Tips for Managing Severe Anxiety

If you find yourself facing a crisis, cycle through these steps:

What To Do In A Crisis

A crisis can present in many different forms, from the death of a loved one, to loss of a job, to collapse of a
marriage, to financial disaster. When you are hit by a crisis, an emotional storm is likely to whip through your
mind and body, tossing painful thoughts and feelings in all directions. Here’s what you can do to survive and
thrive: S.T.O.P.

Slow your breathing
• Take a few deep breaths, and mindfully observe the breath flowing in and flowing out. This will help to
anchor you in the present.

Take note
• Take note of your experience in this moment. Notice what you are thinking. Notice what you are feeling.
Notice what you are doing. Notice how your thoughts and feelings are swirling around, and can easily
carry you away if you allow them.

Open up
• Open up around your feelings. Breathe into them and make room for them. Open up to your thoughts too:
take a step back and give them some room to move, without holding onto them or trying to push them
away. See them for what they are and give them space, rather than fusing with them.

Pursue your values
• Once you’ve done the above three steps, you will be in a mental state of mindfulness. The next step is to
respond to the crisis by pursuing a valued course of action. Connect with your values: ask yourself,
‘What do I want to be about, in the face of this crisis? What do I want to stand for? How would I like to
act, so that I can look back years from now and feel proud of my response?’

Things to Consider
1) Do you need, or would you benefit from help/assistance/support/advice? If so, what friends, neighbors,
or relatives can you contact? What professionals could you arrange to see? (If necessary, what helpline
numbers could you call?)
2) Have you experienced anything similar before? If so, how did you respond that was useful and helpful in
the long term? Is there anything you learned from that experience that you can usefully apply now?
3) Is there anything you can do to improve the situation in any way? Are there any TINY steps you could
take immediately that could be helpful? What are the smallest, simplest, easiest, tiny steps you could
a) in the next few minutes
b) in the next few hours
c) in the next few days
Note: the first step might simply be to spend a few minutes practicing some mindful breathing – or to
take out a pen and paper and write an action plan.

4) If there is nothing you can do to improve the situation, then are you willing to practice acceptance, using
expansion and defusion skills, while engaging fully in the present moment? And given that the situation
is unchangeable, how can you spend your time and energy constructively, rather than worrying or
blaming or dwelling? Again, reconnect with your values: what do you want to be about in response to
this situation? What are some tiny values-driven steps you can take?
5) You don’t get to choose the deck of cards you are dealt in life; you only get to choose how you play with
them. So a useful question to ask is: ‘Given this is the hand I’ve been dealt, what’s the best way to play
with it? What personal strengths can I develop or strengthen as I go through this ordeal? How can I learn
and grow from this experience?’ Note: any painful experience is an opportunity to develop your
mindfulness skills.

6) Be compassionate to yourself. Ask yourself, ‘If someone I loved was going through this experience,
feeling what I am feeling – if I wanted to be kind and caring towards them, how would I treat them? How
would I behave towards them? What might I say or do?’ Then try treating yourself the same way.

© Russ Harris 2008

The Struggle Switch

The following animation “the struggle switch” was developed by MD and psychotherapist Dr Russ Harris. It highlights how anxiety and its related symptoms grow bigger when we struggle with them.

Dr Russ Harris

Audio: Dropping Anchor (7 minutes)

Dropping an anchor is an exercise that is designed to enable your body and mind to become grounded, reduce your state of hyperarousal and engage your parasympathetic nervous system and calm down your body.