One of the most prevalent issues I see in Vitality is anxiety. Perhaps the most common area within that, is what to do when anxiety becomes overwhelming.

You’re at work and someone asks you a question – you’re out with friends and are suddenly flooded with panic – you are asked to do something outside your comfort zone – there are so many examples. Sometimes the build up is gradual, sometimes it appears to come from nowhere but the common thread is how awful and completely outwith your control it can feel. I know – I’ve been there too.

Here are my top five tips for handling anxiety overwhelm.


My first tip is to stop for a moment and breathe. Bring your attention to your breath. This might not be very comfortable. It is typical when you’re feeling anxious, that your breath will become faster and sit higher in your chest. What I’d like you to do is breathe in for a count of 7 and breathe out for a count of 11. There shouldn’t be any straining, so if you are, count faster. When you breathe out for longer than you breathe in, your body takes this as a signal that it is ok to relax, in fact, that it is already relaxed. A bit of physical trickery.

This is also a great tip to practice when you are relaxed … when you’re falling asleep, for a few minutes when you’re watching TV, in the supermarket queue … it very quickly becomes associated with feeling relaxed which will make it even more effective.

Whistle or sing

This is a wonderful tip I got from one of my clients (thanks Meghann). After all, who knows better how to manage anxiety than those who have to live with it day by day.

If you are having trouble paying attention to your breath, whistle or sing. You don’t have to be very loud (or very tuneful) but doing either of these will change your breathing without you having to focus too much on your breath. Laughing is great too!

What’s around you?

Anxiety is a very internal feeling. By focussing on the external, you can push that anxiety bubble out a bit. I use this tip all the time. It is also a great way to take a moment for mindfulness <3

  • Notice five things you can see
  • Notice four things you can hear
  • Notice three things you can feel
  • Notice two things you can smell
  • Notice one thing you can taste

How do you feel? How do you really feel?

Take a moment to focus on what is going on for you physically. What do you feel in your body? How does your stomach feel? What are you shoulders doing? How are you breathing? What are you thinking? Whose voice do you hear in your head? How does the voice sound? What emotion are you feeling? These questions give you a tiny bit of distance from the overwhelm of the anxiety experience and allow you the space to respond to what’s happening rather than react. A response feels like you are in control … a reaction feels like the anxiety is.

Is it anxiety or excitement?

Are you actually excited? This might seem like a crazy question when you know that anxiety is such an awful feeling. Let’s step back for a moment and really look at how anxiety feels physically – fast breathing, butterflies in the tummy, nausea, fast thought processes … not so different to excitement, is it? The only real difference is the negative thought pattern that comes with anxiety. So … is this a situation where you could tell yourself that what you’re actually experiencing is excitement? Could you try a different thought pattern?

Anxiety is something we look at in depth in Vitality’s mindfulness courses and all of our therapies will help with general anxiety and of course,  I’m always happy to chat while you’re here.

You can use one of these tips or all of them and I’d love to hear how they help you. If you have any top tips for dealing with anxiety overwhelm, please feel free to share below or you can mail me direct on [email protected] 

Lots of love – Donna x

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