Three simple steps to deal with panic

The Three Simplest Steps to Deal

There are many levels of anxiety, from a nagging uneasiness to full blown freak-out. You may have only one level of anxiety, a low-level but constant tension and feeling that something bad is going to happen, or you might sometimes go from perfectly fine to that state where you are sure you are going to die. (If you are at this place right now, scroll down to the three ways to deal)

It may help you to use an anxiety scale to measure how you are feeling. This will help you to be able to quantify where you are in each moment, and measure your progress as we go along. You might use this scale, or modify it in any way that will work better for you.

  1. Mild – somewhat uneasy
  2. Moderate – noticeable tension and other symptoms; still able to  function
  3. Severe – The need to “get outta here” increases; ability to focus decreases
  4. Panic- feeling of complete helplessness, increased physical symptoms

When we talk about “physical symptoms,” what are we referring to? Not everyone has the same physical symptoms caused by anxiety, but there are some that are often common. Sweating palms was a big one for me. Rapid heart beat, or, a perceived heart attack is another. Shortness of breath, nausea, tremors, headache, and fatigue are a few more symptoms that may occur with high anxiety. Some people even get attacks of irritable bowel  during panic attacks.

Quick Visit to the Doc?

Before we go any further, I want to assert that if you are having any or all of these physical symptoms, it is never a bad idea to consult with the physician of your choice. Though the thought of going to the doctor may be one of the things that causes you anxiety, finding out if there is something physically wrong with your body is extremely important.

A visit to the doc can rule out other conditions and set your mind at rest so you can say with conviction (and evidence from a professional) to yourself, “This is only anxiety.” If you are not wanting to use any medications for anxiety, just remember that the choice is yours, and you have the right to tackle this in the way that you see fit. If you decide to try medications later, a change of mind and another visit is OK.

The Voice of Panic

Panic has a script; things that is may be telling you, that, by the way, are not even true.  Again, everyone is not alike, but here are some examples of what might be going through your mind when (and after) panic begins:

  • I need to get out of here.
  • I can’t handle this.
  • I might be having a heart attack
  • My head hurts, I bet I have a brain tumor
  • Here it goes again
  • My life is horrible
  • I will never be okay

Everything in the body speeds up and the more these thoughts continue, the more the panic escalates. What next?

  1. BREATHE
  2. MAKE A DECISION TO TAKE A DIFFERENT ROAD
  3. CALMING SELF-TALK

BREATHE

Breathe as slowly as it is possible at the moment from deep in your belly, inhaling through your nose. Keep your attention on your abdomen; put your hand on your abdomen just above the belly button; it may help to feel the expansion as you breathe in.

Count slowly to four as you inhale…………One thousand one………..one thousand two…………..one thousand three…………………………..one thousand four.

Don’t worry if your breaths don’t match the count, just do it as slowly as you can; it will slow down as you go.

Now exhale, slowly, through pursed lips, as if through a straw.

With calming breathing, the exhale is the part we want to focus on the most.

Let the shoulders drop as you slowly count the exhale ………..One thousand one………….. one thousand two………………..one thousand three……………one thousand four ………………one thousand five.

Exhale completely and think of letting everything go, slightly rolling your neck, unclenching your hands, sending relaxing messages to your lower back.

The next inhale will automatically come, you don’t have to gasp for it.

Continue this breathe. If you get more light-headed, remember to focus on your belly or even your feet. Thinking about your lower body helps move your energy out of your head.

MAKE A DECISION

Think of being at a crossroads. There is a stop sign . One path takes you to more anxiety, the other to a place of calm.

Say this to yourself:

  • This is only anxiety
  • I can choose a different path
  • I will breathe and think positive thoughts

Now take two more slow, deep breaths, expanding the belly and letting the body go “rag doll” as much as possible.

CALMING SELF-TALK

When I first learned about using calming self-talk and began using it in times of high anxiety, I chose the shortest affirmative sentences I could find (I would expand on them later, in times of a lower level of anxiety).

I bought square sticky notes and wrote just three simple sentences on each one. I posted them in locations where I would need them the most. For me, the main place for panic was in the car.

I knew that in times of great panic, I wouldn’t even remember what a positive thought was, so I posted the stickies where they would be easily found. Even this small act gave me a slight sense of security.

I started with these:

  • I am calm
  • I am relaxed
  • I am safe

another of my favorites:

  • I am calm
  • I am peaceful
  • My mind is quiet now    (then I would always laugh because my mind was anything but quiet; over time, though, my mind would become quiet)

Following are some other choices for calming affirmations. You might pick three of them that work best for you, or, if reading the whole list of them slowly helps you, you may do it that way. If you are really ambitious, you could make a recording of your own voice with some calming music that you can play for yourself.

Remember to breathe! (I like to inhale, then say the phrase on the exhale)

  • This won’t last forever
  • I can handle this
  • I can calm my body and mind
  • I am okay
  • I am able to let go of panic
  • I will get through this
  • I am safe and secure
  • I have confidence
  • I breathe easily and naturally
  • I am in control of my mind
  • I am feeling more relaxed

You might notice that the above affirmations are all in the present tense. Speaking present tense to the mind indicates that what we are affirming is happening now.

During calmer times, when not much is going on, you might work with some of these affirmations in the future tense; reassuring you and imprinting on your subconsious mind that panic will  become a thing of the past and projects your calm way of being into the future.

Remember to breathe consciously as you say these. Sometimes saying them outloud is of great benefit (Obviously, if you are affirming in public, you want to keep it in your mind).

  • I will eliminate panic attacks
  • I will feel more relaxed in my life each day
  • I will stay calm under pressure
  • I will control my breathing
  • I will be okay
  • I will stay in control of my mind
  • I will remind myself that I am safe
  • I will maintain focus and control
  • I will overcome feelings of panic

There are many, many videos on YouTube that can be easily accessed and help guide you to a more relaxed place in just a few minutes. I usually type in something like “relaxing meditations” or “calming panic” and check to see how long they are before I start one. The high strung part of me will get up and walk away if something is going to take an hour. For me, if someone is going to give a long lecture, it is far less helpful than 5 – 15 minutes of calming music and simple, soothing sentences.

If you find some favorite recordings to listen to and use the same one regularly, your body actually develops a sort of “muscle memory” response with them. I began listening to the same relaxation recording twice daily for many months.

As I have mentioned before, new habits can be tricky.

Be nice to yourself. There is no perfect way to do this. Let’s stay away from beating ourselves up or overwhelming ourselves.

It’s okay if progress is in baby steps. 

Remember to try something long enough to see if it works.

Here’s to a more peaceful life for all of us!

Cheers!