7 Things I Do When My Anxiety Skyrockets

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Verywell / Catherine Song

I grew up a pretty anxious kid. I hated school, mostly because I didn’t want to talk in class. I was convinced public speaking was the worst thing in the world.

I would have never imagined I’d grow up to become a professional speaker. Now, I can stand on stage in front of thousands of people without much anxiety at all (usually).

But conquering the fear of public speaking didn’t make all my anxiety go away. Now, I get anxious about other stuff—like my loved ones’ well-being.

There are still times when my anxiety spikes, just like it did when I was a kid. Fortunately, as a therapist, I have skills and strategies that help me manage it much better. Here are seven things I do when my anxiety skyrockets.

Notice It

My anxiety comes with a lot of physical symptoms. My stomach usually feels like it’s in a knot, and I completely lose my appetite. Usually, those are the first signs that my anxiety is getting out of control.

I pay close attention to what I’m experiencing and talk myself through it. Just thinking, “OK, your stomach feels like this because you’re worried about something,” can help.

Name It

Simply saying, “OK, I’m feeling anxious right now,” helps my brain make sense of what is happening. I instantly feel a little better as soon as I put a label on my emotion.

Naming it also helps me become more aware of how my emotions are likely to cloud my judgment. I’m much less likely to take a risk when I feel anxious. Even if it’s a healthy risk that is completely unrelated to why I feel anxious, anxiety causes me to play it safe. Recognizing this helps me make more rational decisions.

Be Present in the Moment

It’s hard to feel anxious when I’m just focusing on the here-and-now. When my anxiety spikes, I pause and pay attention to what I see, hear, taste, touch, and smell right now. That helps me feel a little more grounded when my brain is spinning out of control with a million “what if…” scenarios.

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Smell the Pizza

When I work with kids in my therapy office, I often teach them to smell the pizza—breathe in through their nose like they’re smelling a piece of pizza and then breathe out through their mouth like they’re cooling the pizza down.

I also use this exercise on myself. It calms my body and helps me relax for a minute even when I feel really anxious.

Argue the Opposite

My anxiety will often try to convince me that the worst-case scenario is destined to happen. So I try to take a step back and argue the opposite. I ask myself what the best-case scenario might be.

And while that doesn’t convince me that everything will work out great, it’s a solid reminder that many different things could happen other than the worst-case scenario my brain tries to tell me is inevitable.

Develop a Plan

I ask myself whether I need to solve the problem or solve how I feel about the problem.

After all, some problems can be fixed—like a flat tire. But there are some problems I can’t solve—like fixing a loved one’s health issues.

So I try to determine what I should tackle—my inner turmoil or my external problems. Then, I develop a clear course of action. Even if the next step simply involves calling a friend, knowing I am taking some kind of action reduces my anxiety.

Exercise

Many of the physical symptoms I get from anxiety are similar to what happens when I exercise—my heart races, and I feel hot.

So I find it helpful to do some intense exercise. I go running as fast as I can for a mile. It’s hard to be anxious when I’m breathing hard, and I feel exhausted. It gives me a sense of relief that sometimes lasts for quite a while.

Get Help for Your Anxiety If Needed

Those are the things that work for my anxiety, but they might not necessarily work for you. Fortunately, you can experiment to discover what’s most helpful when your anxiety spikes.

And while anxiety is a normal, healthy emotion, having too much of it can make life overwhelming. If you’re struggling to manage your anxiety, reach out for professional help. Talking to a therapist may help reduce your anxiety and give you healthy ways to cope.

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