Struggling with Anxiety?
Many people struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. Cold sweat, shaking, tightness in your chest. Feeling like your heart is going to stop any minute as you pace from room to room peeking out of the windows, or curled up in a ball trying desperately to ignore what is happening.
This sense of impending doom that something horrible is going to happen because YOU forgot something important.
People deal with stress every day, but when it goes beyond just stress to something you're having trouble managing, it’s time to get help. Some people find that medication can help (though that’s not necessarily the first step) and some people find just talking to a therapist to deal with the root cause can help.
However, in the moment, or that first time, there are several things that you can do to help minimize the symptoms and the impact of the panic attack on yourself.
Anxiety is the fear of future events and the unknown, when experiencing a panic attack you cannot be in the moment.
By practicing mindfulness you can regain your presence and be prepared for when attacks occur or help stop them before they happen.
How Can Being Mindful Help?
Being aware of your own body and how it is reacting can be a huge help to stave off anxiety and panic attacks.
Even the popular fitness tracker Fitbit has gotten into the mindful movement with there relax button that prompts you to “be still, and take slow deep breaths…”
“In the world we live in, we are constantly giving ourselves away—whether it be to work, family, friends—that we rarely prioritize ourselves. As a result, we end up in a cycle where all we’re doing is running from one task to another. It can become so unconscious that we begin to lose who we are in the process.”
Most people launch into their day without thinking, and they then spend it constantly reacting as things come up instead of proactively making mindful decisions.
They don’t take the time to reflect on how or why they are reacting in a certain way.
We need to take the time to actually be in the moment. By knowing our triggers and the early warning signs that we are starting to peak on our stress level we can take a moment to decompress, to breathe.
Take the time to ask:
Why are we feeling overwhelmed?
What caused us to feel this way?
How are our bodies and minds reacting to this stimulus?
What are my options?
In addition to those questions, there are additional steps you can take to control your level of stress and anxiety.
How Can I Start Practicing Mindfulness?
There are several ways to practice mindfulness in your life. The first step is to start trying to do something small every day.
Getting into the habit of being mindful takes practice. It isn’t something that comes naturally and can seem impossible when you're living at a high-stress level.
Tasks like brushing your teeth or hair, washing dishes, or folding laundry are perfect for practice. So often while doing these mundane chores we totally zone out, but this is what makes them so good for practicing. Get back in touch with yourself.
While performing the chore, focus on the feel. How soft and fluffy the towels are. How warm they feel against your skin fresh out of the dryer.
Breathe deep and take in the smell of the soap and fabric softener that you used. Is it floral or fruity, maybe just clean linen? Why did you choose that particular scent? Did you just grab something or does it remind you of something?
Take note of all the colors and the way your hands look as they do something they’ve done a million times without even thinking about it.
Listen to the sounds as they come through. Is the washer chugging away at another load, can you hear the birds singing outside or maybe the rumble of traffic?
For those of us who are extremely busy, these moments are usually spent fretting about all the things you need to get done that do, from the report due to your boss to the pile of dishes on the counter. This just increases your stress level. You’re actually sitting there brushing your teeth and freaking out about how much other important stuff you need to be doing!
Being mindful is about taking time to live in the moment. Be focused on you and what’s happening right now rather than everything else that needs to happen. This ability to focus on the here and now becomes extremely important when it comes to spending time with your children or nailing that important presentation.
Practicing with these tasks is a non-threatening way to start reconnecting with yourself. Once you have mastered practicing mindfulness with these everyday tasks start to try and add in more tasks.
Practice with a meal, focusing on all the wonderful tastes, textures, and smells. Feel the warm food in your belly and the ice-cold drink in your hand.
The point is to remain present in your life. By reconnecting with yourself in this way you can have a higher understanding of your body and it’s responses as they occur. Once you are aware of how you respond to stress and triggers, you can stem over emotion and feelings of stress and anxiety as they happen.
Part of the value in all this is we become attuned to our feelings, emotions, triggers, and reactions. As we become adjusted to how we’re feeling in simple, everyday situations, we become better at controlling our emotions and reactions overall. This then helps us in the more stressful and anxiety-inducing life events.
How Do I Turn Around Negative Thoughts?
People with depression and anxiety tend to focus more on the negatives (real or perceived) in their lives. They may:
Feel like they’re not good enough
Feel like they’re not doing enough
Feel like they’re not performing well
Feel like a bad parent, student, child, or sibling
Obsess about “what-ifs,” imagining all the worst possible outcomes.
Practicing mindfulness in the ways that we think and feel can also help to alleviate anxiety. Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are so interconnected that our rational minds are hijacked by our negative thoughts and feelings and we behave accordingly.
You have slowly conditioned yourself over the years into thinking a certain way. Your beliefs “I am a bad parent”, “I don’t do enough”, etc., become ingrained in your mind. One way to cope with these feelings is practicing non-judgment and acceptance. Don’t label things as good or bad.
We all have days where we don’t perform the best. Whether it is a mistake at work or maybe you raised your voice to your child. That doesn’t make you a bad worker or a bad parent.
Expressing gratitude instead can also be a powerful tool for removing negative thinking. Zac Hersh battled anxiety and panic attacks for most of his life. He found that exercise could alleviate some of the symptoms but it just wasn’t practical to drop everything and go on an hour run every time something hit him.
He then turned to yoga and mindful practices but he found himself in the same position. This led him to the realization that both practices focused heavily on breathing. He combined that with the gratitude concept and came up with the idea for an app called Mood: Mindfulness Made Simple. Zac says,
In our fast-paced society filled with a constant stream of stimuli coming at us from all different angles, it has become easier and easier to lose track of our thoughts.
When that happens, we are more prone to get caught in a constant loop of negative thoughts running through our minds. “I’m too out of shape to go on a run,” “No one likes me,” “The planet is doomed,” “What’s that mark on my arm? I wonder if it’s cancerous.”
We have become so overwhelmed, that those thoughts tend to run in the background of our mind 24/7. This is why we begin Mood with a gratitude practice. Being reminded to stop throughout our day and think of someone or something we are grateful for is a powerful disrupt button in the stream of negative thoughts.
Thinking of what you have to be grateful for instead of thinking that everything sucks changes your perception of the world almost instantly. By using gratitude and practicing it daily, you can step out of the negative thought stream and begin to lead a happier life.”
In addition to gratitude, you can also remove the negative and judgmental connotations. This just involves being in the present. You may still have off days but you don’t have the added stress of thinking how BAD it was.
The next step of this is acceptance. Acceptance is merely taking things at face value and not as you believe them to be or how you wish them to be.
Accepting the present moment, even if causes anxiety or makes us uncomfortable, allows us to give up resistance and become aligned with life.
Part of acceptance is noticing your intrusive, negative thoughts, accepting they are there, and then observing them as they pass. To practice acceptance, you must come back to it continually. This is something many people don’t realize. EVERYONE has negative thoughts. Most people don’t spend time obsessing over them though. The key is to recognize them, then let them go.
Can Meditation Help?
Mindfulness meditation is a great tool for helping relieve the symptoms of stress and anxiety. People who experience anxiety and panic attacks have a bombardment of negative thoughts throughout the day. Meditation is a great tool for helping to recondition our minds.
Mindful Meditation is simply the act of paying attention to whatever you are experiencing, as you experience. You choose to turn your attention away from the constant chatter of the mind and on to what your body is doing, you give the mind just enough to focus so that it can quiet down.
It has even been turned into a valuable psychological tool called MBSR or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. The MBSR intervention is designed to teach participants to become more aware of and relate differently to thoughts, feelings, and body sensations.
MBSR helps participants cultivate nonjudgmental yet insightful observations of all the stimuli that enter their minds and/or fields of vision moment by moment.
Mindfulness practice allows for greater awareness of the “here and now,” as the person learns to let go of thoughts about the past and fears regarding the future. In this way, people learn to see their habitual reactions to stress and to learn healthier, more adaptive ways of responding.
The core of mindfulness involves awareness and acceptance of whatever is occurring in the present moment. Research demonstrates that mindfulness interventions can effectively reduce stress, anxiety, and depression in both clinical and nonclinical populations.
What Can I Do During A Panic Attack?
The first thing to remember is to breathe. Although panic attack can be terrifying and it can literally feel like you are dying, you are not.
Try to remain mindful, I know that it doesn’t feel like it, but you are still in the driver’s seat and you ARE in control.
Many people find it helpful to remove themselves from the situation that is triggering the stress response. Find a quiet and/dark room where you can be by yourself or with someone trusted.
Focus on your breathing and try to be in the moment. Count the slow breaths in and out. Try to focus on nothing but that for just a minute.
However, there are several mindful breathing practices that you can use. Dez Arcieri, a Seattle based Psychotherapist, Certified Yoga Instructor, and Mindfulness Coach, goes over different ways to practice mindful breathing.
Research demonstrates that a regular practice of mindful breathing promotes physical and mental health in a variety of ways. Here are three practices that you can also use:
Intention Setting Breath
Sit comfortably. Inhale deeply and fully as you imagine that you are taking in something that you need. Pause. Exhale slowly as you imagine letting go of something that no longer serves you. Example: Breathing in compassion. Breathing out judgment. OR Breathing in strength. Breathing out fear. Repeat 5-10 rounds.
Inhale on the count of 4. Exhale on the count of 6. Complete 3-5 rounds.
Inhale on the count of 5. Exhale on the count of 7. Complete 3-5 rounds.
Inhale on the count of 6. Exhale on the count of 8. Complete 3-5 rounds.
Sit comfortably, relaxing your left palm in your lap. Bring your right hand in front of your face and rest your index finger and your middle finger at the space between your eyebrows. Using your right thumb, close your right nostril and slowly inhale through your left nostril. Using your ring finger, close your left nostril, open your right nostril and exhale. Inhale through the right nostril. Close the right nostril, open the left nostril and exhale. Inhale through the left nostril. Repeat 5-10 rounds.
As you find yourself becoming in tune with your breathing start reaching for other senses. Continue to breathe slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth, as you move through your senses.
What can you feel? Is the room hot or cold? Is your sweater soft?
What can you hear? Is there traffic? A dog barking?
What can you smell? Are you wearing perfume or cologne?
What can you taste? Did you eat lunch? Are you still minty from brushing your teeth?
What can you see? Did a painting catch your eye? Maybe a color or pattern?
The point of an exercise like that is to put you solidly in the moment. You are being mindful of everything that is happening around you and to you.
You can also practice relaxation techniques. Flex a muscle as hard as you can as you breathe in and then slowly relax it as you exhale. Start at your head and slowly work down your body.
Practicing mindful techniques such as these can release the tension and anxiety that you are facing. They should make you self-aware and slowly start to bring you back down to more base level as you regain control.
Education also can help empower you. By learning about the way the fear center of the brain works, you can recognize a panic attack for what it is: A misfiring of the amygdala causing a surge of adrenaline.
It is essential to understand that the symptoms of a panic attack are not linked with a serious illness. Despite the feelings of terror and sense of impending doom, an attack will not lead to death.
I Had a Panic Attack. What do I do Now?
If you experience a panic attack the first step is to make an appointment with your doctor. Though panic attacks are not life threatening there are several conditions that can mimic a panic attack such as:
Thyroid problems, such as hyperthyroidism
Respiratory disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma
Drug misuse or withdrawal
Withdrawal from alcohol, anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines) or other medications
Chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome
Rare tumors that produce certain fight-or-flight hormones
If those are ruled out then your doctor can refer you to an appropriate therapist.
The therapist can help guide you on the path to being more mindful, and they can work with you on different therapeutic measures such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
They can also help get you on the right path by exercising and eating right. Low blood sugar can also mimic panic symptoms.
Mindful Therapy Group has also started a telehealth program, so if you are too overwhelmed to leave your home this is a great option. You can learn more about our telehealth program here or find a telehealth provider here.