DON’T PANIC! Keep calm and try this…

Ease your anxious feelings with these clever tricks

DON’T PANIC! Keep calm and try this...

by Bianca Castro |

Almost half of us have experienced high levels of anxiety during the pandemic, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Anxiety often takes the form of panic attacks — where your heart races, your palms sweat and you may hyperventilate. You might also feel dizzy and sick or even believe you’re about to have a heart attack or die.

If you feel panicky, it can pay to have some tricks up your sleeve to ease anxious feelings quickly.

Sarah Gregg, psychologist and author of Choose Happy: Easy Strategies to Find Your Bliss, shows you how…


You can manage your automatic fight-or-flight response simply by slowing down your breathing. By taking longer, slower breaths you reduce your heart rate and send a message to your brain that you’re not stressed, so you actually start to feel calmer, too.

Sarah says: ‘Long exhalations shift our nervous system out of fight-or-flight and into its relaxation response — so make your exhales longer than your inhales.’


Sarah says: ‘Biting into a lemon or placing your hand in ice-cold water may feel like a bizarre tactic to stop panic. But this type of “shocking” technique can alleviate anxiety by immediately connecting you and your body to the present moment, shifting awareness to your senses and away from distressing thoughts. Other examples include jumping up and down or clenching and releasing your fists.’


Concentrated meditation is where you focus your mind on a single point. It helps still the mind when you’re starting to panic. Try focusing on your navel to become physically centred. If your mind drifts off to anxious thoughts, gently bring your awareness back to your bellybutton.

Sarah says: ‘Concentrated meditation like this can lower heart rate and blood pressure, and increase alpha brain wave activity, which is associated with a deeply relaxed state of mind.’


Sarah says: ‘Anxiety is the overcautious, panicky roommate sharing our mind — and they can be difficult to live with. It might sound strange but, to get clients to engage with anxiety in a different, more detached way, I encourage them to create a name and persona for their anxious roommate — like “Nervous Ned”.

‘Then I tell them to have compassionate conversations with this persona. For example, when you feel panicked, you might say: “OK, Ned, here we go again. I know you don’t feel safe in crowded spaces but it’s OK, I’ve got you. Let’s just do some breathing to calm you down.”

‘This can help you see your anxiety as separate from you so you become more physically and mentally relaxed.’


Sarah says: ‘Research suggests that listening to music can counterbalance unpleasant symptoms of anxiety. It can elicit good memories and feelings, helps distract your mind and hits your brain’s reset button. Create a playlist of familiar music you love that you can reach for whenever you need to press pause on panic.’


Emotional freedom technique, or ‘tapping’, is a therapy thought to help release anxiety. Try tapping with two or three fingers on the ‘karate chop point’ of your hand — the fleshy spot just below the little finger. Focus on what you feel anxious about as you tap, and it could help you change your perspective on what’s worrying you and calm you down.


Self-havening is a psychosensory technique which can help move your mind to a safe place when you’re spiralling into panic. Try rubbing your hands together as if you’re washing them, or cross your arms, then stroke the opposite arm from shoulder to elbow several times. This touch helps transport your brain into a slower, delta-wave state and calms the nervous system.


Have a glass of cold water and swish it around your mouth or try splashing cold water over your face. This triggers the mammalian dive reflex, which slows the heart rate, and is calming.


Research has found that repeating a word to yourself can calm your mind by reducing brain activity. Choose a word with positive connotations — something like ‘good’, ‘happy’ or ‘fine’. Repeat the word over and over in your mind. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the mantra and worrying thoughts should soon abate.

Edited by Kim Jones

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