Baffle the Anxious Brain

Covid. Finals Week. Annual Evaluations. Debt Collectors. Internet Down. Zoom Meetings. Honor Code Violation. Any particular feelings pop up when you read these phrases? Excited to read more of this post? If not, I completely understand. However, I promise I won’t use these phrases again. These words are triggers making many of us feel unsettled, nervous, fearful and, in particular, anxious just by reading them. 

Now, raise your hand if you have never been anxious about anything. Anyone? My guess is that if you are human and still willing to read this post, at some point in your life you have experienced anxiety. In most instances, anxiety is temporary and manageable. However, sometimes it is all-consuming and overwhelming – even paralyzing or life-threatening. For those suffering from severe anxiety, professional help from a licensed therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist is usually very helpful and strongly recommended. As an ombuds, I am none of these things and don’t want anyone to assume I am qualified in any way to offer mental health counseling. Every now and then, as I am trying to help a visitor with a particular concern, I am lucky enough to come across an article, training or podcast that I think might be useful to others and I want to share it as soon as possible. 

Today is such a day! I just finished listening to an episode of The Happiness Lab podcast hosted by Dr. Laura Santos entitled “Stepping Off the Path of Anxiety”. Dr. Santos introduces her listeners to psychotherapist and meditation teacher Andrea Wachter who offers up several strategies for managing “the spectrum of anxiety.” Ms. Wachter believes there is no one magic pill to fix every type of anxiety-driven issue but rather a need for many tools readily accessible depending upon the person and their particular need. For example, one person may feel better after doing some deep breathing exercises while another person in a similar situation may find having a conversation with themselves about the cause of the anxiety serves them better. 

Following is a concise list of tools Ms. Wachter suggests for dealing with anxiety. She also notes that practicing these tools over and over is key to managing and minimizing anxiety. As always, please consult a professional for personal, expert advice.

  1. Be in the present moment rather than worrying about what might happen in the future. Rather than worrying about the “what if’s” and what has happened in the past, stay focused on the moment you are in.
  2. Use compassion towards yourself during anxious moments. Imagine you are having a conversation with a distressed child and speak to yourself like you would speak to that child – gently and kindly.
  3. Stop blaming yourself for being anxious. Blame and shame is unfair, unnecessary and does not help address your current situation.
  4. Be open to receiving your painful and uncomfortable feelings.
  5. Breathe intentionally – The simple act of deep breathing calms our nervous system and pauses our thoughts.
  6. Exercise in a “loving way” OR get still depending upon what your needs are at the moment.
  7. Observe your thoughts without judgment. Gently shift your thoughts to something else.
  8. Practice “Self-Havening” which includes sensory touch and calming words. For example, Wachter shares that rubbing your palms together helps you relax and calm your anxious feelings. 
  9. Return to your senses. What do you see, hear and feel right now? 
  10. Separate the sensations from your stories. In other words, notice how you are feeling without judgment.
  11. Remember, your thoughts are not necessarily your reality. Thoughts are not automatically true.
  12. Try “strong, soft, silly and silent” conversations with your thoughts, which have been proven to  help calm your feelings of anxiousness. Imagine having a conversation with your anxiety like you would talk to a friend.
  13. Gather your tool kit for anxiety and practice, practice, practice. 

For a more in depth understanding of useful tools to address anxiety, please listen to The Happiness Lab podcast, Episode 5 of 2022. You can also learn more strategies by checking out Andrea Wachter’s meditation collection at

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