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Getting Out of a Stress Spiral: A Short List of Tips

Breaking free of a stress spiral often seems impossible with over 70,000 thoughts ricocheting in our brains every day. While it is normal to feel anxiety or stress, thought spirals are severely detrimental to one’s mental health. In an overwhelming world where we can’t seem to get a break, more people need ways to pull themselves out of catastrophizing. So, I’ve compiled a short list of immediate actions and gradual tips you can implement to calm down and distract yourself.

1. take deep breaths and return to the present moment

I find the 3-3-3 rule especially helpful for a spontaneous anxiety attack or any random bout of sudden panic or paranoia; focusing on the concrete aspect of the world and engaging in menial tasks such as painting your nails helps regulate the onslaught of anxiety.

Identify three things you can see around you, three things you can hear, and three things you can touch/smell. Try to slow your breaths and take deeper inhales. Checking in with yourself allows for rational thinking, and tethering yourself to the present or doing an activity that requires attention to detail (like Mandala art or other coloring books) revokes your access from going down the rabbit hole.

2. express your thoughts in some way- either through jotting them down on paper or telling someone how you are feeling

Calling a friend, talking to a loved one, or journaling about whatever emotions or thoughts are giving you anxiety helps a lot. Some people want to listen to you, and penting up your emotions is not going to help you overcome your stressors in the long run. Identifying what/who is causing you to spiral helps your brain focus on a few thoughts at a time, enabling you to process your emotions. Screaming into a pillow or throwing a [soft] object is another way to express that initial frustration, but after letting out your rage be open to a calmer way of expression that may lead you to a positive solution!

3. understand your thoughts by de-escalating

What I mean by de-escalating is asking yourself why you are being catastrophic. Start from a base, and work your way up the ladder of logical reasoning. The first step is to recognize that you are here. Wherever you may find yourself, you are there and no other time is more critical. Oftentimes, we allow ourselves to be consumed and overwhelmed by our thoughts because there are so many of them, just as there are so many things happening that could go wrong.

However, de-escalate by reminding yourself that if you do not address your feelings or the issue you are facing, the situation will likely not improve. In the beginning, identify the facts (about where you are, if you’re regulating your breath, what the place you’re ink looks like, etc.) Second, ask yourself why you’re feeling in a certain way; what do you think triggered you, and why? The hardest next step is understanding and taking the time to process your thoughts. What can I do, and what is out of my control? Ask yourself what you would tell a friend who came to you with the same concerns.

Though de-escalating your stress won't get rid of your stressors, it can put you in a better state of mind to deal with overwhelming problems.

4. Distance yourself from your trigger by doing ANYTHING else

Of course, before considering any of the above tips, identify what is triggering you and distance yourself. The last thing you want to do is exemplify the effects of your panic attack or spiral by ignoring its presence. Look out a window, go on a walk to ground yourself, or listen to a soothing playlist. It’s better to tackle a difficult situation with a calmer mind and fresh eyes. Sometimes all you need is a day of rest or even a short power nap.

Lastly, below are some Positive Affirmations to remind yourself that you are going to get through whatever stressful situation you are stuck in. Your mental health matters! :)

  • I am in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing," - Louise Hay

  • "Conscious breathing is my anchor."- Thích Nhất

  • You are loved just for being who you are, just for existing- Ram Dass

  • "Make way for the unprecedented and watch your reality rearrange yourself,- Ysra Daley

  • The chance to love and be loved exists no matter where you are,"- Oprah

  • "Nothing can dim the light that shines from within- Maya Angelou

  • "Your life is already a miracle of chance waiting for you to shape its destiny,- Toni Morrison

Above all, just remember to take care of yourself and prioritize your well-being, even though it may seem impossible. You’re worth the time and effort to take care of yourself.


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