How to Use a 'Mind-Sweep' for Anxiety Attacks

Patient Expert

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When you experience an anxiety attack, it will consume all of your attention and energy, as if nothing else in your life matters. Anxiety attacks disrupt the lives of 4 million adults in the United States each year.

There are a variety of triggers that cause anxiety attacks. A common risk factor for anxiety attacks is stress. Stress is one of the constant triggers for my anxiety attacks. During the holiday season at the end of 2016, I experienced one. I had traveled to California to deliver my last speaking engagement of the year. As I sat in my hotel room, I began to think about so many things at once, including:

  • Work stress
  • Financial stress
  • The stress of travel
  • The stress of the holidays
  • The stress of this holiday season being the first one without my mother

My heart started beating rapidly, and my body became tense. There I was, a mental health speaker, who was there to speak to 2,000 high school students about stress, and my anxiety was spiraling out of control.

I needed a solution, and I needed it fast. I decided to try using a tool that has been helping me organize myself for the past several years: the Mind-Sweep, created by David Allen, who devised the Getting Things Done (GTD) management system. All I needed was a pad and a pen.

Michael Keithley, a chief information officer, wrote on his blog GTD for CIOs about the idea behind the mind-sweep. He said it is useful “to identify and gather everything that is making claims on your attention or is likely to affect the larger areas of responsibility in your life – everything that’s quietly burning cycles, stealing focus, and whittling away at your attention – so that you can then decide what (if anything) must be done about each of those things.”

In a nutshell, you write down every single thing that’s on your mind.

That day in the hotel room, with a tense grip on the pen, I began writing. Within a few minutes, I had written down everything, including unresolved guilt, anger, shame, fear, and resentments. I felt myself slowly calming down and gradually feeling more grounded.

It worked!

Since then, I have been intentional about using the Mind-Sweep during anxiety attacks.

Note that this idea of taking everything that’s on your mind and writing it down on paper is not new. In fact, it’s a process that many therapists, business coaches, and professional organizers suggest.

Capturing your anxiety attack

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Make a habit of keeping a pad of paper (or notebook) and pen (or pencil) with you at all times.
  2. Block out 15 to 30 minutes of uninterrupted time.
  3. Write down everything that’s on your mind, including unresolved anger, guilt, shame, etc.
  4. File it away.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 when you are having an anxiety attack.

Like any tool in your toolbox, it won’t work for every situation and circumstance. When you use it in conjunction with other tools, however, it will improve your life. In some instances, the act of writing stuff down may temporarily make your anxiety worse. When this does happen, in my experience, it’s just a part of the healing process.

I encourage you to use the Mind-Sweep and regain control when your anxiety is holding you hostage.

How about taking a few minutes to write down everything that’s on your mind right now?


Mike Veny is one of America’s leading mental health awareness speakers, HealthCentral’s new mental health social ambassador, and a high energy corporate drumming event facilitator. He delivers educational, engaging, and entertaining presentations to meetings and conferences throughout the world. Learn more and connect with Mike at TransformingStigma.com.