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Prescriptions for Peace: How to Combat Anxiety

“When the crowded refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked, all would be lost.  But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. They showed the way for everyone to survive.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Without realizing it, I spent the majority of my childhood in a constant state of anxiety. In my early twenties, after a break-up with a man I dearly loved (albeit a little obsessively) I tried to medicate my grief with too many cups of coffee, bottles of wine, and many cigarettes.

I found myself one absurd sunny afternoon with shaky, sweaty hands, palpitations that felt like a heart attack, and an overwhelming sense that I was crazy. I called the emergency room and they informed me I was having a panic attack.

Although, I tended toward depression and struggled with not wanting to get out of bed, I didn’t realize depression and anxiety can go hand in hand.

At one point, my doctor prescribed anti-anxiety medication, but it numbed me out to such a degree I could barely function. Realizing that this was not the answer for me, I made it a life-responsibility to care for and self-treat my anxiety.

Back then, if someone suggested that I find “peace,” I would toss it away with a roll of my eyes thinking they were some sort of hippie trying to save the planet, or a born-again with a bumper sticker of a white-winged dove. What was peace anyway? I was just trying to survive my inner turmoil.

Over time, I discovered more about what peace really meant for me. If I could be at peace, I knew then that I could better understand and have compassion for others. But I had to start small and stay simple in order to face the stressors of my life.

I began with the basics and slowly built my foundation over the years. My pattern for so long was trying to build my ship out at sea. The realization was to learn how to build my mast on stable ground.

Once I built a basic foundation, I got a little fancier: I kept journals to have a place to put my rapidly thinking mind. I learned how to meditate, slowly increasing from ten to forty-five minutes a day.

I studied and read countless spiritual books before going to bed (sometimes an excellent remedy for sleep) and found time each week to be creative. I changed my eating habits, learned how to eat more vegetables, legumes, grains, and olive oil, and juiced delicious concoctions to ground me.

Over a long period of time, I created a daily structure that would include all of the above and more, which solidly holds me and gives me inner-strength. Then, I could start thinking about the bigger things, like the views of the world and how to help make it a better place.

Today, inner-peace is tangible and real for me. Even when the going gets tough, even when life slams me with loss and difficulties, I have my tried and true structure to come back to.

Many of us don’t realize what anxiety is or know how to identify it when we have it. Instead we try to escape the feelings we carry inside, but this rarely works.

So what do we do when panic hits? Or how do we monitor and manage a low-stream anxiety that affects our coping mechanisms?

Here is a 4-step process to manage anxiety and create inner-peace:

1. Learn to identify the anxiety as it is happening and label it.

Inability to sleep, a racing mind, a constant stream of worries, future projecting, a debilitating concern about the state of the world, inability to focus or make decisions, or adding to lists of troubles in your mind are all clues that you are feeling anxious.

Once identified, label it rather than avoid or deny it. State simply to yourself or someone else, “I am anxious.” Usually we resist stating this because anxiety suggests a state of vulnerability, fragility, lack of control, or weakness.

When we can accept this current of energy running through us as not really of us but a mind-imposed state, we are able to come closer to peace.

2. Once labeled, accept you may not be able to change it in this moment.

Sometimes when we identify our anxiety, we judge ourselves as wrong or bad and we do everything we can to make it go away. The effort that it takes to push, coerce, challenge, or force anxiety to decrease will cause it to increase even more.

The trick is to allow it to be there without having to do anything with it. With experience, we learn to trust that this feeling will pass.

On average, a full-blown panic attack lasts twenty minutes. Seemingly steady excitability will come and go. So remain aware of the moments when it has ceased. This will help you override the mind that wants to create more fear in an actual moment of calm and peace.

3. Accept the things you can change in the moment and make loving self-serving choices.

Unconsciously or consciously we try to self-medicate our anxiety. We reach for an alcoholic drink to relax or a soda or coffee to help us push through. We may smoke or eat sugar and junk food to try to ground or fill a perceived transparent hole, but in truth it does exactly the opposite

Take a break from stimulants until you have a sturdy foundation to indulge again with balance.

A basic code of rules:

  • Sleep 6–8 hours a night. If you can’t sleep, set a bedtime and waking-time and stick with it, even if you are in bed awake. Create a quiet environment and learn to be comfortable with it (meaning no pre-bed TV). After some time, maybe a few nights, your body will learn to let go because it will have no other option.
  • Get your body moving. Take a brisk walk, a yoga class, shoot some hoops, or ride a bike for at least 20 minutes a day.
  • Eat healthfully. Cut out sugar and processed foods.
  • Take your vitamins.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Get outside and connect with nature. This will ground you.

4. Still your mind by putting your attention on something else.

When we feel anxiety, we often sit in one place and mentally spin. We can talk with friends trying to rid ourselves of our feelings, fears, and worries, hoping someone else can qualm our nerves for us, or we can isolate and combust within.

To productively handle anxiety as it arises, put your attention on a task that will focus the mind or calm it. Pay a bill that is due, do a load of laundry, go buy groceries, engage in an activity with your hands, or draw yourself a hot bath.

It helps if the task does not require too much mental concentration. And if you are busy or overwhelmed with the things you have to do, concentrate only on the task at hand.

By humbling ourselves to admit we may not have the answers to our problems we can learn to trust at some point we will be guided, we will be led.

It takes time, courage, and determination to create a sturdy foundation. But when we do, we can rest finally in the palm of peace because we know at any given moment we can always rely upon it and feel safely held in the end.

Photo by The Wandering Angel

Avatar of Lynn Newman

About Lynn Newman

Lynn Newman’s (aka Lynn Zavaro) book and card deck set, The Game of You™- An Interactive Way To Know Yourself, Create The Life You Want offers a powerful, profound and FUN experience of self-discovery and transformation. Her board game, The Game of Insight comes out soon. She has currently finished her memoir. Visit her at gameofyou.com.

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  • GalFromAway

    These are some great tips for getting through anxiety and panic attacks, and looking after yourself to reduce the severity of an attack in the future. But the thing that’s been left out is finding out what’s behind them. Is there something happening behind the scenes that needs to be dealt with in order to better ‘deal’ (for lack of a better word) with anxiety? Finding a supportive counsellor is something that’s helped me get through my challenges with anxiety.

    And often anxiety and depression go hand in hand. Watching for both is so important.

  • ‘J.A.’

    I never CHANGE that much, I AM a good change man, if others can’t live with it, e.g. my ‘famous’
    brother-in-law, he can hopefully take an f. hike, one that’s his own ‘testimony’ to being happy to be an unhappy man, un unhappiness, he thrives on, so that I can of course become & believe in & so on, greetings, ‘J.A., ¡no hubo de qué!’

  • Lynnzavaro

    Yes indeed! I agree with you here. Getting to the core root of the anxiety is important. Counseling is a wonderful support. Sometimes I find too that anxiety is a way to avoid deeper feelings that we are afraid to feel such as tears and grief, etc. Yet, in the middle of the anxiety attack what I find most important is to ground. It’s not the time or place necessarily to examine it’s root cause. Thank you for your comment!!

  • David

    Anxiety is a normal part of life and I had to understand that first. Thank you for this. This is important stuff.

  • Roger

    Thanks Lynn!  As a sufferer of anxiety and depression for the past 2 1/2 years, I relate to what you say deep within.  It comforts me to know that some of the steps you have taken to overcome your anxiety I am already doing.  It also helps me to learn about the things I’m not yet doing but can maybe try.  Thanks so much!  BTW, have you found any good instruction/tips on meditation, I do meditate, but find it hard to “go deep”.  Thanks again,

    - Roger

  • Divadog39

    These are all good tips and with practice they will help control the anxiety. I recently left a 9 year relationship, 6 1/2 which was spent in rural Tuscany. It ended very badly with me having to leave behind most of my belongings and probably not getting them back. This bothers me immensely b/c he said he would send them. It’s been 4 months and I am coaching myself to just let it all go. I am coaching myself with cognitive therapy and really working to adjust my thinking and anxiety. Not easy but practice makes it better each day although there are relapses that usually occur in 3 AM. I have to go to the core of the anxiety…is it really my belongings or is that that he said he would and has done nothing. That’s really what it is.

  • lilewok

    Wonderful article.  I have just had my “aha” moment, after dealing with anxiety and depression for 10+ years. I too would roll my eyes to find my “peace”, but then someone read something to me from where I was 6 years ago, and it all just clicked.  I have come further than I felt that I did!  I am finding gratitude and journalling every day, finding new ways to see the world.  I do walk every day, but have just signed up for a yoga class….and am trying to calm my thoughts with meditation. Your article states what I have finally begun to work on–for me.  Thanks for great writings at the perfect time!

  • http://liveohana.blogspot.com Ohana Mama

    Lynn,

    As a fellow mental health professional, I found this line to be the most significant:
    “I began with the basics and slowly built my foundation over the years.”

    It’s truly a life-long process, this transformation, and so worth it. Great concrete tips!

    Thanks!

    -Angela

  • Sarah

    This is excellent! Knowing that I will always have my pesky friend, anxiety, come and go throughout my life, has helped me let go of the way things – or the way I – should be. Having a foundation to always come back to – or to simply trust is there even when I can’t contact it in that moment – helps so much. Great post!

  • http://www.facebook.com/hibiscus.moon Stephanie Moon

    Such good sound advice. I also use specific crystals to assist in all of these steps. Thank you!

  • Sereneeileen

    I’ve had a life changing experience recently and began developing full blown anxiety.  I found that going  through this experience without any form of medications, etc. was what I needed.   I read this article and realized that my spiritual foundation was in need of repair.  Thank you Tiny Buddha 

  • http://ahimsamama.com Kelly Coyle DiNorcia

    Thanks for sharing this.  I struggle a great deal with anxiety and it’s always good to get a reminder for the best way to deal with it!  I think the accepting that you might not be able to change it is the hardest part, and as someone who also struggles with depression I often find self-care challenging, but I’m working on it!  ;)

  • erin

    Lynn,
     thank you so much for this contribution!  I am prone to anxiety and recently I moved to another country for work.  I am experiencing a lot of culture shock on top of my regular anxieties and it’s been so intense. I’ve already started many of these steps, meditating more, getting exercise, cooking healthier food..however, there is one piece that really resonated deeply today…you talk about how you had to build a foundation over time.For some reason, it never occurred to me that perhaps my anxiety had been built over time and it will take time to dismantle it.

    Another thing that really spoke to me was “Over a long period of time, I created a daily structure that would
    include all of the above and more, which solidly holds me and gives me
    inner-strength. Then, I could start thinking about the bigger things,
    like the views of the world and how to help make it a better place.”  I often beat myself up for not being more involved in helping others, which creates even more anxiety!  Talk about chasing your tail!  But your writing here has helped me remember that starting with myself is a wonderful way to start helping the world.  Thank you for that reminder!  This post was so helpful!!!!!!! 
    peace
    erin

  • Leanne Nicole

    Lynn,
    I couldn’t thank you more for sharing your story! I am a 24yr old girl who has been diagnosed with anxiety and panic attacks in June of this year. I have such a hard time dealing with all the frighting things that come along with anxiety. My life has been completely turned upside down and sometimes well most of the time I feel like i’m the only one  in the world to feel this way. The advice and tips you gave I will use to try and get thru this! 
    Thank you again for your story!
    LeAnne

  • Adele Uddo

    These are the most helpful tips I’ve ever read on anxiety. Thank you Lynn, for your wonderful wisdom and vulnerability!

  • Shannon

    I think it was on this site that I first read the quote: “Fear is a mile high and a mile wide, but only paper thin. You must walk through it.” For me, anxiety is fear over something that I have absolutely no control over.  One thing I find very helpful: surrendering with each breath….sitting with the feeling and “walking through it” as the quote says.  The anxiety still comes, I as I let go of my need to control, I feel peace.  This tool gets me through it. I cut through the red tape of the craziness that happens in my head when anxiety strikes.  Also, by practicing daily in letting go of what I can’t control has helped reduce my anxiety overall. I agree these tips are very helpful.  Acceptance, surrender and looking outward are tools I use on a daily basis. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Lynnzavaro

    You are welcome! And you got the it: acceptance and surrender! xoxoxo Lynn

  • Lynnzavaro

    LeAnne – your are most welcome – we are in this together girl! xoxox Lynn

  • Lynnzavaro

    Erin, there is nothing more disconcerting than being in a foreign culture, it makes one feel less rooted, questioning who and where they are. Although, I love being and living abroad there is opportunity even more to create a solid foundation. Light to your journey… xoxoxo Lynn

  • Lynnzavaro

    Awesome – keep at it, building one step at a time:) xoxox Lynn

  • Lynnzavaro

    Spiritual foundation is the end all be all in this matter, not addressed here but the key:) xoxoxo Lynn

  • Lynnzavaro

    Sometimes in lessons with impermanence we have to let go of the physical as well as the emotional, mental and spiritual… Drop it. It’s not about the things… And take the steps necessary to build your own foundation no matter where you are and what you have… xoxoxo Lynn

  • Lynnzavaro

    Roger, I have meditated in a practice for many years… The way to it is personal. May I suggest, and I think you can get it on tiny buddah’s store through Sounds True Pema Chodron’s The Places That May Scare You… xoxoxo Lynn

  • Lynnzavaro

    Yup. xoxoxo Lynn

  • Lesee76

    what are some spiritual books that you would recommend?

  • eric

    i love this article. couldn’t have come at a better time when i just realized the cause of all my relationship problems (with men AND friends alike) is the lack of a good sturdy foundation.

  • Lynnzavaro

    Thank you for this comment. I am happy for you!! This is all great stuff! xoxoxo Lynn

  • Lynnzavaro

    Awesome Chris!! Great realization!

  • Lynnzavaro

    would be happy to recommend… what are your interests? what would you like to reflect upon?

  • http://www.kickfear.com Anxiety Doc

    Great and inspiring article!   I particularly found your comments on building a foundation steadily, letting the energy of anxiety pass rather than taking it personally, and awareness of what one can change in the moment to be valuable reminders of what we all should be practicing.  Being that the underlying theme of anxiety is a difficulty in dealing with uncertainty, a spiritual meditation practice focused on acceptance and compassion can work wonders!

  • http://twitter.com/AlannahRose Alannah Rose

    What comforts me the most when someone talks about combating anxiety is finding out how many other people are affected by/deal with it daily.  I have always been anxious, but only started having full-blown panic attacks a year ago when I went through some major life-altering events.  I felt like the only one dealing with them, and when I was honest about my attacks while they were happening, I didn’t get much if any support.  It’s just nice to see a reminder, once again, that I am not alone in dealing with this.  I feel great compassion for anyone dealing with anxiety – it definitely turns your life upside down.  It has gotten better thanks to time, meditation and helpful books, but it’s still a work in progress.

  • http://www.jewelocean.com/ draniqa

    being calm is the sucess to victory. exceptional post .. thanks for the share.

  • zensoul

    I enjoyed reading the article :) Most things have already been mentioned on other sites though so it wasn’t anything new. I’ve been practicing yoga, meditation and mindfulness all my life and yet in the face of an anxiety attack it appears to be as helpful as curling into a ball under the covers (aka not helpful at all) Unfortunately the anxiety I experience on everyday basis is very strong and none of the things you wrote about have ever helped to substantially lessen the anxiety. I’m starting to think I’m destined to end up alone in an institution. That being said I – and others like me have to keep hoping that there has to be a solution for every problem. Hence one should never give up trying to find out what works, whether it’s medicine, TCM or CBT. The power of friendships should also not be forgotten. Having someone whom you can confine your deepest thoughts to is almost as important as having a trusted therapist and therapy method. It would be great to hear some new angles or new treatment methods for people suffering from anxiety :)

  • Batman2014

    Leanne, I feel the same way – 23yrs old never had anything like this before, turned my life upside down, feel like a nuisance to everyone around me, all alone, no family to help and just general despair each more day by day probably because I have not followed the advice yet and just accepted that this is now a part of my life and should surrender to this awful problem. Acceptance.