These words are thrown around so frivolously to those who suffer from anxiety that it’s become an empty phrase.
You know this already.
My goal is to help kids learn how to calm down with anxiety. However, as I always say: You have to help yourself first before you can help those around you.
If you want to help kids get out of their own heads to feel calm and in control, you need to learn it yourself first.
Below you’ll find the 3 most effective ways to calm down during an anxiety attack.
How To Calm Down with Anxiety
For most of us, it can be so hard to calm down when we’re anxious. In the moment, it feels like you’ve lost all control of your mind and body.
Try these methods below when big feelings take hold.
Be present in the moment creating a sense of peace and safety. This is not about clearing the mind, but rather paying attention to a single focus (the breath is the easiest) and when your mind wanders away from the breath, it is o.k., just notice and accept the thoughts floating by in your head and return to the breath each time it wanders.
- Paying attention to the here and now: Try to get into the present moment as often as you can to give your mind a break from thoughts (worries) of the future and the past. The present moment gives the mind a break from anxious thoughts.
- Without judgment: Don’t judge thoughts. They are NOT who you are and are just thoughts. They come and go like clouds in the sky. Notice them and let them float by.
- Acceptance: Accept thoughts for what they are— just thoughts. If it helps to write them down and rip up the paper, do that. But in order to learn how to calm down with anxiety, you need to let go of thoughts that aren’t in your control.
2. REFRAME IT
Help your child understand that they are not their thoughts. Watch this “You are not your thoughts video” Help them separate themselves from their anxiety versus identifying with it.
For example, “I know that you’re feeling uncomfortable right now. I know these are scary feelings.’
“It looks like you are having a storm in your body. Let’s practice counting (or blowing) to settle the storm in your body.
You want to personify the anxiety, and so you can say, ‘You know what, we know that this is our worry brain.”
This helps them understand that their thoughts aren’t who they are, but separate.
*Another great idea is to name the anxiety or worry. For example, “I see that Angry Arnold is here. Let’s see if we can say goodbye to Angry Arnold.”
You can’t calm an agitated mind with the mind. You must use other ways such as the body (breathing) or distraction (counting) or time (wait until the storm passes).
Don’t ask questions or try to reason with a child/teen while in their “alarm brain”.
Also, know that they may not know what set their alarm brain off at all. Let it go and work on strategies to calm the alarm brain often.
This is why daily practice is key. You must practice these exercises while the child is in a calm state.
Think of it as working out a muscle. We need to strengthen it before we need to use it. Self-soothing and coping strategies are skills that need to be taught, practiced, and repeated routinely.
*Also, there is no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness, so keep it short, simple, and fun.
It is o.k. to let some sillies out if uncomfortable at first. Sprinkle it casually such as during:
- Car rides
- While brushing teeth (pay attention to the sensations of brushing your teeth)
- Eating (mindful eating)
- Walking (these meditations are great for adding movement, walking, and paying attention to the surrounding and sensory sensations).
The breath is the direct path to the nervous system. This is the only tool that can calm the body on the spot, but you have to learn how to use it.
Learning how to calm down with anxiety is all about your breathing.
Again: you know this.
What you may not know is that it is very important to get the breathing mechanics down first. Start on the back while practicing belly breathing until breathing primarily horizontally (wide-not tall).
*see the BREATHWORK section at the bottom of this page to get started.
THE EXHALE IS KEY!
When trying to regulate (calm) an agitated child/teen, focus on the exhale. The exhale releases energy and calms the nervous system. Here is a great video of this in action. Another simple way to slow the exhale is to pretend you are blowing through a straw through pursed lips. This will lengthen and add resistance to the exhale to accelerate the de-escalation.
A healthy/efficient breath (while at rest) is:
- Low – a horizontal wide breath
- Slow & rhythmical
Other Tools for How To Calm Down with Anxiety
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) – to help feel the difference between tight and soft muscles. Sometimes we have to release stored energy in our body before we can relax. So, either do a quick whole body tensing for 30 seconds (really squeeze everything tightly) inhale, and then relax or if you have more time, do a PMR.
*Progressive Muscle Relaxation Research on stress reduction
Coping Skills Toolkit– this is a pretty comprehensive toolkit that has some excellent tips, dialogue to use with kids, and resources.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) Practice Videos:
- My blog post on PMR with a script I wrote
- Another PMR to try
FREE Youtube Resources for How To Calm Down with Anxiety
- Smiling Mind– Subscribe!-this is a company out of Australia that does kid meditations and they have a great app too!
- Insight Timer– a free app for anxiety, stress and sleep.
- A guide explaining anxiety to kids
- Binaural Beats sound videos- use headphones for binaural beats because the tones & frequency are different in each ear leading to different brain states.
- You can learn more about Binaural Beats in this article Here is another playlist on Spotify
- Body Scan Meditation (3-minutes)
- Body Scan Meditation to Tame Anxiety (8-minutes)
- Get Your Mind Ready with Mind Yeti (understanding an active brain)
- Relax, Ground and Clear Meditation (6-minutes)
- Square Breathing- start on the back until she is breathing horizontally all the time) *square breathing is practiced by the Navy Seals to prepare for combat. An awesome anxiety relief breathing exercise.
- Mindful Breathing (3-minutes)
- 4-7-8 Breath (3-minutes)- this is an excellent calming breath (a great bedtime exercise)
- Headspace (special offer)
- Smiling Mind (free)
- Relax Melodies (this is a fun one where kids can create their own sound combinations)
- Reveri App– non-sleep relaxation hypnosis created by Dr. David Speigel
- Insight Timer
BREATHWORK (workouts for the breathing muscles)
Try these breathing exercises to get the diaphragm moving correctly and return to a functional breathing pattern.
- Practice each of the following exercises 1-2 times a day
- Complete 10-20 repetitions of each exercise (or as many as you can)
- Breathe in/out of your mouth so that you can hear your breathing (this is a workout, not a relaxation. Awareness of the movement pattern is key)
- Record/Journal your progress, notes, and reflections
- Diaphragm Extensions *start with these and go from there
- Rock and Roll
If you have ANY questions about how to calm down with anxiety, please reach out! I offer FREE 15-minute consultations. Book here!
I hope this helps!