Image by: Trekking Rinjani
By MacKenzie Nelson-Greene
You can feel it coming. You’re stuck in traffic, and you’re already ten minutes late. You know there is going to be a meeting today, and you’re not properly prepared. Did you turn off the coffee pot?
Then it starts: shortness of breath; you feel your heart beating in your ears; you can’t focus your eyes; your hands are shaking. You are having a panic attack.
Panic attacks are serious issues, and sometimes, they seem to come on without the warning signs that you have come to know. Sometimes, you wake up in the middle of the night having one.
Your brain is working more than you, and when you are accustomed to burying your feelings and thoughts, panic attacks can really sneak up on you.
So, what are the solutions for panic attacks? Well, your first order of action should be to seek professional counseling. While many of us like to deny the fact that there is a psychological issue, sometimes just speaking to someone can be more than helpful in these matters. If you are prone to panic attacks, or if they just started up on you without any apparent triggers, it is time for you to learn how to conquer your anxiety. Check out these four ways to help you overcome your panic attacks and start loving your life again.
#1) Stop Thinking of the Could Have’s & What If’s
After I was in a serious car accident, I was unable to sit in a vehicle without seeing the grill of a 1991 Ford Bronco coming through the windshield. I found myself envisioning all of the possibilities of people forgetting to signal while merging, and the more dangerous possibilities of people speeding through red lights and not stopping at stop signs.
I knew that PTSD was involved, but I also knew that my own need for control was a big issue. Therefore, I knew it was important for me to stop trying to figure out every single possibility, and work on what I had to deal with in front of my face.
Now, you can apply this theory to anything that is in front of you. When my students get anxiety over papers, assignments, and tests, I explain to them the importance of understanding where the anxiety comes from. 99 times out of every 100, the anxiety comes from over-thinking the assignment. Most can’t believe what I ask of them is so easy, and they are waiting for the catch.
When you spend more of your time waiting for the other foot to fall, you miss out on the experiences in front of you, as my students miss out on learning the concepts of the assignments when they get anxious over actually completing those assignments.
Therefore, it is essential for you to take note of where your anxiety is coming from, and avoid hypothetical thoughts that, in general, never come to fruition.
#2) Reward Yourself
If you get anxious when you have to do certain things, it is important to keep your eye on the prize. I have a friend who says “I can do anything, as long as I know it is going to end.”
If you get anxious on your way to work or an appointment with the OBGYN, it is time for you to adopt this philosophy. Work is eight hours of your day. It will end. Perhaps, work is only a few more months of hell before you find another job.
Once you’ve settled into this philosophy, it is important to reward yourself when you accomplish something without a panic attack. For example, if you have issues with work, and you find yourself getting shaky and over thinking when you begin your morning commute, it is time to learn how to reward yourself. Breathe through the hard times, and when you make it through, stop and grab a cup of “Princess Coffee” (an $8 cup of delicious sugar and caffeine).
By associating the things that make you anxious with the things that calm you down, you will be one step closer to overcoming your anxiety.
#3) Breathing Exercises
Pay close attention to the way your panic attacks start. Your shortness of breath is no accident. Sometimes, people stop breathing all together during a panic attack, which is the boat that I am in. When any form of anxiety arises, my body naturally stops moving until I can figure out the situation. This leads to long sighs.
These sighs are my body’s way of reminding me that I am not breathing. They also are my body’s way of trying to calm itself.
Instead of waiting for your body to figure out there is a problem, start doing breathing exercises. When you feel yourself getting nervous over something, breathe in through your nose as slowly as possible. Do not stop breathing in until your lungs are filled. Count how long it takes to breathe in. Once your lungs are filled, breathe out and count. Try to take twice as long breathing out as it took you to fully breathe in.
This is going to calm your nerves, because it gets you focusing on your breath rather than your doomed thoughts of hypothetical situations.
#4) Counting Exercises
We touched a little bit on counting exercises in the breathing exercises section. When you count your breath, your mind starts focusing on your breath.
This is a great way to divert your attention, and get you to refocus on things that are real, and things that matter.
There are other great numbers exercises that help you refocus your energy. When I find that I compulsively think of one thing to the point that it interferes with my life, I use a simple exercise to get me focusing on numbers instead of the thought that is haunting me.
It is simple: every time you have a thought that you can’t shake, start counting backwards from one hundred to zero by threes. So, you can’t shake the thought that your boss is going to yell at you, and you are going to yell back, and you are going to get fired, because you just don’t care anymore? Stop right there! Ready? Begin: 100, 97, 94, 91, 88…
This exercise is for those who have a tendency to count to ten by ones then lead directly back to the thoughts that consume them. By counting backwards by threes, you are forcing your brain to work in a completely different area. You are shutting down your creative centers, and focusing on logic. Force your mind to do math instead of create scenarios that may not occur.
Stress is a killer, and anxiety is a scary thing. If you are prone to panic attacks, it is important that you seek profession counseling to help you sort through what is really on your mind. In the meantime, do breathing exercises, counting exercises, figure out where it is coming from, and don’t forget to reward yourself. What are some ways you overcome a panic attack? Share with us in the comments below!