Panic Buttons: How to Stop Anxiety and Its Triggers
“Anxiety packs a 1-2 punch — first body panic, then mind panic. Fear follows you wherever you go.” If this sounds familiar, reclaim control of your mental and emotional health with these simple, everyday solutions explaining how to calm anxiety and stop panic attacks before they spiral out of control in your ADHD brain.
You know the drill: Your heart begins beating faster, blood pounds in your ears, and your pulse nearly bursts through your veins. Your body is in a state of overall physical discomfort because your nerves are sending an alert message to your brain. Generally speaking, this is a good thing. It’s an innate survival skill that you need: the fight or flight response. The problem is that you’re not running from a bear or bungee jumping. You’re speaking at a PTA meeting or watching the news, stopped in your tracks by a constant dull humming in the background or a heart-pounding, knee-wobbling panic attack.
Anxiety is common in adults with ADHD, but its pervasiveness makes it no less frightening or serious.
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Calm Anxiety with 4/7/8 Breathing
A panic attack comes on fast, often without warning. One minute you’re driving home listening to Hozier; the next minute you are trying to decide if you should pull over and call 911. If you have no other signs of a heart attack, but need to know how to calm anxiety, practice this easy breathing technique called 4/7/8: Breathe in for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 7 seconds. Exhale for 8 seconds. Do this a few times. It causes a shift in your nervous system from a sympathetic to a parasympathetic response.
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Calm Anxiety with Present-Moment Mindfulness
Anxiety packs a 1-2 punch: first body panic, then mind panic. Fear follows you wherever you go. But, wait! There is an escape route: present-moment mindfulness. To become mindful that the present moment is all that matters, repeat this mantra: “[Breathing in] I am in the present moment. [Breathing out] I feel calm.” You really can control anxiety by steering your thoughts in the direction you desire. Mindfulness makes you the captain of your ship and the navigator of your thoughts.
The H.A.L.T. acronym stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. Each one triggers a mental or physical reaction that resembles anxiety – and each one is within your control. H.A.L.T. is a handy tool for maintaining calm and avoiding anxiety. After panic attacks tortured me for three long years, I became aware of what was happening in my body and learned to avoid triggers. When I felt myself on the edge of panic, I’d run down the checklist and immediately take action to fix one of the four possible causes. Taking action was empowering and grounding. It also calmed the anxiety.
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Practice Anxiety-Free Eating
ADHD hyperfocus sometimes gets in way of regular meals, especially lunch. If you don’t take a break, before you know it your stomach is growling and your head is spinning. You're entering an emotional danger zone. You become “hangry.” Hunger transforms into anger. When your eating schedule is erratic, so is your blood sugar. Falling blood sugar mimics anxiety. Keep yourself stable by grazing, or eating small meals several times a day. Though it requires some planning, try to always have a healthy snack on hand.
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Calm Anxiety by Trashing Your Anger
Anger is an intense — and common — emotion in the ADHD brain. We feel anger not only in the mind, but also in the body. This out-of-control emotion causes high levels of anxiety — and maybe also behavior you later regret. The next time you start to feel your blood boil when things aren't going according to your script or you feel you were treated unfairly, remember that your anger harms you when you allow it to lash out. Write down your feeling on a piece of paper, then rip it up and throw your anger in the trash along with your words.
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Calm Anxiety by De-Isolating Yourself
People with ADHD often feel misunderstood, causing them to withdraw, isolate themselves, and feel lonely (even when surrounded by people). Loneliness can lead to sadness, feeling down, and anxiety, so try hard to avoid it. Get out of the house and get out of your head. Make plans with friends, even if you don’t feel like it. Reach out to a friend who you know will keep things light. If no one answers, do something that makes you happy. Help someone who is worse off than you. Volunteer. Go to the movies, to the gym, or a yoga class. Act lovingly toward yourself.
Sometimes you don’t know how tired you are until your eyelids droop during a business meeting. When you are tired, you are less tolerant, more irritable, and just plain moody. Anxiety causes sleep problems and sleep deprivation causes anxiety. So while you are trying to calm your anxiousness, make a conscious effort to improve your sleep patterns. Go to bed and wake up the same time every day. In addition to irregular bedtimes, caffeine and bright lights can also cause sleepless nights. Find more sleep help for ADHD adults here.
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Calm Anxiety by Giving Yourself a Timeout
Know when to stop the clock and take a timeout. When life goes at a fast pace, it’s easy to get caught up in the motion, especially when you’ve got ADHD. Our fast brains can handle a lot, but sometimes we get overwhelmed. Anxiety happens quickly. Be aware and get ready to hit the buzzer. Take a walk outside or grab a cup of hot chai tea and smell the spices; just do something to stop the pace temporarily. Refresh and renew yourself throughout the day.
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Calm Anxiety by Setting Up Your Launch Pad
You’re walking out the door, searching for your keys, grabbing your coffee mug — and trying to remember everything you might have forgotten. Your anxiety levels shoot up. It’s hard to plan in advance, but doing so will ease your anxiety and keep you calmer. Prepare a checklist the night before and set up a “launch pad” near the door for your keys, purse, phone, and other day-to-day essentials. Don't use tiny Post-Its; write huge reminder notes and put them on the door where you exit. It only takes one minute to write a note that will make your day calmer.
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Calm Anxiety by Living in Slow Motion
Slowing down your body will affect your mind’s speed, too. Intentionally practice slow movements. Practice walking meditation. Take slow deliberate steps on a garden path. Walk around the block in slow motion. Yoga and Tai Chi are slow-moving anxiety-reducers. Before I started yoga, I’d get nervous watching people twist their bodies into poses. But when I discovered an inner strength and a mental calm I didn’t know I had, I was inspired to continue practicing.
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Calm Anxiety by Trying Restorative Yoga Poses
When you find the poses that work for your body, you will discover that restorative yoga will calm your nervous system, lower your blood pressure, and regulate your heart rate. Learn the poses when you are feeling calm. Find poses that allow you to stretch your muscles gently and that comfort you. Restorative yoga will allow you to let go of your anxious thoughts and experience a peaceful state of deep relaxation.
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Calm Anxiety by Doing a Brain Dump
I’m not talking about ridding your brain of useless test facts or gossip; I’m talking about cleansing your mind of all the unnecessary garbage that it stores. People with ADHD have retentive memories. In some situations, that is extremely beneficial; yet in others, it can be harmful. It is the breeding ground for destructive negative thinking that leads to unhealthy levels of anxiety. Try this before bedtime to release all your worries: Say your fears out loud. Negative, unrealistic thoughts take up too much space. Dump them and make room for happiness, joy, and beauty.