Distraction Techniques for Panic and Anxiety
Distraction techniques are strategies used to take your mind away from your current emotions. They are a method of resetting your emotions rather than absorbing all your energy into challenging feelings. They help you to focus your mind and attention.
- Focussed breaths
Focus your breath on the inhale and exhale. For instance, counting in for 4 – hold for 4 – out for 4 – repeat until you can breathe easily and freely.
- Engage in something creative
Taking part in an activity which absorbs your attention and
- Notice the feeling
Anxiety can feel overwhelming. It can make us feel that we cannot notice anything but the negative emotion. Use a notebook and notice the feeling you are experiencing and write them down. E.g. I feel my heart racing, I feel my head pounding…
- Count backwards
When we have to concentrate on something other than our anxiety we need simple techniques we can use at home/school or out and about. Counting backwards in different patterns makes our brains concentrate. For instance, count backwards, out loud from 100 in 2s, or 3s or 4s or 5s etc. The random selection means we have to step out of our anxiety to concentrate.
- Get moving
When strong feelings are taking hold, getting moving releases endorphins which make us feel better and reducing cortisol which makes us feel more stressed. This can be anything from yoga, a walk in the fresh air to jumping on a trampoline.
- Focus your attention
Grounding yourself is a method of connecting back to the moment. You can use exercises such as noticing: 5 things I can see, 4 things I can touch, 3 things I can hear, 2 things I can smell and 1 thing I can taste or name 10 items in the room that are blue etc
- Use a trusted person
Having a trusted person who can distract you from your panic and help you focus back into the moment. They can – distract you with conversation e.g. talking about what is happening outside,
- Drink something cold
Anxiety can be exasperated by dehydration. Drinking a cold drink can bring us to focus and regulate. Drinking through a straw encourages us to think more about the sensation of drinking.
- Apply an ice pack
Cold items cause us to ‘freeze’ for a moment, which allows us to integrate with different thoughts. Keeping some ice packs in the freezer and using them to hold, or place on the back of our neck/back etc. can allow us to focus on sensations. Note – do not apply ice directly to the skin, place ice cubes inside a plastic glove to hold, or wrap in a tea towel before applying.
- Take a hot shower
If you can feel anxiety rising, taking a hot shower can create comfort and reduce panic. Sensory activities support us to feel in the present.
- Chew chewing gum
Chewing gum has been found to support people to feel calmer as it helps us focus our attention.
- Make a crunchy snack
Crunchy foods can help us regulate ourselves. In addition, the noise they make when we eat them helps us to feel connected to the present moment.
- Write things down
When we are feeling anxious there can be too much going round in our mind. Turn your worries into questions that you need to resolve. For instance, if your anxiety is about your health write down the questions that you need to answer e.g. what causes my symptom, what is the part of my body called? If the anxiety is about exams, consider; what days are my exams, how long is each exam.
- Complete a number puzzle
When our brains have to answer a question, they need to separate from the anxiety. This could be a number puzzle like Suduko, or a family member asking you random questions like 5+3 to help you focus your attention and engage other areas of your mind such as retrieval and problem solving.
- Declutter or order
The process of ordering things can help calm the mind. Choosing a shelf to put back in order or a cupboard to organise can help focus attention. Or you might purchase items such as peg boards or Lego boards and make patterns of colours, pieces or shapes to order your mind and allow the anxiety to pass.
Note – if you have concerns about anxiety or the frequency of anxiety attacks, please seek advice from a medical professional.
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