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Tools for the Anxious Person - S.C.A.R.F.


We’ve all been there. Feeling like your heart is hammering, ears can’t hear properly, shaking hands. Possibly even lightheaded or feeling like you want to flee a situation. Anxiety can be a low level stressor for some, and completely crippling for others.


As a counselor, I deal with anxiety almost daily through my clients, and I often find that the first step towards dealing with it effectively is understanding exactly what it is and is not. There is a lot of stigma associated with it, and that is a big part of people’s ability to process their emotions in real time.




First thing: Anxiety is a signal. It is a process your brain and nervous system goes through in order to tell you that there is something in your environment – physically, emotionally, or mentally – that it senses is out of place or needs to be dealt with. For example, if someone is following you late at night and your internal alarm bells go off, that’s anxiety. Being unprepared for a meeting or unsure of an outcome is also anxiety, even if the event is something positive.


So the first thing to remember is that anxiety is actually something you should have. If you don’t, it means that everything in your life is totally unchanging, which is not necessarily good.


However, what people experience difficulty with is when it goes from a low level to a much higher level. I often have people define their anxiety on a scale of 1-10 just like a doctor would with pain. Anything below a 3 really isn’t a big deal. Something around a 7 or above is probably causing some stress.


Depending on how you cope with anxiety, it can easily travel up the scale quickly when certain triggers are in play. These triggers can be environmental, social or even physical and identifying the ones that make a big difference to you is also important. An example could be a certain family member that you really don’t enjoy dealing with, or something like driving on a busy highway.


Once you have identified those triggers, there are two things you need to do: 1) Figure out what caused the anxious response to that stimulus, and 2) Manage the result.


For example, if you are constantly anxious around a work situation like presentations, it can stem from impostor syndrome. Or you may have had an episode once where you were humiliated while speaking. Identifying that past issue and processing it is part of the solution. It may also be beneficial to practice speaking in front of people and working on the fear condition so that in the future, you can adequately perform without that high level of anxiety.


Long term, I have developed a system that covers many of the main things you can use to combat anxiety, which I call SCARF.




This stands for: Sleep, Caffeine, Alcohol, Relaxation and Food.


Each of these are important things to focus on when you constantly experience anxiety. Sleep is a no brainer – this is where your body literally heals itself and processes things that happened throughout the day. If you have trouble sleeping, there are practices you can easily use to help. Caffeine keeps your nervous system in a heightened state more easily, and so does alcohol (or other substances). Relaxation means having portions of your day where you can focus on breathing, doing something that you enjoy that isn’t stressful, and allow your nervous system to calm down. Food is a reminder that healthy eating without things like lots of sugars and processed items will help keep your system in check.


Remember, anxiety is something we all experience and is quite normal – in fact, as I stated, you can even consider it necessary. Shifting the mindset around that experience and learning how to manage it properly can severely lessen the impact and allow you to deal with things that previously caused you to go from a 3 to an 8 and make your day to day functioning more challenging.


As always, if you know someone who needs help with this, I recommend dealing with a qualified professional and taking the time to improve your strategies. I’m always available to help at www.ottawamenscounseling.com.

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