Ever have those moments where you just want to jump out of your skin? It’s not unusual to have times where anxiety (or stress or whatever you want to call it) gets to the point that your mind or your body feels unbearable to live in. Since we are not reptiles, I’m guessing that skin-shedding is not an option. Here are a few things to try instead:
1. Visualize a calm or safe place. Imagine a place that you have not been before. Close your eyes and picture yourself in your new surroundings. Use your five senses to experience this place. What do you see? What do you smell? Is there anything you taste? What do you hear? How does it feel to be here today? Take 5-10 minutes to be in this place and enjoy your surroundings. If your mind wanders (as it will), bring it back to this place.
2. Focus on your out-breath. What do you do when someone says take a deep breath? You probably take in a big inhale. While this inhale is great to motivate us to move or engage in an activity, it might not help when you are trying to calm down. See what happens if you shift your focus to the out-breath and stay with it for a minute or two.
3. What would you say to a friend? We can be our own worst critic. Is there something kind that you could say to a friend who was in the same situation as you. Resist the urge to fix things. See if you can stay with validation or with your feelings. Try offering yourself some self-compassion. A few words can make a big difference. Having trouble figuring out what to say? See if this exercise helps.
4. Distract. What activities do you do that take your whole mind? Is one of those activities available to you right now? It might be exercising, doing the dishes, walking the dog, or watching a funny YouTube video (this one with cats is one of my favorites). See if there is something that you can do to give yourself a break from your current thoughts. They will still be there to revisit when the time is right. But when things feel overwhelming, continuing to think about the topic often makes things feel worse rather than better.
5. Practice being an observer. The great thing about emotions is that they come and go like waves. Anxiety, worry, and stress all behave this way. Take a few moments to focus on watching your thoughts pass. If you feel so inclined, close your eyes and imagine placing your thoughts on leaves floating on a river. Watch each leaf as it follows the water down the river and out of sight. Thoughts may continue to arise. Each time, place the thought on a leaf and let it float away.
While none of these activities take the place of therapy, they can be great options to use when you are feeling overwhelmed. I like to think of them like experiments. Each time you try one, see how it works and make note of it. Some may work better than others, and some may be the right activity for certain types of anxiety or stress and others may work better for other types. See what works for you.