Therapy Blog for Orem, Spanish Fork & South Jordan

The Anxiety Avalanche: What to Do When You’re Stuck in Anxiety

The Anxiety Avalanche: What to Do When You’re Stuck in Anxiety

               I often tell my clients that anxiety is like being hit by an avalanche.  Fortunately, I have never had this experience. But, I imagine that when you are hit by an avalanche you are probably not thinking, “ow these rocks are sharp, these sticks are pokey, this snow is cold, these twigs are itchy, and this mud is gross!”. The only thing that you are aware of is that you are beinganxiety crushed and suffocated in an avalanche. And, in the moment, you may not even be consciously aware of the fact that it’s an avalanche!

               When you experience anxiety, there is usually a lot going on underneath.  You’re worrying about a hundred different things (or about the same thing but times a hundred), your mind is racing, and it’s almost impossible to deal with any of it because it’s all blending together and crushing and suffocating you – just like the avalanche – and you might not even be aware of the fact that it’s anxiety that you’re experiencing (Related article: How Counseling Helps Anxiety). Because of this, you might be paralyzed by the anxiety and not know what to do with it.  You may try distracting yourself and burying the anxiety. That sometimes puts it out of your mind for a time, but it tends to come back.  Here are some steps I help my clients take when they are stuck in anxiety.

First, get into a mental space where you can deal with it.

Most of the time when you are experiencing anxiety, your brain is in survival mode – we also call this fight-or-flight.  When you’re in fight-or-flight, your brain is focused on the physical tools at your disposal that you can use to literally survive a dangerous situation (like an actual avalanche). (Related article: Worry vs. Anxiety). While your brain focuses on these physical tools, it shuts off any emotional and mental tools at your disposal that can help with a stressful situation (like an avalanche of anxiety).  This is why it is crucial to ground yourself, return to baseline, and get your whole brain functioning again when trying to deal with anxiety.  A great way to do this is to take a break and to breathe deeply and slowly. (Related article: Just Breathe! Reduce Anxiety With This Simple Exercise).

Second, recognize what emotions you’re feeling.

One of the biggest keys for dealing with anxiety is figuring out what’s underneath it.  I don’t necessarily mean what is causing the anxiety, but what emotions you’re feeling underneath it.  For example, maybe you’re feeling worried about a strained relationship, overwhelmed by the mess in the kitchen, and stressed about finances. You feel inadequate and insecure at work. You are afraid of losing your job or letting others down.  It’s important to note that in this step you are not trying to fix any of these problems. That comes later.  Trying to jump to fixing the problems at this step is likely to continue the anxiety and even make it worse. (Related article: How to Mindfully Deal with Difficult Emotions).

Third, allow yourself to feel the emotions for a moment.

Close your eyes and notice the physical sensations that you feel in your body. As you think about these emotions and just sit with these sensations for a few moments, literally feel your emotions.  Identify where you feel it in your body and describe what it feels like. For example, when we feel embarrassed, we usually feel it as a very warm feeling in our face – we blush.  When my clients have done this they have often described things like tension or tightness in their shoulders or necks; or heaviness, shakiness, or emptiness in their chest or stomach. (Related article: Anxiety Tips from a Counselor). Just notice how it feels physically and let yourself feel it for a few moments.  Be careful not to slip into ruminating and thinking about what you’re feeling and what caused it; here you’re just focusing on feeling.

Fourth, let go of the anxiety, cope, and move forward.

An effective way to do this is to breathe deeply and to imagine releasing the physical sensations along with the air as you exhale slowly through pursed lips, and then do something to cope.  Coping involves doing something for you that your future self will be glad that you did. And that’s not just taking some “me time” to scroll through Instagram.  I often tell clients that one of the best examples of effective self-care might be spending some time doing dishes and then spending some time rewarding yourself with something you want to do.  This might be a good time to do something about one of the things that is causing part of the anxiety, such as cleaning the kitchen, going over the budget, doing a task for work, or calling a friend.

Find a Therapist For Anxiety

Of course, these steps aren’t guaranteed to reduce your anxiety to zero, and it certainly might come back again. But, following them can help you better manage the anxiety and get through it, especially when you’re stuck.  These steps are fairly simple in theory and can be difficult in practice.  If you need help, I or any of my colleagues would be more than happy to help you navigate anxiety or other similar difficulties.

Ready to get started? Start anxiety therapy in Orem, South Jordan, or Spanish Fork. We also offer Telehealth in Utah.

Written By Keagan Krogh, LMFT

Lauren Adkins

Writer for the Center for Couples and Families


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