If you don’t think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days.

–Kris Carr

Crises—personal, medical, financial, or spiritual—can be breeding grounds for anxious and scary thoughts. We are flooded with new information and potentially devastating scenarios, challenged to operate way out of our comfort zone, and generally put into a rough spot. No surprise, then, that our systems can react with anxiety. After all, our old brain is primed to respond to any potential threats—real or imagined.

For the normally calm among us, anxiety feels like strange, new territory. Awakening at night, full of swirling thoughts, being unable to eat or stop eating, nervousness, or a rapidly beating heart–it can almost seem like you’ve become someone very different from your usual self. For those of us for whom anxiety is something that we have lived with for awhile, a crisis can take those symptoms to a whole new level that can feel almost impossible to manage.

What are some of the classic symptoms of anxiety?

The Mayo Clinic lists the following:

  • Feeling nervous
  • Feeling powerless
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry

What can you do?

In order to slow down or stop the spiral into anxiety when those fears and negative thoughts threaten to take over your life, try some of these ideas:

  • Slow diaphragmatic breathing: Put your hand on your stomach and take a long, s-l-o-w, deep breath, letting it fill your abdomen. Hold the breath for a few seconds and then release it through your mouth. This signals your amygdala, the part of your old brain that is currently running the “fight-flight-freeze” show in your body1, that things are no longer as scary as before when it kicked into action. Repeat this for a few minutes until your heart beat slows down and the butterflies in your stomach get calmer. Extra points if you can relax your jaws and let your shoulders drop away from your ears where they are likely hanging out.
  • Distraction: One of my favorite ways of decreasing my anxious thoughts during a crisis is to jump into an interesting book, article, movie, or TV show. The subject matter has to be compelling enough to pry my attention away from whatever topic I am currently obsessed with but when it is, this strategy works beautifully.
  • Exercise: Yoga, running, racquetball, spin class—anything form of movement that requires your attention is a great way to create a little distance from those anxious thoughts. At the end of your workout, you are likely to be able to perceive it more objectively and logically.

Next time: more ideas on how to manage your anxiety in a crisis. Please feel free to send any questions, comments and ideas my way. I love hearing from you!

1For a really comprehensive explanation of your body’s response to extreme stress, check out this New York Times article, Stress and Anxiety: The Body’s Response