9 Ways to Find Calm Intervention When You’re Feeling Anxious

Emergency healthcare professionals and spiritual leaders share their tips on how to stay calm during a crisis.

Apr 9, 2020

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If you’re feeling panicked due to the current pandemic, you are not alone. But keep in mind a quote from Zen Buddhist Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, reflecting on his experience during the Vietnam War:

“When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.” 

During an emergency, it becomes particularly important to keep your composure, not only to make good decisions but to help everyone around you stay calm as well. If you find yourself overwhelmed with anxiety during a crisis, follow these methods from combat veterans, emergency medical workers, and spiritual leaders on how to stay calm during a panic storm. 

Dr. Margarita Aponte is a retired US army colonel who served in the Gulf War. Her experience in Operation Desert Storm serving as a nurse in the intensive care unit taught her how to manage high-stress situations. Today, she runs several nursing homes in Puerto Rico, where she must stay composed, despite the pandemic. She follows a few of her “Golden Rules” to stay calm and create a relaxed environment with her family and among her residents:

1. Eat a well balanced, nutritional diet

While modern medicine has incredible cures for diseases, staying healthy (in the mind and body) starts with what we consume. To relieve stress and boost immunity, Dr. Aponte recommends creating recipes rich in healthy nutrients like Vitamins C, D, E, and Zinc (or by taking supplements). 

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2. Exercise regularly

Aerobic exercise releases endorphins, “the feel good” chemicals in the brain and the body’s natural painkillers. Exercise can also help clear your thoughts, improve brain function (for decision making), and eliminate stress. Enjoy activities like dancing, hula hoops, yoga, or jumping rope. If you have access to an outdoor space during quarantine, go outside with your family on the balcony or in the backyard while exercising, as studies show that Vitamin D from the sun helps reduce anxiety.

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3. Make time for rest and recovery

Rest and recovery are important at any time, but especially during a crisis. Frequent breaks and quality sleep helps the brain to recover and restore. By getting enough rest, you’ll benefit from optimal brain function so you can think more clearly, a critical component to making good decisions in a crisis. 

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4. Know when to turn off the news

During a crisis, reliable news sources can help make rational decisions. But spending too much time learning about every event happening will overstimulate your fear and anxiety. “Today, as we face the coronavirus pandemic, we can see how people's lines of defense have weakened. They are saturated with so much information and their minds and souls are running,” says Dr. Aponte.

Make a rule to listen to the local news and the international news once per day. Then give yourself a break. You can’t control the current events, but you have it within your control to stay healthy and safe. Spending the entire day watching 24 hour news during times of crisis will weaken your mental sanity and cause fear, panic, and stress.

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5. Embrace impermanence

Buddhists have always taught the importance of accepting change as a fact of life. But, as Dr. Aponte points out,” Some people live a very structured, well-orchestrated life. Therefore, a little bit of change can cause anxiety and stress.” 

Mindfulness meditation can help process rapid change. For example, Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra are offering their 21-day meditation experience Hope in Uncertain Times for free on their app which can help embrace impermanence and keep a positive outlook. 

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6. Turn to spirituality 

Dr. Aponte turns to faith when she needs hope: to pray, give thanks, and feel the joy of life. She says, “Every morning, give thanks to our Creator because you are breathing, can walk, have two hands, have a family, and have so many things around you that others, especially in other countries like Honduras and Venezuela, don’t have. Pray with your family and friends.” 

In a bad situation, our minds naturally imagine the worst case scenario to prepare for what’s coming. But worrying is like praying for something bad to happen. Whether you call yourself a Christian or practice daily meditation, or both, spiritual practices help restore inner peace and keep perspective, especially during times of panic. Pray for or visualize a positive outcome—reuniting with your loved ones, the swift recovery of the sick, opportunities for the world to learn and become a better place. 

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7. Keep composure during a Fight or Flight response

In a panic situation, like a car accident or other medical emergency, people go into the “Fight or Flight” response. But this can cause stressors in the body and negatively impact our ability to think clearly. The body releases adrenaline and dopamine, which cause physiological changes like increased heart rate, heightened blood pressure, and dilated pupils (tunnel vision). 

Lisa Wildling is a paramedic working in Melbourne, Australia who treats patients in medical emergencies on a daily basis. To help manage the impacts of an adrenaline rush, she recommends, “Deep breathing. Try not to tunnel focus. Think logically.”

When your body goes into “Fight or Flight” mode, take a deep breath, pay attention to your surroundings, and do the best you can to respond rationally to the emergency. Start with deep breathing, which helps to decrease the heart rate and blood pressure, so you can get a handle on the situation.  You can also try splashing cold water on your face, another quick fix to lower the heart rate. Next, take a moment to pause and focus on the task at hand. Remain situationally aware and recognize the steps you need to take. 

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8. Practice self-care rituals

Paramedic Lisa Wilding emphasizes the importance of self-care. “I support mental health and wellbeing. I am big on self compassion,” says Wilding. She also points out the need for plenty of rest. “Decompression is important.” So during a crisis, don’t neglect yourself and follow self-care rituals every day: rest, take a soothing bath, cook your favorite food, listen to inspiring podcasts. Do the things that bring joy and ease.

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9. Develop compassion and gratitude

The Chinese word for crisis, wēijī, consists of two characters: 危机. The first means danger. The second means opportunity. What opportunities can you find in the danger? 

This global crisis shows how much we are truly connected—to nature and humanity—now more than ever before. Perhaps the world can develop greater compassion for our most vulnerable and those already suffering. Whereas before, we may have seen their problems as foreign, and not a concern of our own until danger arrives at our doorsteps. 

Look for opportunities to help. Can you donate your time or money to those currently struggling? Offer your kindness and generosity to help those who have lost their jobs or are coping with health emergencies. Make kindness go “viral” as we stand united in hope and pain together. 

See it as an opportunity to feel thankful for all that you have. In fact, a study of 118 adults found that gratitude significantly led to fewer physical health symptoms including respiratory infection and experiences of loneliness, two particularly important benefits in the current climate. Make it a habit of counting your blessings every morning, by writing them down, praying, or during quiet reflection.

At the end of the day, take a crisis as an opportunity to remind you of what you value most of all. Dr. Aponte reminds us all, “Enjoy life. Be thankful. Stop and smell the roses. Learn to differentiate between those real problems and those less important. Be kind to yourself and others.” 

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ALLISON MICHELLE DIENSTMAN, CONTRIBUTOR
Working from her laptop as a freelance writer, Allison lives as a digital nomad, exploring the world while sharing positivity and laughter. She is a lover of language, travel, music, and creativity with a degree in Chinese language and literature.