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Published on August 14, 2018

How to Calm Down Anxiety When Your Brain is in Overdrive

How to Calm Down Anxiety When Your Brain is in Overdrive

We all experience anxiety and stress, and that’s a good thing. If we didn’t, we would not be human and would be unable to protect ourselves and our loved ones from danger.

For example, imagine that while driving you notice another car speeding, looking like it was going to run a stoplight. If you get anxious and experience a “flight or flight” reaction of what could happen, you will react quickly by stepping on the brake and might very well avoid an accident!

Although the above example shows that anxiety can be a friend in times of danger, often anxiety is maladaptive when it goes on overdrive long after the threat of danger is over. Some people cannot get themselves back to a calmer baseline as anxiety remains high – even though there is no longer any objective threat.

Anxiety on overdrive can make us actually feel sick, can cause us to hyperventilate, our hearts to race, while disturbing our concentration and our sleep and even can cause panic attacks.

Most often anxiety results from not actual threats, but our exaggerated fears of what might happen. When we are overly anxious, danger lurks in our minds and not from the outside.

“It would be awful if I goof up” “If I lose this job I might never get another job.” “If she leaves me, I couldn’t handle it.” “If I say something stupid in the meeting, people will think I’m stupid.” “It would be terrible if I make a mistake.” “I’m nervous that he’ll get angry at me.” “I can’t mess this up.”

Fears are usually more specific and realistic, while anxiety results more from our exaggerated thinking. Exaggerated thoughts of possible rejection, humiliation and failure lead to low self-esteem and extreme stress.

Getting caught up in “what ifs” rob us of a sense of self-empowerment and make us feel at the mercy of people and situations. No wonder why anxiety on overdrive leads to the development of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

How about you? Do you find your self-talk increases your anxiety more than it calms you down? Do you worry about things that are not really in your control, no matter how much you try?

The following are some ways to calm yourself when you find your anxiety is on overdrive.

1. Use deep calming breaths

Deep breathing is one of the most immediate steps you can take to calm anxiety.

When we are anxious, we tend to tense up, leading to rapid and shallow breathing. Using deep calming breaths can help us immediately calm down our physiological response to our racing thoughts. Deep breathing involves diaphragmatic breathing.

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Breathe slowly though your nose and release your breaths slowly through your mouth. Consciously extend your abdomen while taking deep breaths instead of taking shallow chest breaths.

How can you tell if you are breathing deeply? Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest – when you breath in, the hand on your stomach should be moving up and down while the hand on the chest stays relatively still.

To help concentrate on your breathing, imagine a color as you breathe in and out.

Count slowly either forwards or backwards for up to the count of 10 as you breath in and as you release your breath.

Use a mantra you repeat on each breath, such as the word RELAX or CALM.

2. Identify distorted thinking

Most of our anxiety arises from our panicky thoughts that exaggerate danger, basically lying to us that awful things could very well happen.

When we believe our distortions, we cannot separate fact from fiction. Only by changing your thoughts can you change your feelings and quell excessive anxiety.

It is hard to “calm down” when your thinking is out of control! These are some things that might help you take charge of your thoughts:

Identify cognitive distortions. These are unhealthy thought habits that cause emotional distress.

Types of Distortions include:

  • All-or-nothing thinking, over-catastrophized thinking –“I can’t stand it “
  • Fortune telling – “I’ll never get over this!”
  • Mind reading –“He’s must hate me!”
  • Labeling – “I’m a loser.”
  • Shoulding – “I shouldn’t be so sensitive “

The Triple Column Technique introduced by Cognitive Behavor Therapy author Dr. David Burns in his book, The New Mood Therapy, uses cognitive distortions to help change distorted thinking to healthier thinking.

Using this technique, make up three columns on paper or on your computer:

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In the first column, write your anxiety-provoking thoughts, such as, “I’ll be alone the rest of my life.” 

In the second column, write the type of distortion. In this example, it would be all-or-nothing thinking and fortune telling.

In the third column, write a more rational and factual alternative such as, “I feel alone right now but that does not mean I will never find anyone – it is up to me to keep being open to new relationships.”

3. Practice cognitive defusion

Another way to distance yourself from your unhealthy thoughts causing extreme anxiety is to practice cognitive defusion techniques developed by Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) founder Steven Hayes.

When you “defuse” your thoughts, you look at them and observe them instead of looking from them, as if they were fused to your mind.

An example of cognitive defusion is changing “I am a loser” to “There I go again having the thought that I am a loser.” Notice in the first statement you believe the thought is true, and in the other you look at the thought.

Using visualizations to distance your thoughts can be helpful. For example imagine each anxious thought on various leaves in a stream, and watch them as they float away and disappear. Or imagine the thoughts written on clouds in the sky and watch them from afar instead of looking from them .

4. Be mindful

Most people think of mindfulness as the act of sitting quietly with eyes closed, breathing deeply in a meditative state. However, meditation practice is just one example of mindfulness.

Mindfulness rather is a practice that doesn’t isolate you from the world, but rather one that makes you more aware of yourself and the world in the present.

Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of nonjudgmental awareness.

Mindfulness is the experience of staying in the NOW.

When you are mindful, you accept things as they are, without judging whether they are good or bad, or how things “should” be.

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When you are mindful, you are open with your five senses to the world as it is, without distractions and rumination about the past or anxieties about the future.

Being mindful is with a “beginner’s mind” experience the present as if you were experiencing it for the first time.

5. Write it out

Whether you keep a journal or occasionally write out your thoughts, writing can be very therapeutic. These are some reasons why writing can be so helpful in quelling your anxiety on overdrive.

Writing things down on paper or on the computer helps you crystallize and eliminate unhealthy ways of thinking, replacing them with healthier alternatives.

By writing out your thoughts, you will gain the objectivity needed to recognize and change unhealthy perceptions.

Writing your thoughts down makes you face them and keep focused. It makes your thoughts and issues tangible in the real world rather than in the recesses of your mind.

Writing helps problems become more solvable. Just like with many math or physics equations, some problems are just too complex to figure out in your head.

6. Stay grateful and positive

When you are optimistic and have an “attitude of gratitude,” it is hard to feel too anxious.

Positivity is a choice and reminding yourself of what you have to be grateful for will limit negativity and out-of-control thoughts.

Positive People are empowered and limit anxiety by focusing on how they are in control of their emotions instead of feeling like victims.

When you focus on what you are grateful for instead of life’s “what ifs,” your focus is grounded on reality rather then what could happen or shouldn’t happen.

Consider keeping a gratitude journal and enter at least a couple entries each day of what you are grateful for. This grateful perspective is not compatible with anxiety on overdrive as a positive and grateful attitude creates mental calmness.

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7. Don’t go it alone

Research has shown that those people are happier if they have a strong sense of social support.

When you are anxious, reaching out for support and help can be very calming:

  • Call a friend and share your upset.
  • Seek professional help.
  • Find one person with whom you can self-disclose.

In times when you are less stressed is a time to work on building a support network.

8. Talk nicely to yourself

Anxiety is correlated with unhealthy thinking which often entails self-deprecation and self-criticism.

Berating yourself for being too anxious, for example, will only put kerosene on the fire of your anxiety.

Use self-compassion to be kind and nurturing to yourself. Instead of thinking “I am an idiot for getting so worked up,” reassure yourself as you would a friend with words such as “I don’t blame you for being so anxious – you’ve gone through a lot and I have faith I will get through it stronger and wiser.”

Replace words of discouragement into words of encouragement.

Instead of shaming yourself for being so anxious, show yourself some love and unconditional acceptance.

And last but not least, literally give your self a big bear hug!

The bottom line

With these eight tips to help you calm your anxiety when it is on overdrive, you will be well on your way to a happier and more positive life.

Practice these tips even in the absence of anxiety so that when anxiety goes on overdrive you will have the “muscle memory” to calm your anxieties so you can embrace your greatness to love yourself and love your life.

Aren’t you worth it?

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

More by this author

Judith Belmont

Mental Health and Self-Help Author, Speaker and Skype/phone Mental Health Coach/Consultant

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Last Updated on May 22, 2019

10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

There are lots of studies that show if you do some exercise in the morning, you will be in a better mood all day long. You will have more energy and you will certainly be a better colleague, friend or partner.

One psychologist at Duke University has researched the effects of exercise on depressed patients and he has come to the conclusion that exercise has a definite role in treating this condition and has an important role in preventing people from relapsing.[1] According to the New York Times, scientists have now established that exercise also boosts your brain power.[2]

In addition, there are studies from the Appalachian State University which show that blood pressure can be reduced by doing regular morning exercise.[3]

Here are 10 simple morning exercises that will help you feel great the whole day long. You can include some of them in your morning exercise routine or do them all at home without having to enrol in a gym. Consult your doctor before starting any form of exercise routine if you are new to this.

1. Cat Camel Stretch

Stretching exercises are useful for muscle toning and also preventing arthritis. They can either be dynamic or static.

Dynamic ones such as the cat camel stretch, are particularly useful for doing other exercises in the morning. They are also beneficial at other times of the day, especially after long periods of sedentary work. This one is great for spinal flexibility and is a good warm up exercise.

Kneel down on all fours. Start by rounding your back just like a camel so that your head will try to meet your pelvis. This is the camel position. Then lower and lift your head so that your lower back is arched. This is the cat position. Do these movements slowly and smoothly. About 4 or 5 times.

Here’s a video to guide you through:

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2. Go for a Walk or a Run

This is better done outside so that you can connect with nature but running inside on a treadmill is almost as good. You can time yourself and increase length and time according to your fitness program.

Always have new goals to reach. Start with brisk walking and work up to running. At my age, I am still walking!

The health benefits are considerable. You can build stronger bones and you can help to maintain your weight.

Also, you are helping your heart to stay healthy and keeping your blood pressure low.

Learn more about the benefits of running here: 8 Benefits of Running 5 Minutes Every Day You Didn’t Know

3. Jumping Jacks

Michelle Obama is a great fan of this exercise and has become “Jumper in Chief.”[4] They are great for cardiovascular health and also for toning muscles especially the calves and the deltoids.

Stand with feet together. Jump while spreading your arms and legs. Return to first position and keep going! You can start with doing these for 1 minute and then gradually build up to the number you are comfortable with. Here’s how:

4. Abductor Side Lifts

Watch the video below to see how to do this exercise. These muscles are important because you use them everyday to run, get into the car or onto and off a bicycle. They are very important also for your core stability and prevent the pelvis from tilting.[5]

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Do about 10 to 15 raises for each side like this:

5. Balancing Table Pose

This is a classic yoga pose. It benefits the spine, balance, memory and concentration.

Start with the table pose (hands and knees). Breathe in before starting each movement. As you exhale, raise your left leg parallel to the floor as you raise the right arm, also parallel to the floor. Breathe in as you lower arm and leg. Repeat for the other side. 10 repetitions on each side is a good starting point.

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    6. Leg Squats

    Not just legs are involved but also hips and knees.

    Stand with your feet a bit further out from your hips. Arms are out in front of you. Then lower yourself as if you wanted to sit down until you reach a 90 degree angle. You can go down further if you want to. Then return to the starting position. Repeat 15 times for 2 sets for beginners.

    The benefits are that these exercises help with knee stability and can benefit the leg muscles such as quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.[6]

    7. Push Ups

    You start lying down (face down) but with your body held up at arm’s length. Your hands should be in line with your shoulders. Breathe in as you lower your body. That is fairly easy. Now, as you exhale, you have to get back up to the starting position.

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    An easier version to start with is to bend your legs at the knees so you do not have to lift your whole body.

    Beginners may take up to a month to be able to do 100 push ups so you will have to start with a very small number and gradually increase it.

    This exercise is great for strengthening the chest, shoulders and the triceps. It is a great strengthening exercise for many muscle groups. In fact, most muscles from the toes to the shoulders are being used.

    8. Bicycle Crunches

    There are numerous crunch exercises targeting the abs. The bicycle crunch is a variation where you work more muscle groups. Aim for 15 to 20 reps to start off with.

    Watch the video to see how this is done correctly:

    9. Lunges

    Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Place your hand on your hips. Take one giant step forward with the right leg. Make sure the knee does not go too far forward, that is, past your toes. The left knee will go down to almost floor level. Alternate the legs as you go on.

    Try to do a set of between 8 and 12 reps for each leg. It is important to allow for a day of rest, so this exercise should be done on alternate days, especially if you are using weights.

    This exercise is great for strengthening and toning the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.

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    10. Bicep Curls

    You can do this sitting down so if you spend a lot of time on the phone, this is a great exercise to do.

    Choose suitable dumbbells or another household object that you can easily hold. Sit down with the dumbbell in your hand. You need to sit forward a bit so that your triceps can lean on your thigh to give you support.

    Then bring the weighted arm up to shoulder length and then down again. Exhale as you lift the weight and inhale as you lower it.

    Here’re some important notes before you start doing this exercise:

    Try to do one or two sets of about ten repetitions for each arm and then switch arms.

    These exercises are really useful for toning the arm muscles.[7] In addition, they can strengthen and tone the brachioradialis muscle located in the forearm. These are the muscles we use to pick up things when we flex the arm at the elbow so we use these muscles countless times a day.

    You may have to build in a rest day for the heavier exercises, numbers 6–10. On the rest days, you can do gentler stretching exercises and also some walking or running.

    Morning exercise is not only a great mood booster, but will help you keep your weight down and also sleep better![8] Start including one or some of these exercises in your morning routine!

    More Articles About Exercises for Beginners

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

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