Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How to Calm Down From An Anxiety Attack (and other similar horrible mind attacks)

Let me preface this blog post by saying I'm not an expert on anything here. I'm not a psychologist; I haven't even ever taken a psychology class. But I have suffered from anxiety and depression, and I've had to come up with various ways to deal with them. One of the annoying things about anxiety (and other similar mental disorders) is that occasionally your mind turns into a giant squid of craziness, making any sort of, you know, regular human activity impossible. This takes a bunch of different possible forms (panicking about disasters, hating yourself, crying profusely, etc.) but it takes a toll on you physically and emotionally. And whenever it's done, you're left with a bit of a headache and a really crappy feeling, in addition to potentially having work to do that you neglected. (The work could even have been the cause of anxiety, which makes it about a hundred times worse. I'm looking at you, juniors in high school.)

So over the years of dealing with these attacks, I've accumulated a mental list of techniques for calming down. It's not completely exhaustive, and it won't work for everyone in every situation, but it's just some ideas. I'll also link some Tumblr posts and other websites that provide some more ideas, in case none of mine work. This is fairly long, so I suggest you just read the section that pertains to you instead of the entire thing.


1. Make playlists! I like making way too many playlists for every possible mood. Figure out what kind of mood you need now: a calm mood, a don't-give-me-a-headache mood, a happy mood, a feel-good-about-yourself mood, etc. Making a playlist can be a calming activity in itself, or alternately you can make the playlists at a different time so they're ready in the event of an attack.
2. Listen to calming sounds. creates the nice sound of rain in the background. Even better, this website has a whole lot of noise generators: rain sounds, coffee shop sounds, white noise, jungle sounds, cool spacey sounds, and more. And you can play around with knobs to make it sound exactly how you want it. The website is essentially made for people who want calming noise, so it's great.
3. Eat chocolate! Chocolate helps after a dementor attack and it helps Muggles too. If you can't have chocolate, eat a food that's easy to prepare and that is calming: tea, soup, your favorite granola bar, whatever. Don't eat a whole ton of food because then you'll feel over-full, but just a little.
4. Get crayons or markers and doodle something calming. I like to take a box of crayons and an index card and draw a little heart with each color crayon until the index card is covered in hearts. You can also write favorite song lyrics, poems, or quotes. It helps in general to let your mind focus on one simple thing, rather than the scatter-y feeling you get when you scroll through social media and you're like "Harry Potter gif! Buzzfeed quiz! Article about celebrity!"
5. On the note of letting your mind focus on one thing, this website makes you sit there and not touch your computer for 2 minutes while you look at a beach scene and listen to waves. Just breathing in and out for two minutes can make your mind stop jumping around.
6. Write inspirational song lyrics/poem excerpts/quotes on your arms. You need to focus a lot for this. It's also a good alternative to self-harm if you have problems with that.
7. Drink water. Or, alternately, pour yourself a small glass of a fizzy drink like ginger ale. It'll feel like a small treat in the middle of the day. (I always get ginger ale on airplanes to calm myself from the hatred of airplanes, so it reminds me of calming myself down in general).
8. If you have a Tumblr or something similar, tag every calming thing you see with "calming" and then browse your own tag when you need to calm down. For example, this video and this list of pictures  and this beautiful poem are stuff I tagged as "calming." This is my entire tag if you want to browse it, but I'd suggest you make your own. If you don't have a Tumblr account, keep a folder of bookmarked links from every time you come across something calming online.
9. Read a chapter (or a scene) from your favorite book. Preferably the part where the characters are all hanging out being goofballs and eating delicious food, not the part where Voldemort returns.
10. Especially if you're freaking out because "you did nothing today:" make a list of every good thing that happened today or this week, or everything you achieved. You'll find you did more than you thought you did. Another good thing to list is things to be happy about or things you're grateful for. If you keep all these lists in one notebook, you can read the old ones as well for reminders. I make lists like this when I'm bored or when I have a few minutes of free time before my class starts, so that they're already ready when I start feeling bad.


First of all, there is time. Most of the things above take only a few minutes. You always have time for a few minutes, especially when a few minutes of calming yourself down saves another hour of freaking out. You don't need to do everything on the list. If you feel overburdened by even choosing one activity, and reading this list is already taking so much time, just pick the one that sounds like it takes the least effort and preparation: for example, number 5. Two minutes of breathing will help you a lot if you need to get back to work. But seriously, do not spend those whole two minutes thinking, "what if I don't calm down? I need to work! I can't waste this time!" because then it actually will be a waste of time. You can afford two minutes to think about nothing.

As for the work: I would recommend putting on a calming, non-distracting playlist or one of the noise generators in the background while you work, to keep yourself in a calm mood. Work in a clean environment or whatever sort of environment is most comforting to you. Put on a cozy sweater or wrap yourself in a blanket. Allow yourself some food or a warm drink to have while you work. Everything to make the work seem less stressful.

If the work is what caused the attack in the first place (e.g. "I have to read this entire chapter by tomorrow! I'll never do it! I will fail and die!") then try turning the work from an evil, invincible villain back into a regular activity. Think about how it's just a normal thing and you wouldn't have been assigned to do it if you couldn't handle it. Think about the fact that even if the worst-case scenario happens (aka you don't do the work), the worst that'll happen is a very temporary consequence- AND you are going to do the work, so that's not even going to happen anyway. Think about it as one step after another- one chapter is just three sections, which is just three sets of ten pages, which is just ten sets of one page. Or think about it in a way that makes it seem cool, like imagining that you're in a movie montage about homework.
And especially remember: once you start working, it will get easier, because you'll get into a flow of work. You'll realize as you work that it actually ISN'T that bad. So if nothing else works, just take a deep breath, start working, and just focus on doing the work.

If you need to go to sleep soon: remind yourself that thinking about stuff over and over before bed will not change anything, but getting some sleep will. Every time you think, "but [cause of anxiety]! I can't sleep until I think about it!" remind yourself, "Thinking about it now is ineffective. The best thing I can do right now is sleep."
To help calm yourself into a sleepy mood, make yourself comfortable. Change into comfy pajamas, listen to lullaby type music (this is one of my favorites), put on nice-smelling lotion, take a warm shower, and read a little bit of a calming book. Try and avoid doing stuff on the Internet because it keeps you awake generally.


If none of this worked, there's a chance you're fixating on the idea of calming down and getting anxious about that instead. Try tricking your brain into forgetting about it by focusing yourself on completing an easy activity (wash the dishes, organize your notebooks, clean your desk) so that your attention goes to that instead.
If you are still upset, it helps to talk to another person. Talking to another person helps you to verbalize what's bothering you, to share it so it's not all bottled up in your head, and to gain some perspective on how it isn't so bad. If you have someone you trust in real life or readily available through the Internet, you can talk to them, but if not, this website allows you to chat (by typing) with a qualified stranger who is there to help and will seriously not be bothered by you, because they signed up specifically to help others. They will also probably have more ideas on what to do to calm down.
If all else fails, you can go to sleep if it's nighttime. Sometimes it just helps to wait until morning. If it's not nighttime, you can just try forcing yourself back into normal activities and see if your brain is eventually tricked into falling back into a regular way of thinking.

I hope this post helped a little. Remember, sometimes you're just a breath away from feeling better. (which is a thing Amy Poehler said once and now I stole it). If you need any help or clarification, comment on this article or stalk me and creepily contact me. If you comment on this article, chances are I will find out right away, because I am online like 90% of the time and I check my email about once an hour. But if I don't respond, don't worry- it's not your fault, it's probably because I'm asleep or eating or something.

And here are some links for a bunch more posts like this, in case nothing I suggested is really up your alley, or you just want some more ideas:

Advice for People Who Are Not Having a Good Day
Self-Injury Recovery Masterpost
Recover From a Rough Day
Discouragement from Self-Harm/Suicide
Breathing Gif
Reminder that a Not-Great Day Can Become a Good Day
How to Cope With Anxiety
Calming and Fun Websites
Sunday Evening Reminder

(You may notice these are all from Tumblr, because I have a problem.)
I apologize for how long this post turned out to be. I just want to make it clear how many options there are and how there is never a situation that is hopeless.

Hope you liked this post! See you on Saturday when I will post my first genuine "experience blog" post!

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