Anxiety attacks are overwhelming and a little terrifying. The symptoms: inability to breathe, a feeling of helplessness, chest pains, a sense of terror, a feeling like you have no control, or that you are about to die. Even minor anxiety can be hard to manage. Much worse is when things start spiraling out of control and you are alone with small people who need you to be in control. If you are having frequent or constant feelings of anxiety or panic, I urge you to talk to your doctor. Your health and happiness is of utmost importance, and there are many medical, natural, and therapeutic options available to help control feelings of anxiety.
With situational anxiety, or periodic panic attacks, there is a wide range of simple, natural, and often free things you can do to get yourself back on an even keel. The next time you get locked out of your house, you need to take the kids to the emergency room (again!), a treasured item gets broken, or you just find your mood spiraling out of control, here are some ideas to help you manage.
- Meditate: Meditation kind of has a reputation that it’s something you need perfect peace for if it’s going to work. Not true! A great resource for learning how to meditate with distractions is at Presence Parenting. Even if you just have a second before you need to re-devote your attention to the emergency at hand, acknowledging your feelings of anxiety and breathing can go a long way to finding your center again.
- Naturopathic Remedies: My favorite is Rescue Remedy, but Overwhelm and Valerian are also highly recommended for use on an as-needed basis. A naturopath will have lots of other suggestions based on your particular brand of anxiety.
- Calming Teas: You can find many different brands of calming or sleepy time tea, but you can also brew your own. Good bases to start with are chamomile, bergamot, lemon balm, catnip, peppermint, and licorice. Here is a great primer for brewing whole herb teas.
- Aromatherapy: Lavender, bergamot, eucalyptus, jojoba, geranium, melissa, neroli, rose, sandalwood, ylang-ylang, and many other essential oils can lift mood and relax your body. Experiment to find out what works best for you. Lavender has the opposite effect on me, but bergamot works like a charm. If you are fighting persistent anxiety, using a body wash or shampoo with your best scent on a daily basis can help fight that off.
- Partner Sex or Masturbation: Let’s be frank, orgasm is one of the most efficient ways to relax your body. It can be hard to be in the mood when things are going wrong, but even if you don’t get all the way to the finish line, the touch and distraction can be very helpful. As long as it feels good, it’s worth a try.
- Do Something Kind for Yourself: Buy yourself flowers, indulge in your favorite treat, watch your favorite guilty-pleasure TV show. Doing something you love that usually gets shunted aside while you are focusing on the needs of your family can be tremendously powerful. Showing yourself love and kindness while things are going wrong is a great way to focus on the positive and start calming down.
- Take a Bath: Or go swimming. Even just soaking your feet in the water can help wash away your stress. If you really have only a few seconds, run your hands under warm water, and splash some on your face, and the nape of your neck.
- Breathe Slowly: When I’m having trouble holding onto any thought other than my panicked loop, I like to count my breaths inhaling on the odd numbers and exhaling on the even, from 1 to 10, over and over. Slowing your breathing down is a great way to remind your nervous system that everything is okay.
- Take the Pressure Off: Is there something, or multiple things, on your to-do list that can be dropped? Pull a meal from the freezer, or order delivery. Put off laundry until tomorrow. Skip the kids’ afternoon classes and stay home. Turn on a movie and let the kids veg while you work on regaining your equilibrium.
- Accupressure: A couple of helpful pressure points in your body for dealing with anxiety: the soft spot behind your ear where your jaw bone connects to your skull — press gently with a finger and hold; the tip of your collar bone — tap quickly with two fingers for as long as feels right; the skin between your thumb and pointer finger — pinch with the thumb and forefinger from your opposite hand for a count of 10, then repeat.
- Accept That This Is Happening: It’s okay to be in panic mode right now; your body is trying to protect you, not harm you. You are not weak for feeling like this — you are very strong. Accepting how you feel, and the validity of your feelings, can be hard when everything feels so wrong, but keep in mind that your body and brain are trying to save you from a perceived or real danger. Embrace your inner warrior and use your fear to fight off the danger. Once the immediate danger, if there was any, is over, repeat to yourself, “Thank you for taking care of me, but there is no danger right now. I am safe.”
- Exercise: Dance, go for a bike ride, walk around the neighborhood, hit the gym. Your body is in fight-or-flight mode. Exercising will release the endorphins your body is generating right now, and direct them into a positive place. That and the bone-tired feeling after you do your favorite workout will help you relax.
- Ask for Help: I always find it harder to reach out for help when I am feeling panicked, but people really are happy to help. Maybe your partner can come home early for work, or a friend or relative might be able to come over and play with the kids. Someone from your parents group or religious organization might have a meal they can drop by. Ask for what you need, and let people take care of you when they offer.
- Listen to Music or Sing: Listening to music you love is relaxing. Singing opens up your airways and helps you breathe. I like to sing the hits of the early 90s while I go about my daily work, my daughter likes to join me in singing her favorite songs, and we both think it’s hilarious to change the lyrics to familiar songs. Nothing makes me laugh as hard as singing “Janie’s gotta poop!”
- Read or Listen to an Audio Book: Escape this world to an imaginary one. I have a few authors whose works I return to when I am feeling stressed out. I even find reading aloud with my kids is almost as relaxing as reading to myself.
- Laugh and Be Silly: I’m sure nothing feels very funny right now, but fake laughter is almost as relaxing as real. Try making your kids laugh with silly jokes or faces, and they will return the favor. My daughter is in the stage where she loves knock-knock jokes, and even though her jokes don’t yet make sense, listening to her trying to work out what is funny is great fun. Her favorite right now is Knock knock! Who’s there? Ma! Ma who? Mommy!
- Cuddles and Skin-to-Skin Contact: Skin-to-skin isn’t good just for babies! Snuggle with your kids, or your partner if available, and try to maximize skin-to-skin contact. It helps you to be able to feel their breathing and heartbeat, and your heartbeat and breathing will try to match theirs. Even holding hands with someone can help your body return to its regular rhythm.
- Go Outside: Gardening, playing in the water with the kids, taking a walk in the rain, smelling flowers, even just sitting in the fresh air will help. Being outdoors is a great way to settle back into your place in the universe and feel the connection we all have to each other.
- Talk It Out: Find a sympathetic ear and tell that person your worries. Don’t fret about making sense or being logical. Don’t think about finding a solution, unless you want to. Just talking about the swirling thoughts in your brain can help you sort out what you are actually worried about, and what you can let go of.
- Keep Trying!: If the first thing you try doesn’t work, try another. Try as many as it takes. If your first cup of tea helps, but only a little, have another. Combine things. There is a solution to this particular anxiety attack. After time, you will be able to tell what this brand of panic needs, but until then, don’t give up!
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