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What to do when you have intense anxiety/obsessions?

What to do when you have intense anxiety/obsessions?

This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions in our sessions. It is not a question with an easy answer, but in this article we want to provide you with an action plan that you can use to manage anxiety when it’s very intense. The plan consists of two phases. Firstly it consists of managing acute anxiety and secondly of analyzing and preventing it.

First: Managing acute Anxiety

When we are very anxious our entire body is in tension, we disconnect from what we are doing and it is very difficult for us to focus on anything but our symptoms. Our environment can seem hostile or dangerous and the only thing we want to do is to make ourselves small and wait for the fear to disappear. However, if we do this we can actually involuntarily maintain our anxiety. That is why in this article we propose you an alternative which can help to reduce intense anxiety:

Don’t try to get out of the situation

Many times when we feel anxious, the first thing we do is that we try to get out of the situation. For example if we’re afraid of being in groups, we tend to go to the bathroom for a moment, we go outside to smoke, or we even go home earlier in order not to have to deal with our anxiety. Because of this we might feel better temporarily. Unfortunately, in the long run this behavior actually maintains our anxiety and can even increase it.

When we avoid a certain situation, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to see what would happen if we wouldn’t have avoided it. Essentially, what we’re telling our body that we’re in a dangerous situation. Not only will our body maintain our level of tension in an elevated state in order to prevent us from harming ourselves, but it will also start to associate similar situations with danger. That’s why it’s important to stay in the situation and to show your brain that you are the one who decides if a situation is dangerous or not.


Breathing is something we do unconsciously most of the time. However, there is a big relationship between how we breathe and the way we’re feeling. When we change the way we breathe, we can change our level of tension. When you notice that you’re anxiety is rising, take the following steps:

  1. Breathe in profoundly and slowly through your nose during 5 seconds.
  2. Hold your breath during 5-7 seconds.
  3. Breathe out slowly during 10 seconds.
  4. This technique will help you to regain control over your breathing, and in the same time it will help you to lower down your anxiety. This type of breathing is called “Paused Breathing”.

When you notice that your anxiety has gone down in intensity, you can try to breathe slowly and deeply, while trying to make your abdomen rise more than your chest. This will help you to calm yourself down even more.

This kind of breathing is called “Abdominal or Diaphragmatic Breathing”, and is another useful relaxation technique.


Call someone.

When we’re experiencing acute anxiety we need distraction and support. Calling somebody who normally makes you feel good can be very comforting. Try to explain what’s happening to you and above all explain that you’re anxious. Sharing the fact that we’re anxious can help us to feel more supported and safe. Also, we feel less alone when somebody knows what is happening to us.


Look for intense distraction.

When the anxiety is intense, the distraction should be intense as well. Simply going for a run won’t be enough because this still allows us to think about what was worrying us. That’s why we need an activity that obligates us to be 100% involved. Some activities that are effective in managing anxiety are:

  • Playing loud music while singing or dancing. When we feel connected to music and we sing or dance passionately we’re expressing emotions which can be difficult to express. Also, it can brighten our mood and it can help us to let go a little.
  • Boxing. When we fight someone we can’t be focused on our mind and thoughts because before we’ll even notice the other one will have hit us. Also, boxing activates our instincts which can help us to free ourselves of anxiety.
  • Horseback riding. Horses are very smart and sensitive. If you are nervous, the horse will be as well. If you however manage to tune in to the horse you will be able to do whatever you want together. This can be a very beautiful experience which won’t allow you to “be stuck inside your head”.
  • Rock climbing. Rock climbing is an activity that connects us to our primal instinct. It involves being in nature and reaching goals after a big effort. One has to be very brave to go rock climbing. Once we manage to overcome our fear and we manage to start climbing, it can be a thrilling experience that liberates our mind of anxiety in a powerful way.
  • Drawing and painting. If you are someone who can express themselves with intensity through drawing or painting, please do so! Painting or drawing can be a very good way to connect to our emotions and our creative and sensitive side. Also, it gives us the opportunity to see things from another perspective. Try to paint or draw abstractly in order not to stay “in your head” and to allow yourself to connect to your deeper emotions.


Second: Observing and Preventing Anxiety

Be kind to yourself

When we are anxious or upset we tend to focus on our symptoms. This is logical because we are worried about what they might mean; but sometimes this can cause us to forget about ourselves. Maybe we don’t take care of ourselves that well anymore, we don’t eat properly or we don’t allow ourselves to take some time for relaxation. However, in order to prevent anxiety it is very important to take care of ourselves. So try to be kind to yourself and even more so when you’re anxious.

  • You can take a warm bath, get a professional massage, buy some good quality food, read a book you love or enjoy the sun. What is important is that you take a moment that is for you and for you only, and that you don’t allow any distractions or obligations to take it away from you.


Take some time to orient yourself

This might be the most important step you can take after the most intense anxiety has gone down. Take a moment to reflect on what’s going on in your life. How is everything at work? At home? How are you feeling physically? How are your friends and family? Contemplate how you’re feeling in all these different areas of your life.

  • Very often when we’re anxious, we focus on our direct symptoms instead of observing what could be affecting us. Did you have a fight with somebody? Maybe someone behaved badly with you and you haven’t said anything about it? Or could it be that you don’t like your current job but that you’re staying because it’ easier than looking for a new one. Are there any decisions that you are postponing because you are afraid of what might happen if you take them?

This is what you should analyze when you’re experiencing anxiety. If you don’t know what is causing your anxiety and you’re suffering from it frequently, it’s recommendable to look for professional help.


Deal with the situation.

Finally, when we’ve analyzed our situation it’s important to get in action. When we’re anxious we frequently become paralyzed. We think that there is no solution and that the situation surpasses us. But if we stay stuck in our anxiety we won’t advance.

We have to be brave and make important changes in order for us to definitely overcome anxiety. If this implies taking risks then so be it. We cannot live with anxiety that floods over us like a tsunami every day.

Not taking any risks is losing the opportunity to live. So confront the person that has treated you badly, and tell them that you don’t appreciate it. Change your job without thinking about what other people might say. Take the risk of losing and you might win a lot.

If you would like to know more about how to deal with intense anxiety or if you would like us to help you deal with it, feel free to contact us at +34 935 282 353 or through our contact form.

Lisette Zeeuw

Clinical Psychologist