Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. According to data from Beyond Blue, over 2 million Australians will experience some form of anxiety every year and with the weight of the past two years sitting heavy on so many of us, the impact anxiety is having on our lives is not easing up. If you find yourself wondering how you can stop anxiety attacks, or lessen the symptoms of the condition, our advice is to always reach out to a mental health professional for support first, but in addition to that, there are some tools you can use that may help.
Ash King, who is a PhD candidate, mental health educator and content creator and practitioner at the Indigo Project, kindly spent some time chatting with us about the many quick, accessible tools you can use when you’re feeling overwhelmed, overcome with anxiety or on the brink of an attack.
How effective are quick calming tools in the face of anxiety?
It may sound sort of wild that a one minute guided meditation (or similar) can help settle your feelings of anxiety, but these kinds of tools are incredibly helpful. King explained that “having some quick go-to strategies when you’re feeling overwhelmed or distressed is a great way to bring yourself back down to earth”.
In those times “when you feel like your emotions are big, loud and all-consuming,” taking a few minutes to re-centre can make all the difference, she explained.
“It’s also a great way to establish a mindful and compassionate relationship with yourself, which boosts resilience and self-worth.”
Play your ACE
If you’re wondering what anxiety management tools are most effective in cases like this, the truth is that there are many and not all of them will work the same way for every person. But here, King shared that a popular example to try from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is one known as ‘Dropping Anchor’.
“It allows us to understand that while we can’t get rid of the emotional storm, we can ground ourselves and give it space to come and go,” she said.
How to practice Dropping Anchor:
“The first step is to Acknowledge Your Inner Experience – it can be helpful to give it a name, ‘I am noticing that I’m feeling frustrated’, or ‘I am noticing my mind is racing with worst-case scenarios,’” King explained.
“From there, you Connect With Your Body – press your feet firmly into the floor, take a juicy full-body stretch, take a deep breath to fill up and lungs and exhale slowly.
“Finally, you Engage With The World – come back to where you are and recognise that even while your emotional experience plays out, it is not the only thing that you have the capacity to attend to. Sometimes, we’ll guide people into looking for 3 things of a certain colour (Can you spot 3 red things?) or go through the senses, and mentally flag one thing you can see, one thing you can hear, one thing you can feel, one thing you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
“To remember it [all], I always think of playing my ACE.”
She shared here that Dropping Anchor is a particularly effective anxiety tool because it helps us to become more aware of our thoughts and how we feel in our bodies, meaning we can “start attending to our needs before things become overwhelming”. The practice also helps you to feel in control of your body again, and “helps us realise that while our emotions might be a big part of our experience – they are not the only thing in our experience”.
Here’s a video guide if that’s helpful to you:
What should we do in times where these tools don’t work?
The guidance of a therapist or counsellor can help you land on an anxiety management approach that will work best for you, but King shared that “it’s worth experimenting with different strategies to find something that works for you”.
Headspace has a range of guided meditations you can use, The Indigo Project has playlists focused on calming anxiety and you can find breathing practices on apps like Calm.
When you find an anxiety tool that suits you, King explained that you need to be using them regularly, not just in extreme circumstances. “You want to become familiar with these techniques in moments of calm and stillness now, so the body and mind can go through the process and learn what to do” when you’re experiencing acute feelings of anxiety or an attack.
If, however, you ever find your go-to anxiety tools can’t help you calm down, you can always reach out to services like Beyond Blue and Lifeline (13 11 14) for immediate support, free of charge.
October is Mental Health Month and October 10 is World Mental Health Day so for that reason, this month we’re going to be shedding a little extra light on the mental health struggles that impact so many Australians every day. Keep reading with our pieces on self-gaslighting, the mood-boosting power of kindness and bore-out. And if you want more, Pinterest has launched a digital Haven dedicated to World Mental Health Day here, full of content inspired by the event.
If you or someone you love is in need of support, services like Beyond Blue and Lifeline (13 11 14) are available 24/7. If you’re in an emergency, please call 000.