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Anxiety often packs a double punch - first, body panic, then mind panic! Fear ultimately follows you wherever you go. Here are a few ideas for reclaiming control of mental and emotional health before anxiety and panic attacks spiral out of control:
- 4-7-8 Breathing: Breathe in for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 7 seconds. Exhale for 8 seconds. In doing this a few times, there is a shift in your nervous system from a sympathetic (arousing) to a parasympathetic (calming) response.
- Present-Moment Mindfulness: To become mindful that the present moment is all that matters, repeat this mantra: “Breathing in, I am in the present moment. Breathing out, I feel calm.” You can control anxiety by steering your thoughts in the direction you desire. Mindfulness enables you to become the captain of your ship and the navigator of your thoughts.
- Calm Anxiety with H.A.L.T.: The H.A.L.T. acronym stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. Each one triggers a mental or physical reaction that resembles anxiety - and each one is within your control. H.A.L.T. is a tool for maintaining calm and avoiding anxiety. When you feel yourself on the edge of extreme anxiety or panic, run down the checklist and immediately take action to fix one of the four possible causes.
- Practice Anxiety-Free Eating: When your stomach is growling and your head is spinning, you are entering an emotional danger zone of being “hangry.” Hunger transforms into anger. Thus, when your eating schedule is erratic, your blood sugar is erratic. Falling blood sugar actually mimics anxiety. You can keep your blood sugar stable by grazing or eating small meals several times a day. It is important to have healthy snacks at the ready.
- De-Isolate Yourself: People with anxiety and/or ADHD often feel misunderstood which causes them to withdraw, isolate themselves, and feel lonely (even when they are surrounded by people). Loneliness can lead to sadness and feeling depressed and anxious, so it is critical to try hard to avoid it by getting out of the house or dorm and getting out of your head. You can make plans with friends, even if you don’t feel like it or reach out to a friend who will keep things light. Help someone else out who is struggling or volunteer, go to the movies, to the gym, or to a yoga class. Treat yourself with kindness, understanding, and compassion.
- Sleep Schedule: When you are tired, you are less tolerant, more irritable, and just plain moody. Anxiety causes sleep problems and sleep deprivation causes anxiety. Thus, it is important to make a conscious effort to improve your sleep patterns. Go to bed and wake up the same time every day and reduce caffeine and bright lights prior to your bedtimes.
- Give Yourself a Timeout: It is important to know when to stop the clock and take a timeout. Take a walk or grab a snack to stop your frenetic pace temporarily. There is great value in refreshing and renewing yourself throughout the day.
- Set Up Your Launchpad: Prepare for your morning routine tomorrow, today! Prepare a checklist the night before and set up a “launch pad” near the door for items like your keys, phone, ID, iPad, and other day-to-day essentials. Use huge reminder notes and put them on the door where you exit.
- Live in Slow Motion: When you slow down your body, you also impact your mind’s speed. Intentionally practice slow movements. Practice walking meditation. Take slow deliberate steps on a garden path. Walk around the block in slow motion. Yoga and Tai Chi are slow-moving anxiety-reducers.
- Do a Brain Dump: Cleanse your mind of all the unnecessary garbage that it stores such as negative narratives from self and/or others. Destructive negative thinking may lead to unhealthy levels of anxiety. In order to release your worries before bedtime, say your fears out loud or write them down in your journal. Negative, unrealistic thoughts take up too much space. Dump them and make room for happiness, joy, and beauty.
By Tara McFalls, M.Ed., former Director of Learning, Perkiomen School
Tara McFalls earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Philosophy and then began working in the field of neuroscience research. Although she loved the research and potential implications of rigorous scientific examination, she yearned for a classroom setting. She earned a master’s degree in Education and worked in higher education at Cabrini University for 14 years before coming to Perkiomen School.