How To Calm Anxiety
Makes all the sense in the world when we’re in a reasonably calm place. For me, the trick is to learn how to do this once I’ve already started hyperventilating!
Just in case I’m not the only one who needs this info, here’s the story of how an anxiety attack on the way to the dentist taught me to calm the **** down and do better next time.
On a particularly compacted day, I was determined to get myself and my two girls to my dentist and their orthodontist, which means a solid hour and a half away, IF there’s no traffic or road work. I was cruising along peacefully for the first half of the trip….until I encountered massive road construction. There was a lineup of at least 50 cars moving (if you could call it that), possibly slower than molasses. There was absolutely no way around, and I realized there would be no cell service to allow me to communicate with the dental office until after I got past the construction.
I found myself sitting in the car, starting to panic, thinking ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to make it.’ I’d had some major dental work done on a molar the previous month which hadn’t been ground down exactly right. My teeth weren’t fitting together properly, so jaw and neck pain had become part of my daily experience.
Getting to my dentist was essential, and he had been running very full. The office had made an exception and said they could just squeeze me into a tiny little window, right before my children were due at the orthodontist.
So there I was, in pain, stuck in traffic, thinking really helpful things like ‘I’m not going to be able to make this work. I’m going to have inconvenienced the dentist. I may have to be in pain for another month until I can get a time to make this three-hour round trip.’
I migrate into a zone of ‘Gosh, they might not even want to schedule me again, because they’re going to think I’m too flaky to make it.’ Possibly I’d be late for the children’s orthodontic appointment and have to reschedule everything and feel like a complete failure. I am gifted with a marvelous ability to catastrophize in moments like this! I wanted to throw a temper tantrum and jump up and down in my seat, but my children were behind me, necessarily limiting my self-expression.
I called the office as soon as I had reception, told them I was going was coming in seven minutes later than they expected. What I heard was less than reassuring. The dentist was unlikely to be able to help me. He had a meeting to go to and I would probably need to reschedule.
I thanked the woman while I panicked on the inside and kept driving.
I started asking myself ‘Christy, what do you want?’
I answered myself with ‘I want to get there on time.’
So I asked myself again, ‘What do you want, really? What would you have if you got there on time?’
That was easy enough. ‘I would get my tooth worked on, and that would give me the experience of being free from pain. I would be able to chew more easily. My neck would be comfortable. I’d sleep better and feel better during the day.’
And then, because I’m persistent, I asked one more time, ‘What do you really want?’
I realized I simply wanted to feel comfortable again. It wasn’t truly about needing to be there on time. It’s that I craved the experience of comfort.
That is what I intentionally decided to tap into while I was drove the rest of the way. I imagined myself stepping into a zone of comfort. I stopped hyperventilating. I did show up seven minutes late, but when I walked in the door, I was in a in a very different state than when I had been sitting in road construction. As it turned out, somehow magically they’d been able to make everything work. The dentist did stay there, we did get the work done, and I was, indeed, more comfortable.
This is a huge object lesson for me. So often what I think I want is NOT the crux of the matter. I challenge each of you to ask yourselves in moments where you feel a bit desperate, when you’re sure you need something to happen, to ask yourself what you’re really going for. Please, let yourself tap into this piece, because the feeling level you’re likely to experience as a result of getting what you think you want is what makes the magic happen!
Do you have a story of calming yourself during an overanxious moment? I’d love to hear what works for you!