How to Stop Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Learning how to stop anxiety and panic attacks is not just about managing stress, it's a very personal journey of self discovery. Why? What works for one person doesn't always work for another, and every person's 'why' is always unique.
Understanding this early on will help you begin to tear down one of the number one drivers of extreme anxiety: "There's something wrong with me."
When we try something new and it doesn't work right away, the same automatic thoughts rush in for everyone, "I can't do this. I'm too different. I failed," and they're just not true!
You can do this, and part of the solution has to do with rewriting the thoughts and beliefs that lead to a lot of 'I don't knows.' Instead, start telling yourself: 'I know what I need.' You will find the confidence you need to be able to say that with conviction soon!
We are brought up in a world that conditions us to look outside of ourselves for answers, when THE answers that work for you can only be found by you. So let's jump in. Arm yourself with curiosity and trust yourself.
I identified three stages of my anxiety and panic and had different techniques for dealing with each:
What is it?
This was my default state of being. When my panic was at its worst, my 'normal' or 'relaxed' state was actually a high level of constant anxiety. I was completely unaware of this.
What can I do about it?
Awareness comes first! For a long time, I couldn't even really identify how I felt, let alone understand the connection my emotions and physical well-being had on my thoughts (and yes, thought patterns do play a big role).
All I knew was that an overwhelming sense of doom along with unbearable physical symptoms (a classic panic attack) would hit me out of the blue.
Start tracking your state of being throughout the day. Carry around a journal or small notebook and just record how you feel and the thoughts you are having at that exact moment.
IMPORTANT: Don't try to figure anything out yet! No analyzing. No writing about 'why I feel this way.' No judgment. Simply write down:
- How you feel
- What you were thinking about at the time
Do this at randoms times throughout the day, not just when you are feeling especially anxious.
How you are thinking day to day, moment to moment, is key, but you have to become aware of what's going on in your head before you can make any meaningful and helpful connections. Just be curious and pay attention to everything, inside and out. Write it all down. This will also help you to identify what triggers a panic attack.
Next is self-care. This is where we will look at the stress management techniques you've probably already been told to try, and yes, they are very important! If you have already added these to your routine and not found relief yet, hang in there. You will :)
- Get good sleep
But don't make yourself crazy trying to get the 'right' number of hours. Just be consistent. Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time. Also, take a short nap during the day (if you can fit it in). Naps are awesome for resetting yourself!
- Establish a routine
Routine, routine, routine is your best friend, especially at the beginning. Write it down and stick to it, making sure that you include as many of these six self-care practices daily as possible.
- Eat clean
Most important foods/drinks to tackle (meaning, eliminate if you can) are sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Also, limit anything that comes out of a package, box, or can, as these are most likely highly processed and full of additives that your body has to work hard to get rid of. A physically stressed body is more easily triggered into panic.
YES, you must, but it doesn't have to be a hard core fitness program. Just move. Take walks. Find something fun, so you're more likely to do it. To be able to stop anxiety and panic attacks, you've got to regularly release extra pent-up energy with physical activity.
- Get a regular massage
Chronic anxiety and panic puts your body on high alert, causing muscles to tighten and stay tight. Getting a regular massage will help.
- Adopt a meditative practice
This does not have to be actual meditation! A meditative practice is anything that causes you to lose track of time. Do something you love to do. Your goal is to start practicing detachment.
You probably struggle with being able to take a deep breath, yes? If so, practice breathing three slow, deep breaths when your anxiety is low. Focusing on your breath can became an actual trigger, so only do this when you are feeling relatively calm. As your anxiety begins to drop over time, you will spend a lot more time with this.
impending panic attack
What is it?
This was when I would suddenly start to experience more intense symptoms. I learned to recognize these signs that a full-blown panic attack was coming, and this is also where I first found success in stopping one from occurring.
What can I do about it?
- Distract yourself immediately
Taking action quickly is important. Find a powerful distraction and throw yourself into it! Start singing and dancing to loud music. I love puzzles, and sometimes I could distract myself enough with a really challenging one to stop the attack, if I caught it early enough. Whatever you choose, pick something that is so engrossing, you forget everything else.
- Bounce your back
This one was a game changer for me! Details coming very soon! (and a video)
- Eat something
Low blood sugar was one of my triggers. Eating frequent, small meals helped keep it more stable. If rising panic is due to a drop in blood sugar, eating something is sometimes all you need.
- Do something aerobic
This one is may be counterintuitive, especially if you are sensitive to and worry about your heart rate, but I encourage you to try it. One of my pre-panic symptoms was having very intense heart palpitations, but a burst of sudden aerobic activity was very effective at stabilizing my heartbeat when it was beating irregularly. Feeling a more regular heartbeat was sometimes enough to calm me down.
full panic attack
What is it?
If you have passed the point of no return, you are now convinced you are dying, and it's terrifying.
What can I do about it?
Nothing anyone ever told me to do to stop a panic attack once it started ever worked. Stopping an attack happens during stage 1 or 2. At this point, it's more about doing what you can to move through it and get to the other side. Here are my suggestions:
- Ride it out
For a long time, there was nothing I could do but ride out a panic attack once it started. It's terrifying, but you can do it.
- Go to the hospital
If you're feeling completely out of control, go to the hospital. It's ok! I did.
- Take medication, if you have a prescription
IF you've already consulted with a doctor and have medication for weathering a panic attack, now might be the time to take it. And no, you are not a failure if you do. Medication can be a valuable and effective temporary aid.
- Remind yourself that it will pass
You won't believe yourself, but say it anyway. Words are much more powerful than we realize.
Finding the right tools that will help you stop anxiety and panic attacks takes time, so be patient with yourself. It WILL get easier!