take a step back and look at it rationally. It lets us accept it as part of the human experience—without labeling it as “bad” or “weak,” and creating additional anxiety about how we deal with stress as a result.
Meditation is one path to mindfulness, but in a stressful situation, we can practice mindfulness by simply observing what’s going on in the body and the mind, without judging it.
It’s pretty hard to be mindful when your mind is racing and your body is tense though. That’s why step one is so important. Once you’ve relaxed your body some, you’re able to switch out of your reptilian brain, useful for stressful situations only, into your more rational mammalian brain.
To start, scan your body and name the sensations you feel. Do you feel nausea? Are you sweating? Is your heart racing? Don’t judge, just take note.
Then, offer acceptance.
Say something like, “I acknowledge and accept that my chest is tight right now.” Then scan to the next area: “I acknowledge and accept that my leg is shaking right now.”
Then scan your mind. Even if it feels like it’s just racing, name the thoughts that you can identify. Once again, no judgment. It could sound something like, “I am thinking everyone here hates me. It’s ok that I am having this thought. Not good, not bad, just what it is right now.”
For years, Natalie used pills to avoid having to confront her racing thoughts. Valium was her way of reassuring her mind, “There’s nothing to be scared of. Planes and subways rarely crash.” But rejecting the fearful thoughts she was actually having only made Natalie’s anxiety worse. Think of the fearful part of you like a screaming child. You can’t rationalize with them. You just have to show them compassion and love and be present with them. That is really what this mindfulness exercise is teaching you to do.
Soon, Natalie learned to say, “I’m feeling scared and unsafe in this airplane, and I accept these feelings.” At that time, she could move onto the last and most important part of the attend and befriend process – and finally be free of the anxiety “triggers” she’d been fighting for over a decade.
- Stay. Don’t run away.
Ok, you’re relaxed. You’re mindful. Now, just stay. You’re not pushing anything away or freezing in place. Just stay courageous and in the moment.
Although it may be a quick fix, bailing is just a temporary distraction from your anxiety, forcing you to deal with it all over again the next time you’re in the situation. Or at some other inopportune time, like the middle of the night.
By leaving, you never get the opportunity to challenge the anxious thoughts. To realize that, perhaps this situation is safer than you thought it was.
And remember, bailing doesn’t just mean physically leaving the scene. Popping a klonopin is a mental escape and is just as damaging, if not more. So is pretending it’s not happening at all.
You’re also training yourself to associate that place or situation with fear, which will inevitably trigger future attacks.
You’ve got to ride out the anxiety where you are.
If a friend was nervous about going to a party, you wouldn’t ditch her the moment you walked in together. No. You’d stay with her. You’d give her a chance to relax and be herself. You’d offer compassion. So, learn to simply show up as you are, and offer yourself the same compassion.
Befriending your anxiety means getting comfortable with it. You stay where you are in your most anxious moments, get into a relaxed and mindful state and observe.
This was one of the hardest steps for Natalie to take. For years, she’d numbed her fears or just avoided taking planes or subways so she wouldn’t have to deal with the anxiety they triggered. But by forcing her body to relax, being kind to her thoughts and staying in a “triggering” environment, Natalie retrained her nervous system to realize that these places weren’t things to be afraid of. Within a month of practicing these three steps every time she started feeling anxious, she was free of panic attacks. And taking the subway or going on a plane? No problem – and no Valium necessary!
Curing not just coping
You might be thinking, why am I befriending my anxiety again? I hate my anxiety. She’s a real pain in the rear.
I understand why you feel that way. But here are two things to consider:
First, she’s not all that bad. She’s given you some pretty useful gifts, too. A true understanding and empathy for the pain of others. Greater attunement to yourself and your own needs.
Second, even if you don’t like her, since when does screaming down or shutting out your enemies work?
Never. It just makes them scream louder to get your attention. But when you listen and accept them for who they are, you create healthy ways of engaging with them.
Then, slowly your enemy doesn’t have so much power over you.
When you make the three step process above a habit, you’re not only dealing with your anxiety in a healthy way, you’re slowly retraining your brain to believe “Yes, I can handle this situation.”
And when your brain is confident you can stay and survive an anxious episode, guess what, you’re not going to feel anxious in it anymore. You’re curing your anxiety—not just coping with it.
Which of these three steps is something you need to work on the most? Tell me in the comments!
Get INSTANT Access To
- Step-By-Step instructional video on how to use tapping to soothe anxiety
- A technique that can be used anywhere or anytime you feel anxious – at your desk, or in your car
- The transcript and cheat sheet to help you develop your tapping sequence
- The simple tapping script that can be customized for you
- A drug-free way to alleviate anxiety at the moment it strikes