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« 24. How to self-calm anxiety »

Written by Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute. Author of "How to develop emotional resilience and manage your emotions".

Your emotional intelligence affects your emotional resilience and how well you manage anxiety. It does not mean you will be free of anxiety.

Many people find images of still water can calm their anxietyAnxiety is common to most people and it can be useful. It is not all bad. However, it can be frightening and overwhelming at times. 

There are three pillars of emotional resilience and all of them are relevant to your ability to manage anxiety, and relevant to your levels of emotional intelligence.

The first pillar is your ability to keep your cool.

This is all about how good you are at being able to stay calm and cool in difficult situations and not have emotions such as anxiety, anger or irritation arise. We have discussed ways to keep your cool elsewhere.

The second pillar is the ability to calm down your emotions if they arise.

In other words, if you do feel anxious can you use self-calming techniques so that your anxiety reduces quickly?

I am not talking about pathological anxiety disorders here, I am talking about the normal types of anxiety that everyone can experience.

However, as someone who has had panic attacks in the past, and cured herself of them, I can tell you that this may also apply to how quickly you can sooth yourself when high anxiety, such as a panic attack, is occurring.

This article will focus upon self-calming techniques for anxiety.

How to automatically reduce anxiety. 

The third pillar of emotional resilience and emotional self-management is your ability to create positive emotions, irrespective of how you are feeling. Can you, for example, generate emotions such as joy, delight or serenity on a daily basis.

When you can do this you automatically reduce emotions such as anxiety. When you are feeling joy you are not feeling anxious. This is also covered elsewhere in our article "Emotional self-management: Create joy daily".

There are many activities you can engage in when you feel anxious to help you reduce your anxiety so that you feel more settled and peaceful again. The following are just a small sample of those available. There is no one way to settle anxiety, and each person responds differently to anxiety and the techniques available. 

Please know I am neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist. If your anxiety is severe or debilitating please seek appropriate professional help

I have, however, used all the following self-calming strategies to reduce my own anxiety and panic attacks and found that they have worked for me. I have also helped others to benefit from them too.

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Emotional intelligence skills 1: Catch it early

One of the skills of emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of your emotions, not just when they are so strong that they hit you in the face, but when they are just there as small signs, flickering in the background.

If you can notice the early signs of your anxiety it gives you the choice to reduce it almost immediately before it develops and becomes overwhelming.

What is the first sign that tells you your anxiety is starting or about to increase?

I used to find that my belly would have a slight flutter in it as the first sign of my anxiety, it was as if a little worry worm had just started to crawl across it.

I came to realise that how I reacted to that initial flutter determined what happened next.

What's your first symptom? Can you react calmly to it? 

Emotional intelligence skills 2: Accept it

What do you say to yourself when you first detect a sign of anxiety?

How you react to your emotions is another aspect of emotional intelligence and makes a huge difference to your ability to manage them. If you notice an early sign of anxiety you have the option to remain neutral about it, just to accept it, or even to reverse it.

I developed the ability to notice my first symptom and to accept it. I'd simply say to myself, "There goes my stomach having a flutter".

If you speak like this about it, you are more likely to stay calm than if you say, something like, "Oh no, I'm about to have a panic attack, how will I cope, I might faint, what will people think?"

In fact, at first, I did react like this, with panic about the first sign. I learnt it was a sure way to have a panic attack. Over time I learnt to stay relaxed. After all, it was only an emotion - isn't that an important point in emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence skills 3: Sit and observe it

If you can simply sit out anxiety and watch it arise and fade away you are less likely to make it worse. Become a detached observer, it is simply anxiety building and simply anxiety fading away.

When you feel anxiety, and panic about it, and try to run away from it, and hate it, and live in dread of it, and become sure you are going to die from it, you are more likely to make it worse. Panic about panic doubles the panic!

I remember a lady telling me once that she had anxiety really badly and would have panic attacks in the middle of the night and they would fill her with dread. One night she was so sure she was about to die from them that she opened her arms and said "Okay God take me now, I am ready to die, I am in a comfy bed, my husband is next to me and I am nice and warm". Then nothing happened.

She was laughing as she told me, she said it was a complete anticlimax. She had surrendered completely to the anxiety, had stopped fighting it - and it went! She had not had panic attacks since, as she no longer feared them.

In our emotional intelligence courses I often say, "an emotion is just an emotion, it is what you do with it that counts." You may not have to avoid it, run away from it, or suppress it, in order to manage it. Sometimes you may just need to acknowledge it is there, and even say hello to it. Emotional intelligence is not about avoiding emotions, nor is it about getting lost in them and overwhelmed by them.

Okay, I know the idea of being patient while in the grip of anxiety is probably the last thing that you want to do ... but patience is more likely to help you than getting impatient and irritated. One of my favourite sayings is "This too will pass". And it usually does!

Want to develop your emotional resilience, our unique 2 DVD set, plus ebook, plus MP3s are here to help you.

Emotional resilience premium bundle $317 $189. Add to Cart

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Emotional intelligence skills 4: Be Professor Anxiety

Become curious rather than scared by your symptoms. Ask yourself questions about them. I used to have long conversations with myself about my anxiety symptoms and I found that when I did this they just became "symptoms" and not something to be scared of. Once I stopped being scared of anxiety the anxiety lessened.

For example, if you're sweating, become curious about all the water dripping from your body. I know it can sound funny and it used to make me laugh, which of course also helps. 

The types of questions I asked myself were:

  • "So how much water can I leak out - is it one litre or two?"
  • "Where does all this water come from?"
  • "Do I have a water-well under my arm pit or does it get stored in my foot?"
  • "What happens to the water if I don't sweat?"
  • "How fast can a heart beat?" and so on.

Become a Professor of Anxiety, give yourself the role, call yourself the famous Dr Anxiety!

In his laboratory, Dr Anxiety would notice what is happening and describe it in a measurable, objective way. You can do the same. Asking questions can help you become more detached.

For example, if your heart is pounding, simply say to yourself, "My heart is beating at 150 beats a minute, now I'll just see how soon it increases to 160 beats a minute." I found it fascinating, to do this. When I have more knowledge I feel I have more control. The same may apply to you.

Being able to deal with emotionally challenging situations, and being able to watch emotions without becoming entangled with them and making them worse is an valuable skill set of emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence skills 5: Focus on something else

Distracting yourself from an intense focus on anxiety can also help. Instead, bring to mind a contented or beautiful image and concentrate on this. 

There are many emotional intelligence skills that can help reduce and self-calm anxiety, and I still find this very helpful. I used to bring to mind an image of my meditation teacher. If I couldn't meditate when I was in his class I used to cheat and open my eyes to watch him meditate. He always had a smile on his face and looked so beautifully serene that I found him inspiring. I committed this image to my memory and would recall it if I felt anxious. I found I settled down again very quickly. 

Believe it or not, it is impossible for the mind to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. It can "kid" you that it is possible as it can jump from one thing to another and back again, very quickly, but it can't hold serenity and anxiety at the same time

By focusing on something serene and calming you may get moments of rest from the anxiety and find it calms down. It is another emotional intelligence skill worth developing. What calming memories or images will work for you?

How high is your emotional intelligence & emotional resilience?

There is so much that you can do to develop your emotional resilience and the E.I. Institute has a number of options to help you:

Worried that you don't have enough emotional resilience and that you need to develop your emotional intelligence more? Our unique, practical, 5-star emotional intelligence coaching package is available for you and includes the opportunity to have your emotional intelligence assessed. Boost your resilience now. Find out more here.