Coping with Anxiety: 5 steps to relaxing during acute stress/anxiety

Jul 7th, 2010 | By | Category: Relaxation

Do you have moments during your day where you feel your thoughts or emotions are overwhelming? Commonly, these thoughts are related to people’s self-esteem, their ability to overcome an upcoming obstacle or anger/frustration at a person or a situation. Overall these thoughts can be summarised as future oriented negative automatic thoughts. Feelings that accompany these thoughts can include feeling overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, angry etc….

Often these feelings and thoughts are accompanied with body sensations such as tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, butterflies or nausea in the stomach. Sometimes people notice the thoughts first, sometimes the emotions and sometimes the physical symptoms of anxiety rise into awareness first.

When you realize that you are feeling the onset of a bout of acute stress or anxiety there are simple steps you can do to alleviate the physical symptoms, cope with the anxiety, and stop the thought dominoes from automatically falling.

Remember! Stress is a positive experience that human physiology has evolved to utilise over thousands of years. It enables the body to release hormones which help us thrive, however sometimes these physiological mechanisms fire at inappropriate moments. We need to be able to recognise when this is happening and enact new behaviours to return our bodies to the appropriate state for the situation.

Coping with Anxiety:

1. Acknowledge the Stress

Let yourself experience the stress for a moment, knowing and even reminding yourself that it is going to change after you complete these steps. Remind yourself, internally or even out loud (depending on your setting) that you are not sure how you will feel by the end of the steps, but you KNOW that you will feel different.

2. Breathing

Bring your awareness to your breath. Take three DEEP breaths, counting each one as you go. first breath in, and calmly, out. second breath in, and calmly, out. third breath in, and again, calmly, breath out. Good. Now let your breathing follow its natural rhythm as you begin the next step.

3. Centering into your Environment

As the rhythm of your breathing relaxes into a more regular rhythm, let all five of your senses begin to notice your surroundings. As you focus attention on the room, or setting around you give each stimulus you see/hear/smell/touch/taste a label. E.g “the floor is beneath me, I’m standing on it, it has a carpet and it is white”, “i can hear the sound of people talking, one of them is male and the other is female”.

4. Body sensation Scan

By this point you will most likely already be feeling some changes in your thoughts, emotions and body sensations and even in the way you are thinking about each of these elements. Let your attention drift now to your body. Whether you are sitting down, standing up, lying down, simply move your attention from your toes all the way up to your head. Greet each body sensation, whether painful or pleasurable with a welcoming curiosity and keep moving your attention up your body. Notice your stomach feels different now. Notice how your natural breathing rhythm has changed. Remind yourself that these changes have occurred in such a short amount of time and without you doing much at all.

5. Reorienting to the Situation

It is now important to reorient to the room/environment around you so you can continue with your day, and feel capable, in control, comfortable and effective. Return your attention to the room around you, your breathing will naturally continue its healthy rhythm. As you feel your senses returning to their normal state, remind yourself of the immortal words of the Master psychologist Emile Coue “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better”.

Practice makes perfect.

Good luck!


If you would like to learn more about this topic, or have a specific issue you would like Remy to cover, please email me anytime.

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  1. wow… great blog post! thx for alleviating my stress this morning! :)

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  5. i love your advice on dealing with acute anxiety. Obviously crisis brings the need for change and a calming strategy facilitates discovery of new opportunities. Nice to have advice on things that really matter in life. Thanks.

  6. excellent advice. just what I needed pre-exam

  7. found your site on today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

  8. Where did you learn about this? Can you give me the reference?

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