Have you ever tried to think rationally while an alarm is ringing in your ears, when all you want to do is shut it off as quickly as possible?! That’s what the body feels like when it is suddenly flooded with anxiety – the ‘alarm’ starts ringing, signalling an emergency and it can take over your body with a very real intensity. As much as you may want to know what set off the alarm and why, we can only really start thinking clearly once that noise has quietened down.
These are my top 5 calming tools and tips for all ages:
5. Get to know that feeling
If you try ignore the alarm and pretend it’s not happening, how can you turn down the volume? Acknowledge the anxiety as something real and make space for it. You can give the feeling a name or a descriptive word to identify it. You may even have a song that you associate with it, that signals its arrival. I often tell my clients to scoot up on the couch, to make space for ‘that’ feeling to sit next to them because it’s not going to magically disappear, so we may as well try to understand it a bit more.
4. Grounding 5:4:3:2:1
When the alarm is blaring in your ears, it’s hard to focus on anything else. This is why the 54321 exercise is so valuable – it forces you to focus on what is actually in front of you, in the moment. So we start with looking around for
5 things you can see
4 things you can feel
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
3. Body scan
Similar to the 54321 exercise, a body scan gets you really checking in with your body and providing a safe place for your mind to focus on while the volume of the alarm starts to reduce. I encourage you to lie down or find a comfortable position and close your eyes. The body scan can be done from head-to-toes or from toes-to head, so play around and see which direction you prefer.
You are going to notice each body part, if they are feeling tight, or sore, or even a bit ‘funny’. Breathe in, hold for 2 counts and tighten those muscles as tight as you can. Then breathe out and relax those muscles completely. In the body scan, you can give extra attention to those areas that may hold more anxious tension (head, jaw, neck, shoulders and diaphragm)
There are so many guided body scans available online. One of my favourites for kids is the GoZen Body Scan and for adults, both this 5 min body scan and 10 min scan are great shorter options. But I encourage you to try some different options to find the right voice and style that you prefer. and
2. Fidgeting tools
You may have thought that fidget spinners were just a craze – but there is actually some sense in the madness. When that alarm is sounded, adrenaline starts flowing through the body – and since most times there isn’t an immediate actual threat that you need to run away from or fight off for survival, your body is flowing with excess energy. Rather than tapping your leg, biting your nails or picking at skin, find something to occupy your hands. Some suggestions include bubble wrap, a stress ball, a fluffy soft toy or blanket, an elastic band, specific fidget toys or stretchy putty. These all provide an outlet for that energy as well as providing a soothing sensory experience for your highly alert nervous system.
Often with the alarm ringing so loudly you can forget the most simple, basic tool. My top choice deals with the one aspect of our bodies that is most affected when the alarm goes off. Your breathing is usually quite shallow and fast with anxiety, sometimes we even hold our breath. With younger children, blowing bubbles with long deep breaths is a great way to get things flowing, or lying down with a stuffed toy on their stomachs, making it rise and fall. With older children and adults, hold each side of the diaphragm and try push outwards and fill up your stomach while you take a deep breath in, filling up like a balloon and then breathe out, returning the ribs inwards while deflating the balloon. If you focus on this for several minutes, your anxious mind has a place to focus while things settle down.
I encourage you to try out each tool several times, and get a sense of what works best for you. They do require some practice, and the goal is not to never hear the alarm (that’s impossible), but rather to be able to turn down the volume while the feeling passes.
Join me on the Expresso Show on SABC 3 on Wednesday 20th February where I will be discussing these tools in more detail.
If you are interested in attending one of my new ‘Power Fill’ workshops, where we focus on expanding your coping skills toolbox, please be in touch via my website or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The next workshop will be specifically for teenage girls, ages 14-17 on the 16th of March 2019.