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After something stressful occurs, it can feel like the fear gets trapped inside me and my mind gets stuck in a fearful place. Even though the stressful event is over, my brain and body aren’t calming down. When this happens, I use these tools to help myself shift to a better place, both physically and mentally.

This article is part of the Anxiety Tools Series. Click here for more tools that help with anxiety.

Also, please note that this article is not medical advice, nor is it a replacement for medical care. This is just me sharing some of my personal experiences and the tools that have worked specifically for me.

An orange tabby cat laying on top of a pair of blue and green plaid pajama bottoms. The cat is stretched out with a blissful look on their face as they sleep. It looks as if someone took off their pants so that they could get up without disturbing the blissful slumber of this kitty.

An orange tabby cat laying on top of a pair of blue and green plaid pajama bottoms. The cat is stretched out with a blissful look on their face as they sleep. It looks as if someone took off their pants so that they could get up without disturbing the blissful slumber of this kitty.

 

 

The Tools

For me, it usually takes doing at least three or four of these tools to shift myself from fear mode to a calm place. Sometimes I go through most of them before I’m feeling better. And sometimes, especially when there is something I’m still anxious about, I don’t feel all the way better, but these tools still help.

Many of these tools are things that people already know about, like journaling, spending time with pets, getting hugs, and exercising, but others are things that are less commonly known about, like “completing the cycle” and orienting. I’ve collected these tools all together because I think it is helpful to have them all in one place. Especially when I’m stressed, it can be useful to be reminded of what I can do to make things better, because I won’t necessarily remember all of my options in the moment.

These tools are grouped into categories that follow a sequence that I personally find helpful, but really this is about doing what feels best in the moment. This sequence starts with “Immediate Calming Tools,” and then moves on to tools that are helpful for “Processing Through the Stress and Fear.” Next I do “Soothing Tools.” Finally, I use tools that are helpful for “Shifting Mind Modes” to get my brain into a calmer and more stable space. However, each time is different, and if it feels right to do things in a totally different order, I will.

 

Immediate Calming Tools

These are things I do right after something stressful happens to help my body let go of some of the intensity of the stressful event.

Completing the Cycle: As I understand it, people’s bodies can get stuck in the “freeze” part of the fight, flight, or freeze response. In these situations, it can be extremely helpful do an action that signals to the body that the danger is over and we can leave the emergency mode. The idea here is that we are intentionally helping the body finish its stress cycle so that the stress hormones will be removed from the body. Personally, I find that vigorous movement, like shaking it all out or running in place, really helps me. However there are a lot of other options, like screaming, singing, walking, hugs, arts and crafts, and self-care activities. You can find out more information about this in “Healing Stress by Completing the Cycle” (note that there is some discussion of sexuality in this article).

Orienting: This is an anxiety tool set designed to help a person’s nervous system connect to the present moment. The way I understand it is that when people are upset, their mind is usually focusing on the past or the future. Helping the nervous system connect to the present helps it calm down. You can read the full article on orienting here.

Hugs: If there is another person available, ask for a hug. Ideally this would be a long, slow hug where you take a deep breath and relax into the hug. When I need a hug and no one is around, I will hug a pillow or wrap a blanket around myself and pull it tight. The physical pressure is calming to the nervous system on a physiological level (this is why weighted blankets can be so helpful for some people).

Confident Body Posture: Another quick tool for shifting things is to spend thirty seconds sitting, standing, on lying down in a strong, confident body posture. Doing this creates hormone shifts that reduce stress. This TED Talk by Amy Cuddy has more details on this technique, as well as a touching personal story. Continue Reading »

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Negative self-judgment is a harmful mental pattern where we judge ourselves and tell ourselves negative opinions as if they are facts. This negative self-judging can be blatant, or it can hide inside of other feelings, like insecurity. The following tools are designed to help our brains shift away from these harmful patterns into more self-affirming ones.

This article is part of the Anxiety Tools Series. Click here for more tools that help with anxiety.

Also, please note that this article is not medical advice, nor is it a replacement for medical care. This is just me sharing some of my personal experiences and the tools that have worked specifically for me.

A photograph is of a squirrel working very hard to get into a “squirrel proof” bird feeder. They are stretched out with their back feet on a thin metal rod that has some sort of small fitting on it and their front feet on the edge of a hanging tray full of bird seed. Their head is up and they are looking around alertly.

 

 

Building Resilience by Taking in Positive Things

There are things that we can do to build resilience so that we have more to work with when we are struggling. On thing that is especially helpful for dealing with judgement is to really take in positive events and successes, even little ones. Brains naturally focus more on negative things, so it takes conscious effort to give more focus to positive things.

The most effective way to do this is different for each person. It is all about figuring out what works best for you. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Do a silly, fun victory dance to mark each success.
  • Find one thing you are proud of each day to share with a friend or partner, even if it is as small as replying to emails, washing a few dishes, or giving your pet some attention.
  • At the end of each day take a moment to reflect on the positive things that happened that day.
  • Make a list of successes that you add to each time you have a new one.
  • Give yourself a hug each time you accomplish something. I find that hugging a pillow can be an especially good way to give myself a hug.
  • Every time that you journal, set aside a moment to write down positive things that you want to remember.

Another reason why focusing more on taking in positive events is so helpful is that the more attention and time we give to a mental pattern, the stronger it grows. So each time that we really focus on taking something positive thing in, we are growing that part of ourselves.

 

 

Three Steps for Working with Negative Self-judgment

Negative self-judgments can get pretty toxic, repetitive, and cyclical. This three step process interrupts that cycle and helps the brain shift to healthier thought patterns.

 

Step 1: Identify Judgment and Set it Aside

The crucial first step in dealing with negative self-judgment is noticing when it is happening. Sometimes it is a conscious thought, but it can also disguise itself as a feeling. For me, the first sign that I’m judging myself is usually that I feel bad about something. If I stop to ask myself why, then I find the judgment. For example, if I’m feeling bad about an interaction I had with someone it is usually because I’m judging myself for not being good enough in some way.

Once a judgement has been identified, do your best to avoid going through the details of what it is. It is time to set it aside. This isn’t easy to do and doesn’t always work perfectly. Just do your best to put intention into setting it aside. For example, I tell myself, “This is a judgement and not a fact. I’m setting it aside now.”

It might seem counter-intuitive, but avoid reassuring yourself about this judgment. This is because reassurance still follows the same mental pattern as the judgement. Saying that something isn’t true is still repeating or emphasizing the untrue thought. That means that reassuring yourself is reinforcing the harmful mental pattern, and the more focus and attention that we give to that pattern, the stronger it grows, so the goal is to avoid that. Continue Reading »

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Close up illustration of a row of six small mushrooms with round caps in among some dark green moss. The mushrooms are glowing pale blue.

 

Safety Rating: Situationally dangerous.

Environment: Temperate Forests.

Fairy Circles: Each fairy circle fungus produces a ring of mushrooms that has a magical effect on anyone who enters it. They are called fairy circles because a number of fairy communities are heavily involved in cultivating and breeding them. As a result, there are many different varieties of fairy circle fungus, each of which produces a mushroom with a distinctive appearance.

The Glowing Blue Fairy Circle is a type of fairy circle with magic that can only be fully accessed by those who have formed a magical bond to the forest. Only characters that have lived in the forest for at least one year can form this type of bond.

Details: The mushrooms of the Glowing Blue Fairy Circle Fungus are pale blue with delicate, spherical caps on top of long stems. Glowing with a soft inner light, they form a ring that is fifteen feet wide.

All of the Glowing Blue Fairy Circles in a forest are connected. When the magic in one Glowing Blue Fairy Circle is activated, it teleports people and objects from it to one of the other Glowing Blue Fairy Circles in the same forest. Only people and objects that are fully inside the circle get teleported; people and objects that are part in and part out get left behind.

People with a bond to the forest have full access to the power of these Glowing Blue Fairy Circles. This means that there is no risk of magical side effects when they use a Glowing Blue Fairy Circle. In addition, they can activate and direct the teleportation of any Glowing Blue Fairy Circle that they are near, including activating and directing the teleportation of fairy circles from outside the ring.

Those without a bond to the forest can use their skill with magic or nature to activate a Glowing Blue Fairy Circle, however they rarely have any control over their destination. In addition, there are frequent magical side effects. Generally speaking, these side effects are designed to both be deterrents for using the fairy circle without a forest bond and be something that the fairies who created the Glowing Blue Fairy Circle thought would be funny to watch. Continue Reading »

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Black and white clip art depiction of audio being turned into a transcript.

Black and white clip art depiction of audio being turned into a transcript. On the left, the sound is depicted by a pair of headphones with an audio wave going between the two ears pads. A simple black arrow goes from left to right. On the right, the transcript is represented by a stylized typed document.

 

In order to make these transcripts as accessible as possible, each one is produced in four formats: as an online post for access convenience, in a word document with a low vision friendly font (Veranda), in a pdf with a dyslexia friendly font (OpenDyslexic), and a low contrast blue on black pdf as an access option for people with migraines (Veranda).

 

Writing Alchemy Bonus Cast 9 – Anxiety Tools: Orienting

[Happy, bouncy, electronic music plays and then fades out.]

FAY ONYX: Hello and welcome to Writing Alchemy Bonus Cast Number Nine. I’m Fay Onyx and today I’m sharing some tools I have been using that have been extremely helpful for dealing with anxiety. I’ll also be giving an update on what is going on for me, and I’ll wrap up by sharing some of the projects I’ve been working on. Continue Reading »

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Close up illustration of the surface of a bright green cactus showing clusters of pale blue spines that are each surrounded by wisps of fog.

 

Safety Rating: Situationally dangerous and beneficial.

Environment: Deserts.

Details: This large, branching cactus has dense clumps of needles that become exceptionally cold at night, allowing it to condense water out of the air. The cactus stores this water in its trunk. Because of this unique ability, Ice Needle Cactus can survive in areas too dry for most other desert plants and it is an important source of food and water for many people and animals. However, this condensation process does make the cactus dangerously cold at night.

Inspiration: Prickly pear cactus.

 

Ice Needle Cactus is part of the Crossroads Setting for the tabletop role-playing game, Magic Goes Awry. Click here to go to the list of wild and whimsical magical plants from the Land of Crossroads.

 

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Illustration of a thick, round, gray-purple mushroom with a pointed cap.

 

Safety Rating: Dangerous.

Environment: Temperate Forests.

Fairy Circles: Each fairy circle fungus produces a ring of mushrooms that has a magical effect on anyone who enters it. They are called fairy circles because a number of fairy communities are heavily involved in cultivating and breeding them. As a result, there are many different varieties of fairy circle fungus, each of which produces a mushroom with a distinctive appearance.

The Exploding Lavender Fairy Circle is a type of fairy circle with magic that can only be accessed by those who have formed a magical bond to the forest. Only characters that have lived in the forest for at least one year are able to form this type of bond.

Details: The mushrooms of the Exploding Lavender Fairy Circle grow in a thirty foot ring. When triggered, the largest of these squat, gray-purple mushrooms explodes into a swirling cloud of shimmering gray, white, and purple spores that surrounds the player characters. This cloud is large enough to affect people both inside and outside of the fairy circle. It smells like lavender and everyone that comes into contact with it falls asleep and enters a dream world. Once asleep, the characters are nearly impossible to wake.

There are only two ways out of this dream world. The first is to convince an extremely powerful being with a bond to the forest to release the sleeping people from the dream. This is usually a powerful fae being, but can also be a different type of supernatural entity or an elder druid from the forest. The second way out is for the characters inside the dream to find one of its exits. Spaces that are sacred to the Deity of Mystery, Dreams, and Fate serve as universal gateways between dreams and the waking world. Alternatively, if the characters can find the fairy circle that sent them into the dream, they can use it to return.

While only powerful beings can release people from the dream, anyone with a bond to the forest can trigger the Exploding Lavender Fairy Circle to release its spores. The person triggering the fairy circle does need to be physically present in order to trigger it, but they can be far enough away to avoid the cloud of spores. The fairy circle is also triggered if someone moves into it, or if one of its mushrooms is touched.

Lore: Powerful magical beings with a bond to the forest can enter the dream world, or even influence it from outside. They have been known to create obstacles, hide things, and cause distractions. In addition, their great power allows them to shape large areas of the dream world. Continue Reading »

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Illustration of a wide, round mushroom with a sparkly, red, flat cap. Its gills and stem are dark.

 

Safety Rating: Physically harmless, but can be socially dangerous.

Environment: Grasslands.

Fairy Circles: Each fairy circle fungus produces a ring of mushrooms that has a magical effect on anyone who enters it. They are called fairy circles because a number of fairy communities are heavily involved in cultivating and breeding them. As a result, there are many different varieties of fairy circle fungus, each of which produces a mushroom with a distinctive appearance.

Details: The large mushrooms of the Sparkling Red Fairy Circle Fungus have dramatic red and black coloring. The top of their perfectly round, flat caps are bright red and they sparkle as if they are encrusted with sequins. The underside of the cap has gills that form swirling black ruffles. These dramatic caps sit proudly on long, thin, black stems.

The ring formed by the Sparkling Red Fairy Circle is thirty feet wide. Anyone who enters it has the overwhelming urge to burst into song, expressing their deepest feelings through music and dance.

The fairies that bred the Sparkling Red Fairy Circle made it purely for their own amusement. As a joke, it is regularly grown on narrow grassland pathways where the fairies can hide the mushrooms in the tall plants on either side of the path. This means that unsuspecting travelers regularly enter these fairy circles without realizing what has happened. The resulting musical confusion is considered hilarious. Continue Reading »

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Illustration of a small green mushroom with a pointed cap on top of a small moss-covered mound.

 

Safety Rating: Potentially harmless, beneficial, and dangerous.

Environment: Temperate forests.

Fairy Circles: Each fairy circle fungus produces a ring of mushrooms that has a magical effect on anyone who enters it. They are called fairy circles because a number of fairy communities are heavily involved in cultivating and breeding them. As a result, there are many different varieties of fairy circle fungus, each of which produces a mushroom with a distinctive appearance.

The Dark Green Fairy Circle is a type of fairy circle with magic that can only be fully accessed by those who have formed a magical bond to the forest. Only characters that have lived in the forest for at least one year are able to form this type of bond.

Details: This type of fairy circle is much harder to spot than most. The mushrooms are small with deep green pointed caps that blend in with the small plants of the forest floor. They make rings that are three feet wide.

This fungus is connected to the root network of their entire forest. Anyone who is inside the ring can attempt to connect to the forest and perceive all of the living things within it. This is Sensing Magic and it can be used to observe a particular location or to locate a specific plant, animal, or person within the forest. Those who have a bond to the forest gain the full benefit of this magic, while those who don’t can only gain a limited, unstable access that easily becomes overwhelming.

Lore: Many druids use Dark Green Fairy Circles to monitor their forest homes. In temperate forests, Dark Green Fairy Circles have been an especially helpful tool in the struggle to stop poachers. Efforts are currently underway to create a type of Dark Green Fairy Circle that will grow in tropical forests. Continue Reading »

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Illustration of a lush swamp lit dramatically by the afternoon sun shining through the leaves of the trees. Arching out from behind a patch of trees is a huge scorpion tail that is the same dappled brown as the tree trunk it is hiding behind.

 

Safety Rating: Extremely dangerous.

Environment: Wetlands where there is plenty of cover, especially swamps.

Details: The fruiting bodies of this predatory fungus grow into enormous green and brown scorpion tails on top of many-legged, crawling bodies the size of large dogs. Called Scorpion Tails, these fruiting bodies are usually eight feet tall, but tails up to twelve feet tall have been documented. They stalk animals, ducking agilely behind trees until they get close enough to strike with their stingers, which are sharp enough to pierce metal and stone. They use these stingers to stabs deep into their victims, injecting spores.

Scorpion Tails attack repeatedly until their target is dead. Then they stand guard over the carcass, protecting it from scavengers so that the spores have had time to grow and produce new Scorpion Tails. Scorpion Tails that are guarding carcasses are relatively docile and only attack things that get close to them. However the presence of a Scorpion Tail guarding a carcass is a clear sign of danger, because there will be other Scorpion Tails in the area.

When hunting for prey, Scorpion Tails are attracted to movement, especially fast movement. They prefer larger prey and, when possible, they go after isolated prey, rather than groups. This means that stealth can be a useful protection against Scorpion Tails. Being small and staying in groups also helps. In addition, because the Scorpion Tails are so tall and top-heavy, once they have been knocked over, it takes them a few minutes to get back up. However knocked over Scorpion Tails are still dangerous, as they can strike with their stingers while on their sides.

Lore: One popular story describes Oriel (or-ee-EL) Dancer, an orcish folk hero and rogue, who defended themself from a Scorpion Tail by getting it to attack an inanimate object and then trapping its stinger inside that object. It is unclear how effective this technique would be outside of a story. Continue Reading »

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Illustration of a cluster of small, green, pebble-like succulents with white, daisy-like flowers that are nestled among tan rocks.

 

Safety Rating: Mildly dangerous.

Environment: Deserts.

Details: These tiny cacti look like little clusters of pebbles. They are colored to blend in with local rock. Most often they are tan and brown, but sometimes they are green or more dramatic colors, like red or purple. Their surface is mottled and speckled to help them camouflage with the nearby stone.

As an additional defense, when touched these cacti produce a bright flash of light that causes a temporary magical blindness. This flash of light is triggered by touches to its thin, flexible spines. The light flash is also bright enough to attract desert predators, which know that these flashes are often a sign of the presence of prey.

In autumn the Flashing Stone Cacti produce small, white, daisy-like flowers that emerge from the gaps between the cacti stems. These flowers are an important source of nectar for pollinators, especially migratory pollinators like humming birds, bats, and butterflies.

Lore: Fifty years ago, Juniper Huckleberry led a team that found a way to combine some of the properties of Flashing Stone Cactus with that of the Tree of Eternal Sleep to create Glowing Stone Cactus, which is the primary ingredient used in lampstones. The “Into the Research Garden adventure has more details about this aspect of the cactus’ history. Continue Reading »

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