How to stop anxiety right now.

Published on February 21st 2023.
Written by Jenna Farmer.

1. Recognition | 2. Breathing | 3. Grounding | 4. Hydration | 5. No Caffeine | 6. Find Support | 7. Get Outside

However much we may implement long-term stress reduction strategies (such as diet changes or exercise), sometimes we find ourselves in an unexpected anxiety spiral that’s out of our control. Some of us may get a sudden increase of anxious thoughts or it may take the form of physical manifestations (such as a racing heart and shortness of breath we associate with panic attacks).

Anxiety prevention strategies are really useful (check out our article on The 7 best science-backed coping strategies for anxiety for more of these) but what should we do if we’re already anxious right now? If that’s you, then don’t worry: you’re not alone. 40 million adults in the US (and around 8 million in the UK) experience anxiety. Let’s take a look at some strategies for how to get rid of anxiety as it’s happening to you.

1. Recognise that you’re experiencing an anxiety attack.

Sometimes we’re convinced the anxiety we’re experiencing is much more serious than it actually is: for example, we may think we’re actually having a heart attack if we suddenly experience a racing heart. Other times, we may be convinced by anxiety that we’re in real danger when we’re actually safe. Recognising what you’re going through is actually anxiety is one of the most powerful things you can do in the short term. Some of the symptoms of an anxiety attack are very real-such as shortness of breath, tingling in fingers, shaking and feeling sick.  But these symptoms often go away within 30 minutes and can be distinguished, e.g. a heart attack usually begins when you physically exert yourself but anxiety attacks can happen when you’re at rest. It allows you to think more rationally and then take steps to reduce it. You may choose to opt to repeat a mantra such as: ‘I know this is anxiety and it will soon pass’ or ‘Anxiety is making me think like this right now – but it won’t last forever.’

2. Try this one-minute breathing exercise.

How often have you been told ‘just breathe!’ when you’re stressed? Whilst it might sound super unhelpful or patronising, there’s actually a good reason for this. Breathing practice has been found to be an effective remedy against anxiety. However, despite the research, when we’re anxious,our breathing can be harder to control. It’s been proven that those with anxiety can experience an exaggerated increase in their rate of respiration ( breathing). We actually need to remind ourselves to breathe properly and specific breathing exercises can help with this. “We want to release the increased tension in the muscles and find calm again. My specific recommendation when breathing is to have a longer out-breath than in-breath. This calms the vagus nerve and helps engage the parasympathetic nervous system (this system helps relax your body when you’re stressed). It also de-activates the sympathetic nervous system (the system that activates your fight and flight response).” explains Sylvia Tillmann, a TRE (Tension Releasing Exercises) provider, who teaches her clients how to release tension held in their body.

“You could count slowly to 3 whilst taking a breath in and then slowly to six when breathing out. You’ll get into a rhythm and ideally do this for a minute or two.” adds Sylvia.

3. Try some grounding techniques

When we’re anxious, we often can’t focus on what’s happening right now. How often have you been so anxious that you’ve missed a doctor’s appointment or forgotten to eat breakfast that morning? There’s a reason for this; when we’re anxious it makes it harder to concentrate and learn new information. One large study of American adults found that the more anxious they were, the worse their working memory was. Grounding techniques are techniques specifically designed to bring you back to the present moment and distract from anxious thoughts. “A simple and effective grounding exercise is to use the 54321 method. Before you start, take a few slow breaths. Take a look around you and notice 5 things that you see. Then notice 4 things in the environment you can touch. Next, bring your attention to 3 things you can hear. Next, pay attention to 2 things you can smell. Finally, bring your attention to 1 thing you can taste. Focusing your attention this way can bring you back to the present moment and quieten the mind” says CBT therapist and founder of Conscious & Calm Navit Schechter.

4. Drink a glass of water

We all know how important it is to stay hydrated, but sometimes life just gets in the way. We might find it hard to remember to drink 8 glasses of water a day when our mental health is poor or rely on caffeine if we’re low on spoons.

However, even being mildly dehydrated has been found to increase anxiety and fatigue. It sounds simple but water really could help. “When you’re feeling anxious, have a glass of water. Mild dehydration can cause an increase in anxiety. There’s been several studies that indicate increasing water can have a beneficial effect on calmness.” says nutritionist Hannah Hope.

If you find yourself going hours without water, consider setting a reminder on your phone, using a water tracking bottle or keeping track of your water intake by using the Bearable app.

5. Cut down on energy drinks

Energy drinks have grown in popularity and are now a billion-dollar industry.  You may rely on them to help fatigue or grab one when you know you’ve got to cram for a big test or work presentation. A study has found energy drink consumption was associated with anxiety increasing. It’s likely due to the caffeine they contain, which can also be anxiety triggers. “Caffeine, found in tea, coffee and soda drinks can be a stimulant, and if you have increased sensitivity to caffeine then this may directly cause anxiety.” advises nutritionist Hannah Hope. We know it’s not always possible to ditch them altogether, especially if you struggle with chronic fatigue, but reducing them is one practical step you can take today if you’re dealing with anxiety.“ If you are having caffeine, then have it with food and before midday and no more than 2 servings a day.” adds Hannah Hope.

6. Speak to a friend or family member

Anxiety can make us feel incredibly isolated and alone-but it doesn’t have to be that way. Having a friend or family member you can rely on can help you think more rationally and reassure you that you’re not in danger.  One study found that support from family members is an important part of a personal support network in relation to the recovery process.

Sometimes we can feel nervous about talking to a loved one so it could be worth practising what you’d like to say. It’s worth thinking about how you’d like a loved one to support you ahead of an anxiety attack, so you feel reassured rather than dismissed. We’re often told things like ‘you’re fine! Or ‘forget about it!’ which isn’t that helpful when our anxiety feels all-consuming. You may explain what support you need, such as sharing a mantra with them that you’d like them to repeat or something that you know helps distract you.

7. Take yourself to an outside space

If it’s possible, try temporarily shifting to new surroundings-even if just for a couple of minutes. Assistant Psychologist and Hypnotherapist Holly Buckley explains: “we often find that when in panic mode, we feel trapped, almost as if the walls are closing in on you. So if you feel those panic feelings rising then safely take yourself outside to an open space.” You don’t need to travel far for this. “ This could even just be outside on your doorstep or in the car park of your work building. Just somewhere where you can hear outside sounds, see more space and feel fresh air. Then take some deep breaths and try the 54321 exercise.” she adds.

We hope these simple but effective strategies have given you some coping mechanisms if you’re dealing with anxiety right now. Whichever of these you find useful,  remember that you can use Bearable to learn how they impact your anxiety, mood, sleep, energy levels and any other symptoms you’re experiencing.

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you’re seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment.

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Sylvia Tillmann, Tremendous TRE.

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How Anxiety affects your focus, BBC.

Navit Schechter, Conscious & Calm.

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Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men, Ganio et al, British Journal of Nutrition.

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