The first time I had a full-blown anxiety attack I was in seat 17A of a United Airlines Boeing 767 at 30,000 feet somewhere over Colorado. I had no idea what was happening to me, except that I had to get out of there—fast. But I wasn’t going anywhere. I was sandwiched into the window seat of an airliner and, as we began our descent into LAX, even the option of the toilet disappeared. There was only one place to go—inwards.
There are all manner of remedies for anxiety—massage and energy work, crystals, diet changes, exercising, essential oils… you name it. But sometimes none of those are available to you, as in my airliner situation. At those times you need a simple, mechanical toolkit that’s always available. Here it is.
The first thing that happens when we are anxious is that out body panics. It starts to constrict. As it constricts, it receives less oxygen. That makes it think it’s dying and raises the panic level. So breathe deeply, even if your mind is still racing and your whole being shrieks with panic. Take big long breaths that come up your legs and torso and fill up your lungs, then back the same way. You don’t have to do special counts or anything. Just get fresh air into your lungs.
2. Ground yourself
Imagine there’s a long energetic cord that follows the same axis as the breaths coming up and into your body. Imagine this cord extends all the way down to the centre of the earth. Yes, you can do this even at 30,000 feet. Imagine the air you breathe comes up that cord, into your body and back down when you exhale.
3. Place your awareness on your breath
Your mind may still be racing through all manner of catastrophic eventualities. You need to divert resources away from it. You do this by placing your awareness on your breath. Follow the air as it comes up the cord, fills your lungs then retraces its journey. You are now consciously connected to an endless stream of life-giving air. What is there to be anxious about?
4. Quieten your mind
The mind loves nothing better than thinking up problems for it so solve—except that it doesn’t know how to solve anxiety issues. So turn it off. Switch off your brain—as much as you can—and focus on the breath.
5. Be neutral
If your anxiety has no specific source, skip to step 7. Otherwise, it’s time to start working on whatever is ramping up that anxiety. Whatever it is, shift to a position of neutrality in regard to it. Stop seeing it as bad. Take the negative spin off it. It just is. We are heavily programmed to classify everything as good and bad so it can be hard to do. But this is where the long-term solution comes from—neutrality.
6. Let go
Okay, if you’ve managed to do all the previous steps and bring your anxiety under control, here’s a scary extra step that will pay off in the long run. For as long as you bottle your anxiety, it will keep coming back. Eventually you will want to be rid of it forever, and you do that by accepting that there is something inside you screaming to get out. Remember; be neutral. Let yourself feel that whatever-it-is from a place of neutrality and acceptance. Keep the breath running, as this may step feel a bit scary. And once you’ve completely felt it, let it go. Down the cord as you exhale. All the way down to the centre of the earth. There’s a cosmic recycling bin down there somewhere that will deal with it.
Practice makes perfect. Our default programming is to react negatively to anything that we judge as bad, like anxiety. By repeating these simple steps you can train yourself to respond more capably to anxiety—and maybe even help someone else in distress. And if you’d like some more fuss-free 24/7 emotional tools, please read my post 5 Tools for solving personal crises.
Image: Porsche Brosseau / Creative Commons
This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.