We often talk about the longer-term habits and behaviour changes that help us combat stress and burnout — but sometimes, we need in-the-moment strategies for an infusion of calm. During an overwhelming moment, it’s completely normal for our thoughts to start to spiral. But when we arm ourselves with tools to help us cope in those moments of panic, we can learn to pause and maintain perspective when we feel overwhelmed.

We asked our Thrive community to share with us the tips that help them maintain perspective in a moment of overwhelm or panic. Which of these strategies will you try?

Distract yourself with a puzzle

“I find that solving a challenging Sudoku puzzle stops my mind from spiralling out of control. I have recently found an app that lets you play sudoku ‘battles’ with other people in real time, which really forces me to concentrate on the game.”

—Bianca Riemer, leadership coach, London, UK

Take a deep breath

“One thing that helps me stop from spiralling into a negative thought loop is breathwork. I pause whatever it is that I was doing and I turn inwards. I consciously focus on taking slow and deep belly breaths in through the nose and expanding my belly outwards.”

—Paulina Xenia, manifestation coach, Portugal

Tap into a nostalgic memory

“I go back to a time where my dog and I were on an island on a large lake in Minnesota where we would sit on the dock or on top of the hill or on the porch and admire the beauty around us. It’s very beautiful whatever the time of year, and this memory helps to keep my mind from spiralling.”

—M Larson, A/R supervisor, Sacramento, CA

Give yourself a laugh

“When my mind feels overwhelmed, I like to use my technique called ‘A Handful Of Stories’ to interrupt the spiral of negativity and gain some clarity. As the mind is so determined to think, I like to take control and make up five stories instead of letting it run the show. I find the more absurd the better. I find laughter is great to calm me down and get me thinking rationally again.”

—Sam Curtis, life coach, London, UK

Pause for a movement break

“I have found negative thoughts to be really difficult to deal with. What has helped me stop the spiral is to do something physical like exercise, especially strength training. I believe that the reason for this is that I have to stay focused on what it is that I am doing to avoid injuries. What I have found is that taking my focus away from the negativity and placing it on something that requires attention and either physical strength or dexterity is extremely helpful to stop the negative thought spiral.”

—Veronica Benton, human resources professional

Take your thoughts to paper

“I use a reframing exercise. I write down the trigger situation and next to it what my automatic thought is about it. Then I pause to consider a new way to look at the trigger situation and reframe my view. I write the new perspective next to it. Writing it down gets it out of my head, clarifies my thoughts, and helps me identify when my inner critic is showing up. It’s a powerful exercise that’s simple and can be done anywhere.”

—Kathryn Sandoe, entrepreneur and executive director, Lancaster, PA

Try “thought switching”

“If your mind is racing with all kinds of negative thoughts, try thought switching. Think of a place where you feel calm and relaxed — it could be a beach, a country walk, or your garden — and describe it in great detail to yourself, mouthing the words as you speak rather than keeping them in your mind. This is one of my favorite techniques.”

—Dr. Sue Peacock, consultant health psychologist, Bedford, UK

Give yourself a pep talk

“I use a classic brain retraining technique. As soon as the negative thought starts to repeat, you say: ‘Stop, Stop, Stop’ and then put both hands up in a stop motion, and say, ‘Thank you for warning me, but I’ve got this. A solution is available and this will resolve’. Repeat as necessary!”

—Penny Guyon, marketing and publicity consultant, Los Angeles, CA

Make a list 

“I stop my mind from spiralling by making a list of the worst case scenarios and specifically what I can do to handle those should they occur. This makes me trust myself more and take action in a direction that mitigates rather than exacerbates my worries.”

—Karisa Karmali, online fitness trainer, Ontario, CA

Go into another room 

“Whenever a negative thought pops into my mind, I immediately get up and go into another room such as my bedroom or kitchen. This physical and mental shift helps to reset my thought pattern before a negative spiral begins. Even something as simple as making a cup of tea or having a shower helps to take my minds off of things and break the pattern of negative thinking.”

—Karen Farrell, mindfulness teacher, London, UK

Look at nostalgic photos 

“I keep a photo album on my phone that contains pictures of all the people I love. It includes photos from fun nights out with friends, special occasions, pictures of my babies, beautiful places I’ve been, and some lovely mundane moments too. I keep it fairly up to date and if I feel I’m having a bad day, it helps me remember that we need the bad moments to appreciate the good, and that there are plenty of good moments still to come.”

—Jessica Brewer, founder of Emiz HR & Coaching, London, UK

Watch a movie you love

“I am a huge movie junkie, and I find that a comforting genre such as fantasy or animation calms me down instantly. If I am anxious or depressed, I tend to spiral because I get anxious or depressed about being anxious or depressed! Putting on something happy, like Disney or Harry Potter, knocks me out of my loop and puts me in my happy place. It works every time. If I am in the middle of work, I will put a movie on that I know well, with no sound. Just the visual ambiance that I can glance at every now and then feels comforting.”

—Natalie Constable, brand strategist, Tulsa, OK

Examine your physical environment

“I’m a big believer in the mind-body connection. I’ve noticed a pattern with this type of catastrophic thinking. Most often, my vulnerability factors are out of balance. This could mean any of the factors that have the potential to energise me are actually depleting me; I’m running on lack of sleep, social burnout, physical exhaustion, or hunger. Whenever I feel my negative thoughts spiral, I pause and examine each of my vulnerability factors, choosing one to restore. This helps me approach any situation more rationally and regain control of my thoughts.”

—Rachel Reiss, HR program manager, Norfolk, VA

Consider the worst case scenario

“When my mind starts spiralling, I go to worst case scenario thinking first. This stops the spiral and gives the scenario credence by embracing it instead of trying to ignore it. The next step is to seek acceptance or, better yet, a solution. When the brain seeks solutions, it stops spiralling and starts inspiring. When you change what you focus on, what you focus on changes.”

—MaryJoye, licensed mental health counsellor, FL

Recite a mantra that helps you redirect

“When my mind gets busy or stuck in negative thinking, I use a mantra to snap myself out of it. Saying the words ‘no thinking’ either aloud or in my mind helps me stop in my tracks and reset. These words prompt me to take a few deep breaths and acknowledge that I can change my thinking to have a new experience. It works every time!”

—Emily Madill, author and creativity coach (ACC), Nanaimo, B.C., Canada

 

First published on 4 August 2022 here.

 

Rebecca Muller
Senior Editor and Community Manager at Thrive

Rebecca Muller Feintuch is the Senior Editor and Community Manager at Thrive. Her previous work experience includes roles in editorial and digital journalism. Rebecca is passionate about storytelling, creating meaningful connections, and prioritising mental health and self-care. She is a graduate of New York University, where she studied Media, Culture and Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. For her undergraduate thesis, she researched the relationship between women and fitness media consumerism.

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