If you find yourself having moments when you feel like you can’t breathe, your thoughts are racing or you are frozen in fear, it’s time to look at how you can stop the panic that has been controlling your life. Your fears, anxieties and panic started somewhere and at one or more times in your life, served a worthwhile purpose. They are simply not beneficial to you today. Once the panicky feeling has passed you will have time to explore where the feeling came from, what purpose it has served in your life and how to further modify this behavior going forward.
- find your desired outcome
- treat yourself with respect and compassion
- judge yourself for your feelings and reactions
- criticize yourself for your feelings and reactions
- berate yourself for your feelings and reactions
- pretend that your feelings don’t matter
- give up hope that you can handle your feelings and reactions differently
When you find yourself gasping for air, frozen in fear or confused because of racing thoughts, the first thing you need to do is stop the process. Whether you stop mid sentence, mid thought, mid-stream, just stop.
Take a slow, deep breath, in for the count of 4, hold it for the count of 4, and release your breath slowly through your mouth for the count of 4. While you are counting, your racing thoughts are interrupted, your system settles down and then you will be able to focus.
Now you can get some clarity on the situation at hand. If after taking 3-4 slow deep breaths, you still find that you are unable to focus, make sure that you are, in fact, breathing slowly and deeply – in through your nose, and exhaling slowly through your mouth. Yes, this kind of breathing does take some practice, so please be patient with yourself. Understand that panic, like anxiety, is always about the future and the unknown: “What if”, “what will I do”, “what will happen”, “how will this work”, etc.
The next step is to ask and answer the question, “What is my desired outcome?” A desired outcome must fulfill 2 requirements. It must be something you want, not what you don’t want, and it must be something over which you have control.
Judgments are not helpful, worthwhile, or productive; in fact they tend to increase panic and anxiety reactions, so when you hear the criticisms in your head, go back to steps 1, 2 and 3 – stop, breathe, and focus, and then start again. It’s imperative that you are understanding and forgiving of yourself as you make changes in how you respond to situations that trigger your anxiety and panic reactions. This process may require additional support, therapy, EFT, or other therapeutic interventions, but your panic can and will be significantly diminished using the above 5 steps.
We cannot necessarily control how we feel or react, but we can learn to control what we do with our feelings and reactions. Judging yourself will only increase negative feelings which ultimately keep you stuck in patterns that encourage panic and anxiety.
Criticisms are not helpful in stopping or changing panic. In fact, like judgments, criticisms tend to make the panicky reactions worse because when you feel badly about yourself, insecurities rise, and then anxiety and panic are triggered.
Beating yourself up has never really served a worthwhile purpose, and it won’t help in the face of panic either. When we hear negative messages about ourselves, especially from within, our self-esteem drops, and we lose sight of our strengths and abilities. This leads to an increase in panic and anxiety, the very thing you are looking to reduce and eliminate.
Hiding, minimizing or diminishing your feelings only serve to increase your panicky feelings because ultimately you will feel disrespected and diminished within yourself and thus, reinforcing your panic reactions.
It takes patience, practice and perseverance to create any new behavior or response. Every time you practice a new response, whether or not you get the results you desire, you are on a healing path, and changes will occur.
Remember that in many cases panic is a habit, and the neural pathways have been established over years of believing that panic was your only answer to a problem or crisis. Perhaps someone stepped in and rescued you from a threatening situation, or you recognized that by freezing, yelling, running, you yourself ultimately made it through the situation that so overwhelmed or terrified you. Either way, you got the end result you were looking for: You survived.
Today, however, as you become increasingly able to see that this panic behavior doesn’t serve you the way it initially did, changes can and do happen. Today, you have options: you might talk your feeling out with a friend, find a therapist who specializes in dealing with anxiety and panic, use Emotional Freedom Therapy (EFT), use neurofeedback , or you might find mindfulness training beneficial and helpful going forward. If your panic is a result of a traumatic event in your life, hypnotherapy or EMDR may prove both beneficial and empowering. Don’t give up – there is always help available as you practice the steps to overcome the power that panic and anxiety have had in your life.