“I feel like I can’t breathe.” “My chest is tightening.” “I’m afraid I’m going to faint or die.”
You might be wondering if you’re having a heart attack, or other medical crisis. It’s uncomfortable, even frightening.
You don’t know what to do or how to make it stop. It seems unpredictable. You feel helpless. You’re avoiding certain social situations, or even leaving your home because of it.
Anxiety & panic are ruining your life.
The paradox is that the more you focus on it, the more you feed it. And the more you fight it and avoid it, the more you feed it.
So what exactly is happening? And what can you do about it?
I’ll start by defining anxiety and panic, providing some statistics about each, and offering a few strategies for managing them.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by persistent unrealistic…
- worry & unease
- difficulty concentrating
- mind going blank
- muscle tension
- difficulty sleeping
It’s typically accompanied by an elevated heart rate and central nervous system activation sometimes triggering your fight or flight response.
It affects 6.8 million adults in any given year, or 3.1% of the U.S. population. Women are twice as likely as men to be affected.
- sensations of smothering or choking
- chest pain
- abdominal distress
- feelings of unreality
- fear of “going crazy” or dying
About six million American adults experience panic disorder in a given year. It typically develops in early adulthood. Women are twice as likely as men to experience it.
Over time, your central nervous system develops patterns, or habits that become harder to change because of chemical and neural networks that are self-reinforcing that anxiety & panic cycle. The only way to alter the way your body responds to stress without medication, is through awareness, non-judgement, and conscious intentional action.
Here’s what you can do…
- Start by Identifying a trigger. When you consider the times and places you experience the symptoms, notice the common threads. Is there a typical scenario, person, or place where you get triggered? Often, there is an element of uncertainty or unpredictability in the situation.
- Intervene early with a calm awareness of your trigger before the symptoms are full blown. Be prepared to talk yourself down, engage your wise mind, use strategies like breath work, positive reframing, and self validation to calm and soothe the thoughts that lead to anxiety and panic.
- What did you say to yourself about the trigger? This is a basic cognitive therapy tool. Our thoughts affect our feelings, physiological responses, and behavioral reactions. Except in the case of life or death circumstance, situations in-and-of themselves don’t cause our reactions, our thoughts about them do. Notice your internal monologue and adjust it. Remind yourself of all the times you’ve experienced this and survived it.
- When there isn’t an easily identifiable trigger, there could be a subconscious negative belief coloring your experience. At your core, what do you truly believe about yourself? When you fill in the statement, “I am ___”. What words come to mind? What is the tone of that self statement? If you started with,“I am unworthy.”. Can you change it to, “I am equally important.”? If your belief is, “ I am helpless.”. Can you change it to, “I am strong and capable of setting boundaries.”? Through noticing and reframing your automatic thoughts, you can begin to reclaim your life.
- Ongoing positive self care is essential to your health and wellbeing.
- Eat balanced meals. They provide nutrients that improve mood and energy.
- Exercise regularly (at least 3-4 times/week). It reduces stress hormones.
- Get adequate sleep (for most adults 7-8 hour/night). This is when your brain cleanses itself of toxins.
- Practice mindfulness through meditation, yoga, or walking. It develops the regions of your brain responsible for peace, calm, and compassion.
- Maintain healthy relationships. We are a social species. We need people in our lives to feel connected and loved.
- Indulge in inspiring activities where you get lost in the flow. This takes you outside of your head and into the moment.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) are effective treatments for changing this anxiety and panic cycle. Both address the underlying belief system, often based in traumatic experiences, that are linked to your current distress.
In summary, through awareness, information, and massive action you can reclaim your life: You CAN feel better. Anxiety and Panic do not have to be a life sentence.
In the words of Rumi, “Remember, the entrance to the sanctuary is inside you.”
Photos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by stockimages, ambro, & nenetus.