I’m going to be flat out honest with you all. Over the past two years of my life I have struggled with panic and anxiety, most commonly in the form of panic attacks. At first they were always triggered by something in particular, such as an upcoming obligation or an existing challenge. But eventually, they no longer needed a concrete or recognizable trigger, they just needed me to remember how intense they could be.
Panic and anxiety, through my experience (and like so many other challenges in life) survive and thrive off of the power of thought and the creation of fear. When others would ask me to describe what being in a panic attack felt like, I would usually say that it was a state of rampant thought, where the mind and body have an incredibly difficult time relaxing. When engaged, focusing on anything else can at times be borderline impossible and it often feels as if this experience will last forever.
Even when the panic has subsided, life can feel as if it has less colour, because lingering beneath each experience is the feeling of a potential panic attack just waiting to happen. I’m sure that everyone’s experience of anxiety and panic are different from one another but here are 5 simple tips/ reminders that I’ve found to be incredibly helpful in moving beyond panic and anxiety.
SIDE NOTE: Am I fully beyond them? No, in fact even writing about this subject tried to serve as a little trigger, but these reminders have all helped me to empower myself and prevent the mind from consistently taking me on a full-blown roller coaster ride of panic.
1. No matter how intense it can be, it always has an end.
As I mentioned earlier, when fully engaged a panic attack can often feel like it’s going to last forever. The truth is, in my experience and in the experience of talking to several others, it can’t… your body simply wouldn’t allow it. The actual panic itself is often very short lived, it’s the reaction to it that we have a tendency to let linger. Remind yourself that what you resist, persists. Why? Because you’re communicating with it that you still have something to gain and fully go through by it being there. What you accept, takes its course, finds its limit and moves on. By accepting the panic’s existence you allow it to become as big as it can (which often isn’t as big as our fear of it tends to make us feel that it will be), it sees how limited its power is -in a body emanating acceptance of the experience -and it begins to pass.
A book that helped me with this realization is Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, which is a powerful tool for living in the moment and working through hardship.
2. Make friends with your mind, rather than make it into a villain.
When most people are asked to point out where their panic originates, they are often quick to blame their mind. As a result of this, we may have a tendency to vilify our mind into something to fear and even more so into something that we are losing control over. The truth is, we are always in control, and the best way to step into that power when experiencing panic or anxiety is to make friends with your mind. Realize that it is only playing a role and creating these thoughts to help you face panic/ anxiety head on. Remind yourself that this is the same mind that has helped you be creative, get excited, problem solve and do so many other great things in the past, so why not be friends with it now to?
A book that helped me to adopt this perspective is Tony Robbin’s Awaken the Giant Within, an uplifting guide that encourages you to work with your mind to create an optimal you.
3. Observe and communicate with the thoughts that try and instigate the panic.
To best explain this I’m going to take you through an example series of communication I had with my mind a couple of weeks ago while working through the lingering feeling of panic. I’m going to refer to the panicked thought as “Panic” and the response as “Mark” (since that’s my name).
Panic: I’m still here. I know you can feel me.
Mark: Yeah, so?
Panic: Remember where I’ve taken you in the past? How intense that can be?
Mark: Yeah, and I also remember how short lived you can be.
Panic: That was those times, whose to say that next time won’t be even bigger? Maybe you still feeling me here means I’ve never actually gone away and you can’t get rid of me.
Mark: But I’ve already experienced what you are trying to get me to activate again. I know what it is, what it can do and ultimately where it leads. I’ve had the experience so I think I’ll pass.
Mark: If you expect to get me to go down that road again you’re going to have to least come up with something new, the same thoughts and ideas won’t work anymore.
That dialogue may seem ridiculous to some of you, but all I was trying to show is the power in communicating with the thought patterns rather than simply giving in. The more you talk them through, the more empty that they become.
4. If it ever grabs a hold of you, don’t be afraid to fully ride it through.
In the moment of it, it can seem like the scariest thing imaginable but it’s often the best possible thing you can do. If a panic attack ever takes hold of you, don’t be afraid to go through the experience. Sit, lay down or even take a walk with it. Observe the way it makes you feel mentally and physically for however long you need to ride it out. Don’t judge how intense it is, or however long it lasts for, just be with it. I’ve found that the more present you become the quicker it is to realize its limitations and the quicker it subsides. For those that practice it, I’ve also found that meditation or even just simply focusing on the breath can be great tools in making you present with the experience.
5. You never take on more than you can handle.
This reminder can be applied to almost anything in life, and trust me I have. Whether we want to believe it or not, never in life will we take on more than we can handle. When I say this I’m not referring to tasks or things on a to do list, but rather challenges, emotions and experiences. The way I like to look at it (and I’m sure that some will disagree with me), we are here to grow. And growth does not come from stagnancy. Therefore our higher selves/ souls would never give us more than we could handle at any given moment. If life has thrown it at you, that means that right now you have the tools within you to not only move beyond it, but also grow from it. Embrace the challenge, and get excited about the more capable you that is ready to come out once you’ve tackled what’s currently on your plate.
An audio book that helped me to develop this mentality is Your Wish Is Your Command.
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