What To Do When Anxiety Strikes

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Last week I was sitting at my desk staring blankly forward at my computer screen. The little gold vintage clock that sits beside it was ticking at me incessantly. Every time it jerked across to the next minute I felt it mocked me a little more. I looked down to the notebook that my pen had been tapping ferociously against, to find it was covered in hundreds of orphaned autographs.

But then my eyes drifted to my To Do list and I felt hot and angry and overwhelmed. My chest was puffed but my shoulders were hunched over as if my  body was subconsciously protecting something. Those old questions popped up… did my heart just skip a beat? Did it just double bounce?

I felt blocked. And I am not (only) talking about the type of mental block that stops someone like me – whose employment revolves around wandering wonderings – but the type of feelings that immobilizes even the most productive of people. A fog that absorbs your body and creates a tangible discomfort that you can’t… quite… put your finger on.

I was anxious. And you know what? I am not the only one.

It seems that everyone that I speak to at the moment, every blog post I read (like this stellar example from Sarah Wilson) people are describing this indescribable ickiness. There has been a palpable bout of rage-inducing communication malfunctions and brain farts that is sweeping my social media channels. There seems to be renewed belief and new devotees to the previously woo-woo astrological belief of Mercury Retrograde (read an all-encompassing article from one of my fave’s Gala Darling here).

Now as you know from my previous mentions of it (here) I am no stranger to anxiety. And though I manage my anxiety disorder through lifestyle changes and choices that doesn’t mean I don’t get side-swiped by it occasionally. And especially when there is this bizarre collective tension in the air.

So how do you shake this funny can’t-put-your-finger-on-it feelings? Grab a post-it and be prepared to jot these things down and stick ’em above your computer. Try these solutions. In order of importance.

1. Breathe!

While my final office job was soul-destroying at best I am ever the optimist. There is always a silver-lining. And that silver-lining was Kate; a gorgeous German NLP massage therapist that was contracted to come round to our desks every fortnight to work on our shoulders (presumably from preventing an epidemic of coma’s sweeping the office). She was impossible sensual and had a handshake that would make Schwarzenegger wince. My work bestie and I nicknamed her Iron-Paw.

So, the first time Iron Paw took the helm at my shoulders she appeared shocked.

“Emily?”

“Yes, Iron Paw?”

“Do you realise that you are not breathing?”

“No, no I did not. Though that does explain a few things…”

No wonder I kept feeling dizzy at work! I was so tense that my rib-cage was contracted. My shoulders were sitting just underneath my lobes. My neck was bowed forward like a storks. And apparently this is a very common malfunction in the world of the busy. She rested those heavy hands and held my shoulders firmly and asked me to breathe. As I breathed out she pushed my shoulders hard, almost whooshing the air from me. After 5 minutes of a very public (and weirdly intimate) meditation I felt fuller but lighter. Alert but calm. This is how you are meant to feel rather than panicked.

So please, right now, do the following exercise with me;

  1. Sit comfortably. Wiggle around so that you are seated solidly on your bum bones. Back straight.
  2. Close your eyes and place your hands on your lap.
  3. Take a deep breathe in, right down into your belly, and hold it at the top for 5 seconds.
  4. Breath out through your nose so their is no air left in your lungs.
  5. Repeat that three more times.

How amazing is that? Every time you start to feel the panic creeping in, please just take 20 seconds to breathe.

2. GO. OUTSIDE.

I can’t stress this point  enough. Fresh air is vital for a stale mind. Sit under a tree and marvel at the network of branches.. or just listen to the swishy leaves. Walk near water (more on that below!). Get some Vitamin D or just feel rain on you. It will wrench you back to the present and also (in a lovely way) remind you how small you are.

10f2157e712d7040a3906af29262791a 3. Expel the energy

Anxiety sucks and it is often our knee jerk reaction to try and quell it. It is uncomfortable and people want it gone. But sometimes we are feeling emotions because we need to process them and just a blanket “chin up” approach just masks it rather than solves. It’s like straightening out the quilt but leaving your sheets twisted underneath.

So instead of that today I am asking you to connect with that feeling and try get to the root of it. What else are you feeling along with it? What is causing it? Go sit somewhere quiet and free of distractions and try to connect with the other emotion… the one that is peaking over Anxiety’s shoulder.

Are you anxious and… upset? And… over-excited? Angry? Sexually bloody frustrated? Once you have identified the real cause you can expel the energy appropriately.

  • Sadness prescription: A good cry. Go get a few sad DVD’s, your girlfriend or a pet and let that shit out. (May I suggest Season 4 of Offspring?)
  • Over-excitement prescription: Put on your favourite song and dance like an idiot in your lounge.
  • Anger prescription: Punch a pillow. Do an intense workout. Go underwater and scream. Listen to Korn or Marilyn Manson and have an angsty teen head bang if that does the job!
  • Sexual frustration prescription: Right now go and find Ryan Gosling and take him. OR… take your partner. You can find Ryan together!

While these suggestions seem too simplistic to work, keep an open mind. Humans have a habit of over-complicating things.

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4. Find a large body of moving water

I love it when a crazy alternative theory gets scientific backing! Scientists say that some of those fuzzy feelings we get (melancholy, headaches, low attention) are all due to ions. Ions are charged particles of air and they can be charged negatively (this is good) or positively (this is bad).  Negative ions are known as natures antidepressants; the more, the better. So where can you get ’em?

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Negative ions are produced from bodies of moving water; think rivers, waterfalls and the ocean! However Positive Ions are produced in polluted, stale environments with a heavy ratio of electrical equipment. To put a completely unrelatable number for some science cred; a stale car can have zero negatives ions per cubic centimetre, a polluted city can sit at 100, fresh country air has 2000-4000. A large waterfall? Can have over 100,000 negative ions per cubic centimetre.

So there’s the scientific reason that ‘long walks along the beach’ really make you feel good.

5. Can’t find water? Find a flame.

If you do not have access to a large body of water then a simple candle will do. Fire-gazing round a campsite is just the rugged-mans foray into meditation after all! There is something deeply relaxing about watching a flame dancing around and you can use it to your advantage to help melt away feelings of anxiety.

One of my favourite candle meditations is this one that I found at Om Harmonics. It gives you a step by step guide that I find really helpful when I am in a tizz.

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What about you? Have you been feeling the anxiety in the air? What are your favourite ways to bust it? I’d love to hear in the comments…

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  • Wow!! Em – you’ve done it again. Picked up on something so true and real in my life right now, as I sit hunched over, questioning my place and meaning in this world and wondering how the hell I got here as far as accepting a job that I didn’t even like the interview (that should have been a clear sign to say ‘thanks but no thanks’ when the job offer came through!). Am I feeling anxious? Hell yes! And it’s been snowballing for the past week. A sleepless night on Sunday night as I battled with my mind to ‘let go’ of my thoughts that were whirling around in my mind about another week at work in my new job that I’ve hated since I’ve started, three weeks ago. There MUST be something in the air – as the overwhelming sense I have at the moment is ‘things are just not right’….I feel like I’m wearing a prickly jumper and jeans that are two sizes too small and my thoughts are so scrambled that not much is making sense beyond my huge urge to press ‘pause’ and take time out. So with your words and sharing ways to better manage anxiety, I’m going to go outside, breathe, reflect and aim for a centering experience to listen and hear my inner voice speak. Thank you Em for again being such a beacon of light, love and inspiration! xxxxx

  • Emily Ehlers, I can never get enough of your posts. Wise words + humour that makes me laugh out loud (which I almost never do when reading or watching TV!) = utterly amazing. I’ve had a few days (ok, a week) of the heebies myself and all your suggestions are spot on. Particularly the Ryan Gosling one, though I have yet to try it out!’ Big love xx
    Emmy Clews recently posted…Women for Wellness: Monika BerryMy Profile

  • Ryan fixes everything, in my opinion! Might just save that image because it would seem that looking into his eyes actually does help!

    It’s also good to know that it’s not just me encountering people feeling like this and I think we all could do with the gentle reminder that sometimes, without explanation, things just feel odd and it might be a little out of our control. Self care and compassion are such great ways to let it pass and still feel good about life!

    Great post, thanks lovely!
    Katherine – The Beauty Of Life recently posted…The Power of YouMy Profile

  • OH Em! Reeeelating over here. The irony is that I just posted a blog so super similar to this today! As you so damn intuitively say – everyone is feeling it at the moment. Love your suggestions. I’ve absolutely been expelling that energy lately. Thanks so sharing some awesome advice honey. xx