Anxiety or worry is the body’s way of helping you. It is widely believed stress activates our innate ‘fight or flight’ instinct. From getting you ready to freeze flight or fight a ‘bear’ or some real danger. When our ancestors needed to escape from some grizzly creature the ‘fight or flight’ response kicked in. But often in today’s world, there is no actual danger and the thought must be challenged.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, the rates of individuals seeking and receiving treatment have risen significantly with over a third of individuals with symptoms of a common mental health problem receiving treatment. Medication is not always necessary to help you deal with panic and anxiety attacks.
So here are five practical steps to help stop panic and anxiety attacks.
5 Practical Steps To Stop Panic Attacks & Anxiety
- The first step is to Breathe in the square pattern 10 times to switch nervous systems (from Sympathetic fight and flight to Parasympathetic Rest & Digest). When you do this inhale and exhale in equal proportions, and create a box with your breathing. So using the square breathing pattern is: Imagine a square. Doing this, breathe in 234 and draw the first line of the square breathe out 234. Breathe in 2, 3,4, draw the line of the square, Hold 2,3,4. Breathe out 2, 3,4, Hold 2,3,4. (repeat 9 more times). See the above video.
- Challenge the thought. Is it real? What is really going on in your environment right now – look at it, go from WHAT IF…to WHAT IS. Look at your physical surroundings, people you are actually with, the task you have to do right now, The antidote to anxiety/worry/panic is not positive thinking, it is accurate thinking. So what is accurate and truthful in this very moment?
- Decide what you want to feel in advance. Also, define the feeling that you want to feel. That emotional place that you want to get to. For example, is it excitement? And have a mental action plan about how to get there, the type of self-talk you will use. Practice it, write it down, prepare it and rehearse it – verbally and mentally.
- You must put a daily routine in that honors you like it is not negotiable. And you have to exercise even if it’s a light walk, get sunlight, and you sleep properly.
- Do NOT say ‘My anxiety’, ‘My depression’ – it is ‘The anxiety/depression.’ Do not claim it as yours if you want to get rid of it.
How We Create Anxiety & Panic
Remember you are the thinker of your thoughts, so you can control what you are thinking. The brain is actively involved. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains:
“Several parts of the brain are key actors in the production of fear and anxiety … scientists have discovered that the amygdala and the hippocampus play significant roles in most anxiety disorders.
The amygdala … is believed to be a communications hub between the parts of the brain that process incoming sensory signals and the parts that interpret these signals. It can alert the rest of the brain that a threat is present and trigger a fear or anxiety response.
The emotional memories stored in the central part of the amygdala may play a role in anxiety disorders involving very distinct fears, such as fears of dogs, spiders or flying. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that encodes threatening events into memories.”
For example, if when you were younger you were bitten by a dog, then you store that memory. When you see a dog down the street, you instantly react, even if it is harmless. You may be saying to yourself, ‘OMG it’s a dog, I remember when I was a child being bitten by one, so I have to be careful.’ And you get yourself worked up. However, you are no longer that child and not all dogs are harmful.
So it is important to examine what you are saying to yourself when you feel the panic and anxiety. Sometimes panic attacks & anxiety are about being scared about a thought, not a reality. So the first thing is to check, is this thought real? Real is what you can see, feel, touch, taste, etc. So can I touch it?
What are you thinking, what words and pictures are you bringing into your mind causing this reaction in the body?
You have a choice as to how you deal with your thoughts. You only have a habit of thought. The fastest way out of it – after telling yourself the truth about your thoughts – is to change your physical state.
(Thanks to the Marisa Peer training and Katrina Roads for the above tips and tools.)