What to Do When Anxiety Takes Over and You Can’t Think Clearly

  • When anxiety takes over and you can't think clearly.

What to Do When Anxiety Takes Over and You Can’t Think Clearly

By Allison Petro, LMHC

When anxiety takes over your mind and body do you find it difficult to think clearly?  You feel  restless or on edge, easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating or your mind going blank, irritability, muscle tension and sleep disturbance.  

Some people are simply prone to feeling anxious on a regular basis and for others, it is brought on by an upsetting circumstance, event or thought. Either way, anxiety can be debilitating.The good news is you can reduce and control anxiety in a number of different ways when it occurs.

Try these 5 techniques when anxiety takes over, so you become better at tolerating and responding to it:

#1 Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is one of my favorite relaxation techniques because it is used to control stress and anxiety, relieve insomnia, and even reduce symptoms of certain types of chronic pain. The technique is based upon the simple practice of tensing or tightening one muscle group at a time followed by a relaxation phase with release of the tension.

This is how it works:  

While lying down or sitting in a relaxed position, inhale, contract one muscle group (for example your lower legs) for 5 seconds to 10 seconds, then exhale and suddenly release the tension in that muscle group.  Give yourself 10 seconds to 20 seconds to relax, and then move on to the next muscle group (your thighs for example).

Focus on changes you feel when the muscle group is relaxed when you release the tension.  Gradually work your way up the body contracting and relaxing the different muscle groups.

#2 Meditation

You have most likely heard of meditation, but have you ever really tried it?  Meditation is the intentional practice of uncritically focusing your attention on one thing at a time. Mediation practice is easier said than done!

There are a variety of ways to meditate. You can focus on a fixed object such as a tree, flower, pretty picture or candle flame.  Another form of meditation is mantra meditation. Mantra meditation is when an individual repeats aloud or silently a word, syllable or group of words. You can also use the rising and falling of your own breath as a convenient and relaxing point of focus.

If you are a beginner, I recommend you try using a meditation app like Insight Timer (my favorite!) to help guide you in this practice.

#3 Practice Anti-Rumination Strategies

What is rumination? Rumination is dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings. You repeatedly think about negative events from your past and what-if’s in your possible future. And, you become preoccupied with something such as a recent embarrassment, mistake or failure.

We have all experienced rumination.  But, not all rumination is problematic when we reach a solution to a problem and put it into action.  It is the excessive use of rumination that can lead to anxiety and depression.   

If you are dwelling on something negative that is completely out of your control, that is not helpful.  I suggest you distract your mind with a favorite hobby or activity such as reading, call a friend, exercise or write down the negative thoughts in a journal.

If you are dwelling on a problem that is within your control, I suggest you ask “how” questions. Questions such as “How can I solve this problem?” instead of “why” questions such as “Why do these things always happen to me?”

#4 Exercise

We all know exercise is good for us but finding the motivation to follow through on doing it is usually the challenge.  Find a physical activity that you enjoy.

If you’re not a runner, don’t force yourself to exercise on that dreaded treadmill!  There are countless ways to get great exercise. Look for fun classes in your community or at a local gym such as dancing, boot camp, spinning or pilates.

Maybe you’re into team sports such as basketball, softball, flag football or even kickball. Adult leagues like these exist so do a quick internet search or ask around to find out what’s available in your area and sign-up.   

#5 Talk to someone

Talking about your anxiety and the circumstances surrounding it is incredibly helpful.  I recommend you talk to a trusted friend or family member about whatever it is troubling you.  

You can also seek professional help. Psychotherapists are trained to help individuals struggling with anxiety find relief.  Find someone with whom you feel comfortable and be honest with him or her about your anxiety.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with anxiety and would like to speak to a professional about it, give Life Counseling Solutions a call at 407-622-1770 to schedule an appointment or schedule online here

Allison Petro is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor specializing in couples, women’s issues, treating depression holistically, and children. For more information about the author visit her full bio here.

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