Feeling safe is one of the most important aspects of a person’s life. We do all sorts of things to protect ourselves from harm. We buy alarm systems for our homes and cars, we lock our doors and windows, take defense training classes, we carry weapons of all shapes and sizes, we depend on our government and police to keep us safe, and we incarcerate those we deem unsafe (for example). But what happens when fear seeps through the cracks in our fences and over the walls we’ve built up so high? What do we do when the thing(s) that scares us isn’t tangible but comes from within us?
Feeling safe is more than physical – it’s emotional, too. There is no alarm system or gate code that can keep emotional fear at bay. You can’t build a wall that will hold those stormy waters from rushing through and a gun won’t protect you from the anxieties that attack from within. Nobody is safe from these feelings all of the time, we all have emotional fears that creep into our lives. Those of us diagnosed with anxiety disorders go through certain forms of training to combat such feelings in therapy, we call them coping skills. What many people don’t realize is that coping skills can be utilized by anyone who needs them and using them does not signify that one is weak or needs professional help. Feeling emotionally safe is a crucial part of a healthy and happier life, and it is just as important as being physically safe.
When the walls start closing in and you’re feeling overwhelmed, try the following five coping skills to help calm your nerves. I can’t guarantee they will work as everyone is different, but they have helped me and many others who suffer from emotional fear and anxiety.
Slow Deep Breaths. I know it sounds simple but sometimes when you’re in the heat of the moment you don’t realize how uncontrolled your breathing has become. You want to focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, usually a four-count each way. Allow your brain to think about each breath and how it feels going in and coming out. This activity will generally slow your heart rate as your breathing slows and it will help you calm down.
Count Things. Another very basic distraction technique that you can do anywhere. Count the number of cars in the parking lot, count how many people are in the same room as you. If you’re at home count the number of things in the same room as you. Pick a color and count how many things you see that are the same color. Counting distracts your mind from whatever is causing the emotional stress; you’ll notice your breathing calms down which slows your heart rate and eases the anxiety.
Listen To Music. Listening to your favorite tunes can really help ease tension. Sometimes you relate to the lyrics, sometimes the beat lifts up your spirit, other times the soft melody smooths out the edges of a rough day. Music can be many things and it can definitely help when we’re feeling upset, stressed, or anxious. It gives us something to focus on besides our worries.
Repeat A Quote. Some might refer to this as a ‘mantra’ versus a quote, but the point is to repeat a phrase that is meaningful or uplifting for you. It can be as simple as ‘I will get through this, I am stronger than this moment’. You can make it up on the spot or have something planned out for stressful situations. I find that having a plan is an effective approach so that I am prepared if something hits me off guard. You want to repeat it over and over so you convince yourself of its truth during the moment.
Talk To Someone. When we are feeling emotionally unsafe it can be good to reach out to someone we trust. Phone a friend or family member, meet up with them if you can. Try to describe what you are feeling but don’t beat yourself up if you find that it’s hard to put into words. Much of the time anxiety is irrational and doesn’t stem from a specific situation or circumstance, in that case, all you can do is ride it out. Having the support from someone you trust can make all the difference. You can discuss the weather or what happened on your favorite tv show last week, it doesn’t matter. Knowing someone cares enough to spend the time with you when you’re feeling unsure of yourself is encouraging.
By practicing these skills we become better at using them and they become second nature in the times we need them most. Positive self-care is important for all of us and utilizing any coping skills is an active and intentional message to yourself that you are worthy of protection. They also help the logical side of your brain understand a situation that is emotionally overwhelming. As these skills gradually become second nature you will hopefully be less susceptible to feeling emotionally unsafe and the associated feelings of anxiety before they arise.
When it comes to emotional safety and anxiety, distracting your mind and body from the triggering stress is usually the key to finding relief. Life is hard on everyone. We put so much effort and money into keeping ourselves physically safe it only makes sense to have a little toolbox in order for our emotional safety as well! Coping skills are really just life skills, but sometimes we need reminding that they are there for our use and that it’s ok to use them – No prescription necessary 🙂