Dear Karin – How do I calm my anxiety?

Dear Karin Anxiety (c)

A question sent in to my ‘Dear Karin’ advice column.

Dear Karin,

What do you think is the quickest way to calm your anxiety down?


(5th January 2019)


Dear Sheila,

Thanks for sending in this important question about coping with anxiety, which is relevant for us all.

It’s interesting that you ask about “calming down”. Often we just want “to get rid” of anxiety. But that betrays the fact, that fear and anxiety is a normal and important response to something that is affecting us. Anxiety is also part of our internal alarm system, to let us know we may be at threat, and that something needs to be done to stay safe (eg flight or fight). And there are no quick fixes, but a lot we can do to manage it well!

So the question is, why do we feel anxious and is the level of our anxiety appropriate, justified and helpful?

As you may know, there are several types of anxiety. And each one has a different reason and requires a slightly different approach. As your question is worded generally, I won’t go through each one by one, but instead focus on general anxiety.

Types of anxiety

General anxiety: Regular or uncontrollable worries about many different things in your everyday life.

Social anxiety: An experience of extreme fear or anxiety triggered by social situations.

Panic: Regular or frequent panic attacks without a clear cause or trigger.

Phobias: An extreme fear or anxiety triggered by a particular situation or object.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): If you develop anxiety problems after going through something you found traumatic.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): If your anxiety problems involve having repetitive thoughts, behaviours or urges.

Health anxiety: Obsessions and compulsions relating to illness.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD): Obsessions and compulsions relating to your physical appearance.

Perinatal anxiety or perinatal OCD: Some mothers (and fathers) develop anxiety problems during pregnancy or in the first year after giving birth.

Let’s assume we feel a heightened level of general anxiety, that is of concern.

How can we help ourselves, there and then?

I liken anxiety to a wildfire. It can spread rapidly, across our mind and body.

When we are anxious, it is about stopping the anxiety from spreading.

Observe your anxious mind, and you will notice how quickly anxious thoughts can multiply and that in turn can make us feel emotionally and physically increasingly alert or numb.

I think we all can benefit from having a specific attitude towards fear, that we need to harness and rely on in those difficult moments:

[bctt tweet=”Don’t be afraid of your fear. You are bigger than your fear! You are in charge!” username=”KarinSieger”]

We might not believe it. But it is true.

Because anxiety can make us feel like IT is in charge.

Let me give you a quick example.

Just before I sat down to write this reply, I found out about some criminal damage done to a friend’s property. I don’t need to go into the detail, but I was shocked and noticed fear rising in me. I felt angry and helpless.

“How? Who? Will it happen again? What then? What if …” The attack, the crime started to become bigger than me. And the fear spread like a wildfire across my thoughts. I could feel the impact physically.

It was like thick mist and one could easily lose perspective, get lost in fear, helplessness and hopelessness.

How do you push the fog down? How do you stop the anxious wildfire?

I followed these steps.

Notice and acknowledge the fear and remain factual: I notice I am frightened.

Why do I feel frightened? Because of an attack, an intrusion, a crime. 

Notice the negative self talk: Someone could have got hurt. It might happen again. I won’t rest at night. 

Try and replace the negative thoughts with factual, calming and reassuring thoughts: I feel frightened and anxious. The crime has triggered it. I need to slow down and not listen to the fear in my head. The fear is of no use. It is irrelevant. It will make me feel unwell. I need perspective to think what can be done. I am more than the crime. I am more than my fear. I am ok.

How do I feel physically: Agitated, sad, tearful, heavy, difficulty breathing.

Attend to the physical symptoms of anxiety: I need to stretch gently and slow my breathing. I need a walk, breath fresh air, get a change of scenery.

Take care afterwards: To avoid an emotional overload I reprioritise and postpone some tasks. There are other things that help me to ground myself: music, writing etc. I do those. I will have an early night.

This is an example of a specific event that triggered anxiety.

What if we are overloaded with anxiety in general? Then follow the same steps.

We all need a mental and emotional First Aid Box.

What’s in yours? If you have not got one, then get one, right now.

What may help you feel calm, collected, more positive and generally may help you deal with whatever kind of anxiety you are experiencing?

Gentle exercise, music, mindfulness, gardening, reading, silence, writing …

We all need grounding routines in our every day life.

Why? Because such routines strengthen our inner shield that protects us from the wildfire – like a heavy fire door. We stay grounded, stable, keep perspective for longer. And if the anxiety wildfire spreads (for whatever reason), then we are in much better shape to withstand it.

Whatever works for you, make sure you have some of it every day, ideally as part of your daily routine, in the mornings and in the evenings.

Use it whenever you feel you need a special top-up.

What works best for me, is a walk or certain types of music in the background when I work at home. It helps set the scene.

Whatever it is that works for you, make it the foundation of your daily routine!

I hope this reply gives you something to go by and encourages you and others to explore further, what works best for you to calm down anxiety.

If you or others are affected by any of the other types of anxiety listed above, then it may be worth reaching out for some expert help with any of these, via a medical professional, counsellor or therapist.

With best wishes.


(7th January 2019)

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