If you struggle with anxiety, you know it can attack at any time, for seemingly any reason. It’s one thing if you are alone in the comfort of your home. But when you’re in public, it’s a whole different animal.
When anxiety strikes, it can feel like the world around you is caving in. It’s important to be able to self soothe in these situations.
Here’s 4 ways to calm an anxiety attack discretely when you’re out in public.
As soon as you feel the anxiety coming on, focus intently on your breathing and nothing else.
First, you want to activate the relaxation response in the body (Parasympathetic Nervous System) with long exhalations. Begin to take slow…deep breaths. First, focus on releasing all of the oxygen from your lungs as you exhale a few times. You’ll know you’re doing it right when you feel your core begin to engage at the end. Don’t worry about taking a deep breath in, just let your lungs naturally fill up on their own. Do this 3-4 times.
Next, inhale for a slow count of four through your nose and hold for a count of four. Then exhale for a count of four and hold for a count of four. This is called “square breathing.” In 4, hold 4, out 4, hold 4.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
Talk to yourself
Remind yourself that you are having an experience, but you are not that experience. While you feel that something is wrong, remind yourself that you were actually safe and all is well. Remember, you are not your thoughts. Your thoughts are a part of you. “I’m noticing that I’m feeling anxious” is a lot less intense than “I’m anxious.”
This may seem insignificant, but don’t underestimate the power of creating distance from your thoughts. When we create distance between ourself and our thoughts, we create space. In that space is the moment when we have a choice to make – the choice of how we choose to response to our thoughts and feelings.
Engage Your Senses
Using the full power of your senses can be tremendously beneficial when you suddenly feel anxious. Ground yourself to the moment by bringing your attention to 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste. You can mix this up in any order that suits you depending on which of your senses is the strongest and most powerful. If you’re very tactile, then start with what you feel. If you’re visual, then start with what you see.
Try A Listening Meditation
If you’ve never tried listening meditation, I highly recommend it – especially in waiting rooms or while waiting in line a the grocery store. But it can be especially beneficial when you’re feeling anxious.
Here’s why. Listening requires you to stop thinking. Try it now. Stop reading and instead listen to all of the ambient sounds in the room with you – outside the door and window.
What do you here? Let your sense of hearing grow and grow as it picks up more subtle sounds. The buzz of the lights overhead…the noise of the ice-maker…the birds chirping outside the window…the gentle rush of traffic in the distance.
It can actually be a fun exercise to do. In order to really give the sounds around you your full attention, you can’t think while listening. It’s kinda like trying to juggle while standing on your hands – it can’t be done.
Much of our anxiety comes from our anxious thoughts. It’s our reptilian brain trying to keep us alive by alerting us to all of the danger around us. But when we meditate, this mine chatter goes away.
When an anxiety attack comes on, life can feel unbearable. The next time this happens to you in public, try one or more of these techniques.
Life is too short to spend it struggling with anxiety. If you find yourself in the midst of a “the struggle” too often, find a skilled therapist you connect well with to help you go From Surviving To Thriving.
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.