Calming an Acute Anxiety Reaction

When an individual is experiencing acute anxiety often due to a triggering thought, memory sensation or trauma they are likely sent into a spiking hyperventilation from the diaphragm upward. This can be extremely uncomfortable and can be frightening to experience as well as to witness. From a Self Acceptance perspective anxiety is held emotions or simply put, held energy wanting to be moved or expressed. So we need to soften the breath, move it down and even it out.


The first thing to address is the breath. This should be addressed immediately and can be effectively managed on the spot by using a calm directive voice instructing the person to feel their feet ( this can be done by pushing into the floor or wiggling their toes) while allowing their exhale to slowly travel down to the feet.


 We want to move the breath from a high spike to a long low breath. This should have a dramatic immediate effect in calming the anxiety.


Next it helps to direct the person to become an observer of sensation versus indulging a thought loop.  It may help to interrupt the thought- breath cycle by getting the attention of the person by stating their name and asking them to follow your voice.  I inform them in simple terms that their breath is up high and that’s why they are feeling so anxious and I reassure them it’s a simple fix they just need to follow my voice and directives.


It is important to speak in a low calm voice so they sense everything is going to be okay.  


You may say after a few long breaths, β€œ Do you feel your feet?”  if they answer β€œyes”  ask them to wiggle their toes each time they imagine their breath going all the way down to their feet. 


By asking them to wiggle their toes one is helping the person to move away from the distressing thought or emotion that triggered the anxiety to becoming a mindful observer.


Once the breathing is under control I ask them to continue the long breath making sure they are not pushing the breath but gently allowing the breath to travel down. The body should be settling. I add a directive to hold the exhale at the bottom of the breath a few seconds longer than normal before the inhale. The inhale should be normal, not forced. Check in with sensations and where the body is opening and flowing. The body is self regulating if we get out of the way and let it do its job.


I continuously direct them away from thoughts or talking and stay with the breathing and observing the changes in sensations in the body.