Guest post by Sarah Fader from Betterhelp.com
Anxiety has a tendency to take over our minds and bodies. It can come out of seemingly nowhere and cause you to feel out of control. Your hands begin to shake or your heart races and you feel like it will never end.
Anxiety manifests differently in different people, but across the board, it tends to make people feel like they’re not in the driver’s seat. Anxiety wants to control what you do and how you act, but it doesn’t have to. You can learn coping strategies to manage anxiety more effectively so you are in control rather than it.
When a panic attack strikes it can make you feel completely powerless. Some people report feeling like they’re actually dying. Panic creates an intense feeling in a person and they feel like they’re unable to move or even speak. If you’ve ever had a panic attack you know that feeling well. It takes the reins and doesn’t want to let go.
There are ways to manage anxiety and panic and not let it win. Here’s the bad news first: you can’t control a panic attack. But, here’s the good news: you can learn to manage a panic attack until it ends. It might be a tumultuous wave, but it does subside.
Panic attacks usually last from five to 20 minutes. Think of a panic attack as a wave. When you’re in the ocean, the waves come without warning. They can be gentle or they can knock you down under the ocean current. A panic attack has the ability to knock you over, or you can learn to ride the wave until it passes and (just like an ocean wave) it will pass.
Here are some techniques to manage a panic attack
Breathe – when you’re in the midst of a panic attack it’s natural to forget your breath, however, remembering that you can breathe is powerful. Your breath is a grounding force and will remind you that you are present at this moment.
Name 5 things you can see – look around you and name five things you can see out loud: chair, window, TV, desk and, bookcase. This resets your brain and allows you to focus on something other than the panic.
Be aware of your thoughts – during a panic attack your thoughts have a tendency to race. If you can slow down your breathing you’ll start to hear your thoughts more clearly and the chances are they are telling you lies. Your mind might be saying things like “this is never going to end.” You can hear the thought, stop and examine the truth of it. Is the panic attack never going to end? No, that isn’t true. Remember that your thoughts are causing the panic attack to feel as intense as it is. When you begin to breathe and pay attention to what you’re thinking, you’ll realize that your brain is telling you things that are not true and you don’t have to accept them.
Say out loud – “I am having a panic attack.” When you name your experience it loses some of its power. Part of anxiety’s power is the fact that it’s insidious. It creeps up on you and disguises itself as something that wants to protect you. In reality, your body is having a physiological reaction to a perceived threat, but you are actually safe. Remind yourself that this is anxiety talking, and you are okay.
Be in the moment – when you’re anxious, a lot of the time you are thinking about the future, what’s going to happen rather than what is going on right this moment. Bring yourself back to where you are right now. Feel your feet on the ground, close your eyes and remind yourself “I am here now.”
Don’t let anxiety win
Anxiety is like an actor who wants to steal the spotlight in a play. Don’t let it win! You’re the star of your own play and you don’t need your anxiety to take over and start doing its own monologue.
If anxiety is preventing you from functioning in your daily life, you don’t have to suffer alone. There are counselors who can help you feel better and learn coping strategies to manage anxiety and panic. Consider speaking to an online counselor about how to deal with your anxiety. You can live a less anxious life by learning how to recognize the signs of anxiety and work with them. You got this!
Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.
Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.