By Mallory Corbin
Anxiety is a lot like a speeding car.
Picture this: You’re driving down the road. Everything is fine, you’re feeling good and your favorite song might have even come on the radio. Suddenly a bird comes crashing into your windshield, you have to swerve around a pothole, or maybe another car cuts you off.
One minute you were fine and the next you’ve found yourself in a state of panic, trapped in this giant metal machine, barreling forward. And despite the fact that you’re in the driver’s seat, you couldn’t feel more out of control. You’re picking up speed and you just can’t seem to lift your foot off the gas. You’ve got two options: find some way to regain control or crash.
For some, this is exactly what it feels like to have a panic attack. You’re going about life as normal, maybe even having a good day, and suddenly something (or nothing at all) comes along and you’re sent into a panic attack that makes you feel like you don’t know which way is up—let alone out.
The ideal outcome of this scenario is, of course, to regain control of the car. But it’s not always so simple as slamming on the breaks—in fact, that may be the worst thing you could do. Here I’ve outlined a few tips to manage anxiety before you crash.
Pump the Breaks
Start by slowing down. When we begin to ruminate in our anxiety it can be easy to allow it to creep up all around us and force us to accelerate down a long and winding road of worry. As you feel anxiety creeping in, take a mindful moment to slow down (or even pause completely, if you’re able) both physically and mentally.
Pump the breaks physically by setting aside whatever it is you’re doing in that moment. Pump the breaks mentally by slowing unproductive, harmful, or ruminative thoughts. You can do this by practicing the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique or by creating a mantra or affirmation to clear your mind.
Recite this sanskrit mantra: soham soham (soe-hum) “I am that, I am the universe.”
Try this affirmation: “This is a moment fueled by my anxiety. I can pump the breaks on my anxiety.”
Don’t Drink and Drive
Many of us seek out alcohol to cope with anxiety. In theory this may seem like a good idea. However, alcohol actually has an adverse effect on your mental state, further hurdling you into your anxiety. As a neurological depressant, alcohol works to dull your senses, as well as your motor (no pun intended), reasoning, and decision-making skills.
After consuming alcohol, you may be faced with even more anxiety than you began with as you begin to practice unreasonable or unrealistic thought patterns as a product of your impaired judgment. You’re also faced with the anxiety of the come down—what will you do when the buzz subsides?
Consuming alcohol in the face of anxiety is likely to worsen intrusive anxious thoughts and result in a further loss of control. So, much like drinking and driving, it’s important to remember that alcohol and anxiety just don’t mix.
Note: Your body may react negatively to alcohol if you are taking prescription medications for your anxiety or other health issues. Be sure to always check your prescriptions before consuming alcohol.
Learn more about The Risks of Using Alcohol to Relieve Anxiety from Very Well Mind.
Contact Roadside Assistance
We all need a little help sometimes. And sometimes the best thing to do is to pull over to the side of the road and contact roadside assistance. This could mean calling up a friend, family member, therapist or other trusted individual for help (Maybe consider trusted individuals from your affiliated religious or educational institutions as possible contacts). Organize your roadside assistance contact ahead of time so that you aren’t forced to search for support at the height of an anxious episode.
Start by asking for consent, “Is it okay for me to contact you when I begin to feel anxious?” When they’ve communicated their emotional availability, make note of it. You could do this by adding a little emoji next to their name in your phone or writing their contact information on a sticky note to be placed on your desk, in a planner, or on your fridge. Check in with them periodically to ensure they still have the emotional bandwidth to provide assistance. When you’re having an anxious event, try to begin the conversation by checking in: “Can I unpack my anxiety with you?”
It’s good to have a few contacts to reach out to in case one is unavailable in that moment.
Wear Your Seatbelt
A seatbelt is a preventative measure to reduce harm in the event that you do crash. In no way can a seatbelt stop the crash, but it can provide a buffer in the aftermath. Protect yourself from anxiety by wearing your seatbelt. You can do this in a few ways.
Avoid situations that inflate anxiety. If you’re already feeling anxious, avoid putting yourself in situations that will further your anxious ruminations. This is easier said than done, as many of the situations that cause us anxiety are unavoidable (see: Work, school, doctors appointments).
Implement anxiety reducing mechanisms. This can be as simple as deep breathing and as complex as pulling out the sheet mask, bubble bath, and candles. Compile a list of healthy coping mechanisms to implement when you’re feeling anxious. A few of mine include reading a favorite book, listening to music or podcasts, and laying in corpse pose on my yoga mat.
Create a post anxiety kit. When the anxiety has subsided, you may feel totally run down. Prepare ahead of time by setting aside special items for use after an anxious event. This can include bath bombs and sheet masks like I mentioned, a gift card to a special restaurant, or your favorite essential oils (check out this article on The Best Essential Oils for Anxiety by Spirituality & Health). Brainstorm some of the little things that bring you joy or comfort and include them in your kit.
Refill Your Tank
You may feel totally burnt out after an anxious event. Don’t feel that just because the anxiety has subsided that you have to return to the hustle and bustle—take time to relax and refill your emotional tank. When all is said and done, when you’ve pulled to the side of the road or parked your car at your destination and the anxiety has finally subsided, it’s time to fill up the tank through mindful self-care.
When the check engine light appears on your emotional dashboard, take a moment to perform a check-in with yourself:
How do I feel now that my anxiety has lifted?
What triggered my anxiety to go into overdrive?
What practices worked best in relieving my anxiety? What didn’t?
How can I more effectively pump the breaks on my anxiety next time?
Anxiety can feel uncontrollable sometimes. Sometimes that speeding car can even morph into a monumental monster truck, seemingly capable of desolating everything in its path. Just know that you’re not alone on the road. And when it gets to be overwhelming, just know you can always start by pumping the breaks.
Safe driving, everyone.