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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.

And now I’m going to quickly mention that you can follow Writing Alchemy on twitter @ Writing underscore Alchemy, hashtag AlchemyCast, and on facebook at facebook dot com slash Writing Alchemy. You can find the show notes, with links, complete music and sound effect credits, and the transcript at Writing Alchemy dot net, where you can also find all of my podcasts, articles, stories, and other content. And if you want to help me keep this podcast going, you can pledge your support on patreon at patreon dot com slash writing alchemy, or purchase something from the TeePublic store, or make a donation through Ko-fi.

[Bouncy jazz music fades in, plays for ten seconds, and then fades out.]

I’m starting with an update on my mental health because it is sort of relevant to the anxiety tools. For the past two years I’ve been having some pretty intense mental health struggles with anxiety, panic attacks, and periodic depression. This last March things got really bad.

At the time I had a psychiatrist who misrepresented herself and her skills. She didn’t know how to help me and both abandoned me when I was struggling the most and engaged in anxiety triggering behaviors. Not a great combination! Thankfully I have an amazing therapist and I’m super tenacious and determined. So I was able to structure my life 100% around self-care day after day after day.

And after a lot of experimentation and finessing, I’ve developed a set of tools that are helping me address my anxiety symptoms. And overall things are a LOT better. My quality of life is better, which is huge! However, I’m in a place where I need to do a lot of self-care in order to keep things better. I have a new psychiatrist and I’m moving forward with that, but changing medications is rough. And until I have that figured out my being better is dependent on persistent and continual self-care.

So I’m in a space where I have about two to three hours a day that isn’t immediate self-care. That makes it hard to get anything done, because so many things are trying to squeeze into that time. That’s laundry and taking showers and doing online grocery orders and all sorts of weekly and monthly things. It is my time for cooking anything that will provide me with leftovers. It is my time for emails and planning. It is time for spending time with my family. And it is my art time.

Because art is so important to my mental health I’m doing art pretty much every day, but I have a lot of projects and things are going slower than I want. Despite that, I’ve actually got a lot of things done this year. But I’m not doing a good job of sharing them with all of you because my capacity is so limited.

One of the things I am working on is writing down my anxiety tools. And I thought that, especially right now, people might benefit from me sharing them. And that’s what I’m here to do. I’ll start by reading the introduction I wrote for the anxiety tools page.


So often in stories characters struggle with anxiety on their own, without the support of therapists, doctors, or psychiatrists. This makes me think that a lot of people in the real world are struggling on their own, without the kind of support that has made such a difference in my own life. Here I am sharing some of my personal tools for dealing with anxiety in the hope that people will understand the sorts of things that are possible with good quality medical care.

Everyone deserves access to quality mental health care. If you are struggling on your own and you have access to mental health care, I hope that you give it a try. And if the first person you work with isn’t helping, please keep searching until you find someone who can give you the support that you deserve.

For me these tools are also kind of like a diary. I’m writing them down to help myself in moments of struggle. In addition, I’m writing them down to help those people who are supporting me, so that they have tools that help them know what to do when I’m really struggling.

Also, for those storytellers out there, I hope that these tools remind you of the importance of showing characters getting medical help for their mental health struggles. Having support doesn’t make the struggles go away, but it does make it easier by giving people more tools to work with. I’m also really hoping that folks will learn that there is more to mental health care than medication and talking about your feelings.


The tool set that I’m sharing today is called “Orienting Tools”

The goal of this tool set is 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. I find that these tools are helpful during stressful moments, but they can also can be used at other times to increase calm and relaxation. For example, I often use them to help myself get sleepy at bedtime.

One thing I did want to mention about these tools is that it often doesn’t feel like much is happening when I first start using one of them, but the process of focusing on it and working through it makes a difference. Sometimes that difference is small and sometimes it is surprisingly big.

I’m listing these tools starting with the ones that help me when I’m feeling intense anxiety and ending with the ones that work better if I’m starting out in a relatively calm space. I find that these tools usually work best when I talk through them verbally, as that is one more physical thing to focus on, but sometimes when I’m sleepy I will do them in my head.


I call this first one “Quick Orienting.”

This is the tool that I do first in intense situations, like when I’m having a panic attack. It can be helpful to repeat this one multiple times, or to alternate between it and the Visual Only Orienting tool. During a particularly stressful day, doing this quick orienting whenever entering a new room can also be helpful.

  • First look at each door and window in the room.
  • Then turn to look over each shoulder.
  • Finally, look down at your feet.

The idea here is that we are reminding our body that we can leave this space if we need to. This is about interacting with the fight or flight system in a calming way. The process of turning to look over each shoulder also does this by engaging the psoas muscle, which is part of the fight or flight system.

Now I’m going to talk through an example of using this tool. So first, I look at the door. So there’s only one door in this room, so I’m looking at it. And then I’m turning to look at the window. There’s only one window in this room. Looking at it. And next, I’m going to rotate my head all the way to the left and around behind my shoulder. And then I’m actually going to scan around through the room and keep going and then look behind my right shoulder.

I like doing slow head sweeps through the room. I feel like, I feel like I find that helpful. Finally, I’m going to look down at my feet. Now I actually have a blanket over my leg. So I’m just gonna wiggle my toes, so that I can see that my foot is there. And that’s all there is to this one. Part of the goal of this is for it to be a short one.


I call this next tool “Visual Only Orienting.”

This is another tool that I use when I’m feeling overwhelmed or I’m having a panic attack. The goal here is to help my nervous system tune into the environment around me, while avoiding focusing on any senses that would bring my focus back to the physical experience of being anxious.

  • First choose a color, such as purple, blue, red, or green.
  • Next look around the room you are in and name everything you see that is that color.
  • Be sure to turn and look over each shoulder as you scan the room for items.

If someone is helping me, it works well for them to choose the color. They can also help me notice items I have missed in the parts of the room that I’ve already scanned, but it is important for the focus to be on me doing the looking. This isn’t about getting it “right,” it is about helping my brain connect to what is around me.

Now I’m going to talk through an example of using this tool. Interesting with me turning my head and the microphone [laughts], but we’ll start with what I can see right now. So right now I can see my vitamin container has a side that’s red. I also have a bright pink bowl, it’s not technically red, but it’s in the same color family. One of my podcasting folders is bright red. The sack I’m using for counterbalance on my microphone has a red handle. There’s a box here that has some labels on it in red. My sewing kit has some red on the side. My bookshelf has many books with little bits of red. And then there’s an Oregon atlas with a very bright red band at the top. I have a pouch that is red. The door is actually bright red. I have two gift bags that are red. Got another fabric sack with red handles. Turning all the way over to look over my shoulder here. I actually have a back scratcher with a red handle and top.

Think that’s most of the red things I can see from this angle. Oh, there’s a red cord ‘cause a lot of my charging cables have red cords. And oh yeah, the futon Iom- the futon Iom- [laughs] the futon- what?! Oh my goodness. The futon I’m on, it has a red sheet protecting it from dust and whatnot. Yeah, I like the color red. So that’s that one. If I’m more stressed out, obviously it’s a- it’s actually a lot harder to focus if you’re having a panic attack. But that’s part of the goal, is it just it gives you something else to think about other than the anxiety. And also, it helps the nervous system calm down.


I call this one “The Counting Tool.”

This is the orienting tool that I use the most. I use it to help me get sleepy for bed. I use it when I’m moderately anxious. I use it when I am feeling pre-panic attack symptoms. And I use it when I’m helping myself calm down from a panic attack. The only time that I don’t use it is when I’m feeling particularly intense anxiety, because naming things that I feel during those moments can bring my focus back to the physical experience of extreme anxiety.

  • Name six things you see.
  • Name five things you feel.
  • Name four things you see.
  • Name three things you feel.
  • Name two things you see.
  • Name one thing you feel.

I find it helpful to say the numbers as I count things. For example, “One is my closet door. Two is my wooden dresser. Three is my white noise machine…” or “I feel myself sitting up. That is one. I feel the blanket in my lap. That is two. I feel my hair being pulled back into a ponytail. That is three…”

If I lose track of where I’m at, I start the section I am working on over. For example, if I am naming four things I feel and I lose track of where I am at, I start counting the four things that I feel over again. During times when I’m having a lot of trouble focusing, I count on my fingers to help myself keep track of where I am at.

One of the things that I find so helpful about this tool is that it is just challenging enough to hold my focus, while still being easy enough that I can do it when I’m having a hard time. Also the counting specifically helps engage brain functions that can help the brain to shift out of emergency mode.

For times when I need a bit more challenge to keep my focus on this tool, I give myself additional criteria for the things I’m naming. For example, when naming things I see, I can choose to name things that are blue, that are small, or that make me smile. When naming things that I feel, I can choose to name things that are soft, that have distinct textures, or that that I like. If I use this tool multiple times in a row, I try to name different things each time.

Note that this tool is one that I created for myself based on what was most helpful for me in The Five Senses Tool that I’m going to be talking about next. That’s what this is all about, figuring out which tools are going to be the most helpful to you and adjusting them so that they are as helpful as possible. I chose seeing and feeling as the two senses to focus on for this tool because those are the two senses that I find the most calming to connect to. Also, going back and forth between seeing and feeling without repeating anything added enough challenge that it was better able to keep my focus. A different person using this tool may wish to adjust its length and the senses used so that it best meets their needs.

Now I’m going to talk through an example of using this tool. I’m going to add the challenge of naming things I see that make me smile, but I’m going to keep the things I feel the normal difficulty level.

So six things I see that make me smile. So let’s see. I really like my mechanical pencil. I actually quite enjoy my mechanical eraser as well. It’s a very effective eraser. The bright red folder that I use for recording, all my recording papers. That’s three. And let’s see, I like my bright blue water bottle. That’s four. My ultra soft Kleenex that’s super gentle on my nose. That’s five. Let’s see… my super yummy chocolate peanut butter protein bars. That’s six.

Okay, so five things that I feel. I feel myself sitting up. I feel the script papers in my hand. That’s two. My legs are sticking out. That’s three, I think. [laughs] It’s so easy to lose track. We’ll go with three, that’s three. I feel my hair is pulled back. That’s four. And I feel the super soft, fuzzy jacket that I’m wearing. That’s five.

Four things I see that make me smile. We’re gonna keep going with this fuzzy jacket. This is definitely something that makes me smile. I also like the super large, big fluffy blanket that’s over my legs. That’s two. I also see the really nice new window that will be going into my window once construction is done, because yeah, the room’s under construction right now. That’s gonna be amazing. So that’ll be three. It’ll be nice not to have a window that’s constantly leaking and cold. Yeah, so okay, so that’s three. And four, I guess we’ll go with my other super fluffy blanket, that’ll be four.

So three things that I feel. I feel my hand on my folder. That’s one. I feel my right arm resting on my knee. That’s two. And I feel… I feel my tush sitting on a pillow. That’ll be three.

So two more things that I see that make me smile. So we’ll go with my drafting table. I really like that. And the new Apple Cinnamon fruit bars that I’ve been eating. Those definitely are yummy. They make me smile.

And then we’re just going to end by one more thing that I feel. And so here, we’re gonna go with… that I feel my head is slightly turned to the right towards the microphone.

Okay, so that’s, that’s the long one. I guess part of the point of this particular one is for it to be long, so yeah.


Okay, I call this one “The Five Senses.”

For me this tool works best when I’m pretty calm and just want to be calmer, like when I’m getting ready for bed. However, sometimes when I am calming down after a panic attack and I am using the other orienting tools a lot, I will use this tool once or twice so that I’m using a greater variety of tools.

  • Name five things you see.
  • Name four things you hear.
  • Name three things you feel.
  • Name two smells you smell. Alternatively, name two smells that you enjoy.
  • Name one thing you taste. Alternatively, name one thing that would help you feel better right now.

For me personally, naming things I smell can be kinda triggering because it makes me think about my breathing, which can be an anxiety trigger for me, so I usually substitute naming two smells that I enjoy. Remembering a positive memory is good way to help my brain connect to something positive while avoiding this trigger.

Now I’m going to talk through an example of using this tool. Name five things you see. I see my laptop. I see the floor of this room. I see my space heater; that’s three. I see the microphone; that’s four. I see a roll of masking tape; that’s five.

Name four things you hear. Well, I’m not sure if you can hear this or not, but I hear the wind in the trees a bit, and I also hear some distant cars. That’s two. There is a gentle hum coming through the wall from the water heater; that’s three. And the sound of my own voice would be four.

Name three things that you feel. I feel my heels on the futon. I feel [laughs] my hand making gestures as I talk. That’s two. And the third thing I feel is I can feel little wispy hairs on the side of my neck.

Now I’m going with name two smells that I enjoy. So I’m going with the smell of peppermint tea and then the smell of warm beeswax.

And then I’m not tasting anything, so I’m going to say- name one thing that would help you feel better right now. Huh, what would help me feel better right now? I think maybe shifting my position a little bit would help me feel better right now.


If you find these tools helpful, please let me know. I’m in a space where a little encouragement goes a long way. Also, if I know that people want more, it will give me encouragement to keep going with this series, because I have a long list of tools I could write about.

As I mentioned previously, I’ve actually been doing some really cool stuff that I’m not announcing anywhere. For this reason, I’m looking for a volunteer to help with social media posting. I’m not entirely sure how that would work, but if you would like to help me with this, please reach out. It would be a big help!

Also, I’m looking to hire an audio editor to help me edit one podcast episode a month. I’ll still be doing the music and sound effects, so I’m specifically looking for someone to help with line edits. I’ll be making the choice in early November. Details are in the show notes.

Now I’m going to finish these updates by sharing some of the things I’ve been working on that I’m the most excited about.

I put together a Decolonizing Games Resource List. This is a time period where we are all being called to make systemic change. One of the many areas that needs to be addressed is games. It is time to move away from toxic narratives that reinforce systemic oppression to inclusive narratives that affirm the worth and dignity of all people.

Also, I’ve been continuing the Q & A series that goes up on the Mythcreants blog on the third Monday of each month, where I answer reader questions about portraying disability. Recent questions include, “What Would the Paralympics Look Like in an Optimistic Setting?” “How Do I Depict Historical Cultures With Problematic Behavior?” and “How Can I Depict Lipreading Respectfully Without Making Dialogue Tedious?”

Another exciting thing is that the beta version of Magic Goes Awry is online and I’m in the process of adding additional resources to it. This includes a set of eighteen premade characters. These premade characters are an accessibility option that allows people to jump into playing the game more quickly. I put a lot of love into making these characters diverse and interesting and Jessica Kuczynski did some amazing portraits for each of them.

Finally, I hope that you noticed the “Into the Research Garden” adventure that I released in September. If you haven’t listened to it, I highly recommend it, especially if you love fantastical plants, it turned out really good! As a supplement to this adventure, and as a way to build up the Crossroads setting, I’ve been releasing descriptions for the plants of Crossroads, such as Flute Grass, the Common Hopping Mushroom, and Armadillo Vine. At this point, I’ve got thirty five plants online (thirty five! I’m so impressed with myself), with the final plant going up soon. Once that is done, I’m going to be getting the notes for running the “Into the Research Garden” adventure online too.

I want to close by saying how incredibly grateful I am for your support. During this time when I’m struggling so much, not producing as much content as I want to be, and not announcing most of the content I am producing, I’ve gotten new patrons! It is so touching to me to think that people care so much about me and my work that people are choosing to support me even though I’m not communicating much. I’m just awed by that.

And I know that some other folks have had to step back from being patrons and I just want to say that this is not an easy time for a lot of folks and its okay and I understand and I’m incredibly grateful for the support that you have given me. And I know that not everyone has the capacity to financially support artists, but just knowing that you are here and listening means a lot. I’m grateful to all of you. <3

Thank you for listening. I look forward to talking with you again soon!

[Bouncy jazz music fades in and then comes to an end.]


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