Brain Locked: How to Self-Soothe When You Feel Anxious Or Depressed


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Fight, Flight or Freeze

Do you ever get deer-in-the-head-light-syndrome? You know you should move but you feel frozen and stuck. You are immobilized, just like the wheel on the computer screen that keeps spinning, and you don’t know how to reboot and move forward.Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 10.44.57 PM

Stay In The Present Moment

Anxiety does not exist in the present moment; anxiety is in the future. Depression is about thoughts of the past. Neither exists in the present moment. Bring yourself into the “here and now” or the present. Doing so will push you through your paralysis and calm you.

Here Are Some Suggestions

  1. Count backwards and name an object in the room.   For example, 10-lamp shade, 9-rug, 8-clock, 7-lamp…
  1. Change temperature, recalibrate by washing your face in cold water or taking a hot shower. For over 500 years, the Finnish have sworn by the benefits of the sauna where you sit in a small room, on cedar wood, sweat like a racehorse and then jump into a cold lake giving yourself a major brain reboot.
  1. Try to shift your brain gears from emotion to logic. A helpful phrase to repeat is “I am observing that I am feeling…” If you name it, you tame it. More here: 
  2. Put together a sensory kit with items to help your brain shift using your 5 senses.
  • Touch—soft or silky piece of fabric
  • Taste—lifesavers, or gum
  • Hear— motivating music
  • Sight—-a sentimental photo or interesting artwork
  • Smell—use a favorite perfume or lotion. You can also light incense or scented candle.


  1. Try vigorous exercise. Do you remember scene in the movie where Forest Gump is so discouraged he just begins to run? He ran and ran until he couldn’t remember why he was running. Think, “Run Forrest, Run,” and start an exercise program to sweat daily.
  2. Meditation. Just as your computer gets stuck displaying the symbol of a wheel twirling, your brain gets locked when you give it too many commands. Slow down, clear your mental tray by meditating and taking deep slow breathes.
  3. Have a good self-care program: avoid caffeine, get appropriate amounts of sleep, avoid junk food and find a hobby you enjoy.
  4. Be your own Thought Police—-examine your beliefs.If you catch yourself thinking, this is horrible, this can’t happen, this shouldn’t happen to me, etc. Try adding the word YET.” This simple word opens your mind to additional options and creates movement.For example if you are worried about a relationship issue you may think, “It is horrible Jane doesn’t like me, it mustn’t happen and YET, I do have other friends.” The concept of yet leads your mind to possibilities. Your internal threat estimator may be off causing catastrophic thinking. The situation might not be as bad as you think.
  5. Recite from memory
  • A lost skier reports he kept his composture by reciting the 23rd Psalm until rescuers found him.
  • The Saratov Approach” is the true story of two Mormon missionaries, serving in the Soviet Union who were kidnapped in 1989. The movie portrays them staying calm by reciting their memorized missionary discussions.
  • A family who experienced tragedy when their boat overturned stated they kept composure by singing church songs learned in youth groups. They were in the lake all night and several from their group died but they kept calm.  Yes, the religious implication in these stories is powerful but there is universal application demonstrating the concept of refocusing your thoughts through memorized phrases, songs or chants.  AA members recite, “God give me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference,” as a soothing mantra.

10. Develop an attitude—talk back to that anxiety or depression and find your inner sass!  It will pull you out of “victim thinking.”

Fight? Flight? Freeze? Next time you are worried or distressed, try self-soothing using these 10 techniques.


Camille Curtis Foster, LCSW

Here is an interesting interview with famous quarterback, Steve Young, where he talks about his struggle with anxiety (6.50 on the time marker).

Check out Jason Isbell’s song on Anxiety:

“A crowded room is a burning battlefield
If I don’t move, I’ll come undone
My heart beats harder, a hammer striking steel
Will I walk now or be a “Wait and Run”?

Camille Curtis Foster

Contact Me/801.472.7134/

Please “like” my Facebook page:

Recommended reading:

Get Out Of Your Mind And Into Your Life by Stephan P. Hales

The Art of Meditation by Daniel Goldman

Many thanks to Dr. Betty McElroy for the “and yet” concept.






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