“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Romans 8:38-39
Most people with anxiety know the feeling.
You start to feel uncomfortable in your skin as a queasy feeling starts building in the pit of your stomach. Your vision becomes blurry and shaky as your palms and armpits become slick with sweat. Your mind shoots into overdrive as your fight-or-flight response kicks in. Your brain starts screaming at you to DO SOMETHING NOW NOW NOW.
The people around you see that you are quiet and look uncomfortable, but they have no idea of the storm raging within both your mind and body.
They ask you “Are you okay?”
You don’t really know what to say. Sometimes you do not notice them at all because you are so wrapped up in your mental swirl of anxiety.
As someone who has experienced this many times, I have developed a strategy to help bring myself back from the verge of an panic attack. This is not a professionally certified process, but I have created it after several years of childhood therapy and interactions with other people who struggle with anxiety and panic attacks.
- Step 1: Ground Yourself
The most important thing to do first to reclaim control over your body and mind when you are feeling yourself slipping into an panic attack is to take inventory of your physical body. It is easy to disconnect from the real world when you are panicking, and your safety is essential.
If you are driving a car, pull over and park.
If you are walking, stop and sit if you can.
When having a wave of extreme anxiety, it is very easy to feel out of control and knowing that your body is in a safe place and position can help immensely.
- Step 2: Start Breathing Deeply
The most common sign of an panic attack is, in my personal experience, heavy hyperventilating. Sometimes you don’t even realize that you are breathing heavily until your chest starts to hurt (assumedly) from lack of oxygen.
When this happens, focus solely on your breathing.
The method I use is simple: Breath slowly and deeply in through your nose, hold it for a few seconds, and breathe out through your mouth, exhaling completely until you feel like a deflated balloon. You will feel tempted to breathe quickly because you are out of breath but keep the process slow to steady yourself. Repeat the process several times until you feel your breathing return to normal (somewhat).
- Step 3: Figure Out What Happened
Now that your breathing is back to normal, it is time to figure out why this panic attack happened. And by that, I mean what situation or thought brought you to this state of panic. It is often pretty easy to pinpoint that one thought that unleashed a wave of follow-up anxieties on your brain.
Once you figure out this specific thought or line of thinking, you can move onto Step 4.
- Step 4: Put Things Into Perspective
Since you have been able to figure out what brought on this fit of anxious thinking, you can now take that fear and put it in perspective.
What I mean by this is simple – ask yourself where this particular worry falls in the grand scheme of your life.
Will what you are worrying about matter a week from now?
Generally, the answer tends to be no. Normally, the issue loses relevance and urgency by the end of the day.
Of course, when putting things into perspective, you should not do it in a way that makes you feel invalidated or silly for worrying about what caused you to reach the verge of a panic attack. Do not tell yourself, “Oh, that was stupid! Why were you so freaked out about something that does not matter that much?!”
This is counter-productive. You cannot help the fact that you worry and become anxious about things; you can only control how you react when you find yourself in an intense situation brought about by such worrying.
- Step 5: Positive Statements
Now that you have resolved the situation and figured out what caused it, it is time to build yourself back up and move on. This is best done through positive affirmations. I know that this sounds cheesy, but it is beneficial to have a few key statements, phrases, or verses that you use to cheer you up or inspire you to keep pressing forward.
Say this affirmation out loud to yourself a couple times. Do not feel embarrassed if people look at you funny if they walk by. You are doing what you need to do for your physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
- Step 6: Bounce Back
Now that your heart rate has returned to normal and you can feel pressure leaving your body, it is time to move on from the panic attack.
Do not dwell on it.
Be thankful that you feel better now and take a moment to just appreciate being.
If you are outside or have easy access to the outdoors from where you are, be outside for a few minutes, enjoying the simplicity of the world God has created for us. This is another way to put things into perspective. You are remembering that life goes on, and the world continues to grow and thrive all around you.
I hope this step-by-step strategy will be able to help you if you ever find yourself having an panic attack in the future. Again, this is not a set-in-stone medical guide, it is instead what I personally use to calm myself in my daily life.
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Until next time!