4 Mind Tricks to Try When Anxiety Strikes

When I see something that triggers anxiety, whether it's an actual physical manifestation or just in the mind's eye, I distract myself until my anxiety subsides. In my quest to recalibrate from distressed to de-stressed, I have found the following four quick-tricks to be, easy, practical, and effective anxiety antidotes.
02/10/2016 02:04 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2017
Don't Panic! note with big excalmatory mark on blackboard.
Don't Panic! note with big excalmatory mark on blackboard.

I like a good inspirational quote. Pair it with a well-filtered shot of snowcapped mountains and I'm your newest Instagram follower. I particularly like quotes pertaining to conquering fear because that's been a serious impediment for me. FDR's "You have nothing to fear but fear itself" quote still ranks among my favorites to revisit and say to myself...when I'm not around other people. The quote is simple, succinct, and precise. And while such quotes serve as little spirit boosts and help fuel a sense of determination, they unfortunately don't shield me from the symptoms of anxiety induced by OCD. When my OCD is triggered and anxiety starts to overtake composure and reason, frantically flipping through a mental repertoire of inspirational quotes to stave off full-blown panic doesn't quite work. Instead, when I see something that triggers anxiety, whether it's an actual physical manifestation or just in the mind's eye, I distract myself until my anxiety subsides. In my quest to recalibrate from distressed to de-stressed, I have found the following four quick-tricks to be, easy, practical, and effective anxiety antidotes.

1. Use Common Sense
As in the five senses. One thing I really like to do when triggered in public is try to locate a nearby bakery and go inside to get outside of my head. The aromas of baked goods are incredibly comforting and trigger hunger so my focus gets redirected to something pleasant. Another trick is to head into any nearby Crate & Barrel. I love furniture browsing and Crate & Barrel is a browser's paradise. I could spend hours in one. Sure, I walk out of there with mild depression over all the furnishings I can't afford to buy and arrange in my perfectly appointed home that I don't have, but at least I feel calmer. Music is another good distraction technique and there's ample evidence indicating listening to music has a calming effect on both mind and body. So if I have my headphones handy, I plug them in and sail away to those Islands in the Stream.

2. Strike a Pose
I'm not talking about Voguing and most certainly not encouraging duck-lip selfies, but referring to another mind-body correlation practice known as "power posing." While my signature move (both on and off the dance floor) used to be "freezing in fear" when heightened anxiety kicked in, I now try assuming a physical stance that signals confidence to signal my mind to follow suit. According to social psychologist and Harvard Professor, Amy Cuddy, who researches power posing and body language cues, when our bodies become stress-reactive, we tend to shut down mentally. Cuddy notes, "Our bodies change our minds, and our minds change our behavior, and our behavior changes our outcomes." Practicing posturing confidently enables me to psyche myself into mental resilience and subdue anxiety. And I think it's improved my actual posture.

3. Netflix and Chill
While the NSFW connotation of this phrase may also afford a good distraction from anxiety, my suggestion is less racy. Netflix binge-watching has become my new favorite pastime and consequently I have a bunch of plot lines and clever dialogue to reflect upon. Sometimes when I'm triggered and not near my TV, I do just that. I think about the more memorable scenes of a particular series and fantasize about certain characters getting their due comeuppance. (I'm talking to you, Frank Underwood!) Your TV affords an escape during real-time viewing, but it's also a good escape plan even when you're away from it and feeling anxious.

4. Face Your Fear Regularly
If your fear is something like being eaten by a shark or run over by a speeding car, this may sound unreasonable. Don't jump into your local aquarium's shark tank or in front of a speeding car. What I mean by "facing" your fear is to look at images or fear-inducing representations of what scares you as often as you can. Pin an image of your fear on your vision board. Again, this may seem counterintuitive since the purpose of a vision board is to see the things you want for yourself in your future, and you probably don't want your greatest fear to be part of it. But that's exactly why you should have a visual representation of any fear that's inhibiting you on your vision board. By looking at that visual representation of your fear often, you will see and feel it gradually lose its potency. That's the powerful concept of habituation at work. So stare at the space it holds on your vision board often until the only feeling it elicits is boredom. Once you see it can't scare you, take it down. Then start looking at the reminders you actually want on that vision board that make you happy. And now that you're not scared anymore, go get that life.