Strategies for Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Anxiety is the apprehension, uncertainty, and fear one feels when anticipating a threatening event or situation, whether the threat is real or imagined. It is often accompanied by restlessness, problems concentrating, muscle tension, and fatigue. Put simply, anxiety is an unpleasant state of inner turmoil.

If you live with a life changing or life-threatening health condition, or you are a caregiver for someone who is, anxiety and panic might very well be a part of your everyday life. It’s very hard for it not to be given the many traumatic situations in which people find themselves. So many people are going through so many different things, and with the instant message world that we live in now, it is more challenging to not be anxious. But we need to try and shift our way of living to reduce the volume on the anxiety and panic dial.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal, instinctive, and automatic human emotion that everyone experiences at times. It is a temporary call to action to fight or flee to keep us safe in the face of danger. When worry and fear are constant, a person can get caught in fight, flight, or freeze mode, which can be crippling. The most seemingly harmless stimuli, thought, event, etc., can be overwhelming for this person, making it feel impossible for their brain to slow down so they can genuinely enjoy their life.

The key to switching out of an anxiety state is to fully experience and accept all the uncomfortable feelings and allow time for them to pass. Let them come. Let yourself feel all of it. Breathe and let your rational mind enter. Speak to your anxious thoughts with that rational mind, understanding that these are just harmless thoughts that have no meaning other than what we choose to give them. Let them come and let them go.

This is SO MUCH easier said than done which is why letting go needs to be a daily practice with steadfast dedication. Changing our mindset involves small, repeated steps. Each step builds on the one before it, and this takes time. Be okay with this. There is no rush. Remember that your mind has been doing what it has for a while, and it will take time to unlearn its habits. Be patient.

What About Panic Attacks?

Have you ever had a panic attack? If so, you know how terrifying they can be, but there is good news. There are many ways to reduce and eliminate them. First off though, what exactly are panic attacks?

Panic attacks are the sudden onset of intense anxiety characterized by feelings of great fear and apprehension. They are often accompanied by things like rapid heart beat, shortness of breath, dizziness, feeling faint, sweating, trembling, and impending doom.

Because of their intensity, people who experience them tend to avoid public places and being around other people, typically groups of people. They also have anticipatory anxiety even in the most comfortable settings (such as their home) and worry about the consequences of a panic attack.

Panic attacks won’t kill us, but they can feel like we are having a heart attack or stroke so people do all they can to avoid anything that might trigger one, which can leave one feeling imprisoned and very much misunderstood. For those who experience anxiety and panic, you know just what I mean. So, what do we do about it?

The first thing is understanding that anxiety is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at times. Like pain and the fight/flight stress response, for example, anxiety protects us from danger. Understanding and embracing that some level of anxiety is normal is very helpful in accepting the uncomfortable feelings. In other words, recognize this within yourself rather than judging yourself, which a lot of people do. It’s okay to feel anxious. Everyone does.

Next, begin to confront your fears. The more you expose yourself to things that cause high anxiety with an intentional, rational mind and realize you are safe, the less anxious you became and the panic attacks dissipate. Guided mediation/relaxation programs, exercise, and a good diet can also be very helpful.

You can also try the AWARE technique described below. It comes from the book, Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective, by Aaron Beck and Gary Emery.

A: Accept the anxiety. Welcome it. Don’t fight it. Replace your rejection, anger, and hatred of it with acceptance. By resisting, you are prolonging the unpleasantness of it. Instead, flow with it. Don’t make it responsible for how you think, feel, and act.

W: Watch and Wait. Look at your anxiety without judgment. It’s neither good nor bad. Become detached from it. Remind yourself that you are not your anxiety. The more you can separate yourself from the experience, the more you can view it as a third party observer.

Even though there is a powerful urge to run away to try and escape anxious situations, postpone that decision for a little bit. Stay in the situation. Don’t tell yourself you can’t leave. Keep that option open so you don’t feel trapped, but remember that you don’t need to run away to get relief. Let relief come to you.

A: Act with the anxiety. Act as if you aren’t anxious. Function with it. Slow down if you have to, but keep going. Breathe normally. If you run from the situation your anxiety will go down, but your fear will go up. If you stay, both your anxiety and your fear will eventually go down.

R: Repeat the steps. Continue to accept your anxiety, watch it, and act with it until it goes down to a comfortable level.

E: Expect the best. What we fear rarely happens. Recognize that a certain amount of anxiety is a normal part of life. Understanding this puts you in a good position to accept it if it comes again. You are familiar with it and know what to do with it.

It is also helpful to use affirmations. You can also take affirmations a step further by asking yourself questions or making declarative statements. This added focus makes them more real and practical. For example, instead of the standard way of stating an affirmation such as, “I am strong”, ask, “why am I strong?” or, “I am strong because…” and list as many things you can think of.

Other examples include, “what do I find joyful?” or, “what I find joyful about (blank) is…”; “why am I blessed with great friends?” or, “my friends bless my life in the following ways…” You can write this all out on paper or let your mind run with it.

The first several times you try any of these things you might not notice much. Your anxiety may even get worse for a little while. Eventually, the more you practice, the greater your ability to harness the strength of your powerful mind and make it work more in your favor. You will learn that you have what it takes and that anxiety is a normal feeling that comes and goes, just like the weather. You are brave, strong, and resilient, and have everything you need inside you to deal with anything that might stand in your way!

Edited excerpt from the book:

Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges

Tom Seaman

Tom Seaman

Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and author of 2 books: Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges. He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, volunteer for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, and is a member and writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network.To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his books (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.

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