Two main skills are presented here for coping with distressing reactions; calming yourself with controlled breathing and helpful self-talk.
Controlled (or tactical) breathing
When we get anxious or distressed, our breathing tends to get faster and shallower. This is a natural reaction as our body prepares for fight or flight. But in most cases, we don't actually need to either fight or run away. The physical changes that go with the increase in breathing, (such as muscle tension, butterflies in the stomach, feeling light-headed) just make us feel more uncomfortable and anxious.
Getting our breathing back to normal helps to calm our strong emotional and physical reactions and prevents them from getting worse.
You can learn more about breathing here.
Self-talk (what you are thinking and telling yourself) can make anxious reactions better or worse:
- If your self-talk is negative it will make your anxious reactions worse.
- If your self-talk is calming and reassuring it can reduce your anxious reactions.
Unfortunately, negative self-talk can become automatic when you are distressed - you may hardly be aware that you are making your stress reaction worse by your negative self-talk.
The first step is to recognise when this negative self-talk occurs and then use calming and reassuring self-talk to coach yourself through the distressing situation.
If you find it hard to use calming self-talk when you are distressed, then practicing helpful self-talk when you are calm will help.
You can practice identifying helpful thoughts using the table below:
What will they think if I lose it?
I'll never get over this problem.
I'm going crazy.
I'll never get better.
What's wrong with me?
No one can help me.
Will I ever stop having these reactions?
This is overwhelming.
If I start to panic I'll let it pass and probably no one will notice.
I'm just experiencing anxiety symptoms. I'll actually be OK.
This feeling won't last forever.
I got through it and with practice it will get easier over time.
With the right help, I can get through this.
I am getting better at managing my reactions.
With controlled breathing and helpful self-talk, I will be fine.