Updated: Apr 6, 2020
This step-by-step instruction will show you what you can do if and when you suffer from panic or anxiety.
A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety together with a surge of physical sensations such as rapid and irregular heartbeats, dizziness, breathlessness and sweating. Although the symptoms are not dangerous, they feel quite frightening, if not even life threatening, to some.
"If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment." - Marcus Aurelius
Many people will experience one or more panic attacks at some point in their life, but only some of the people who have experienced a panic attack will develop an anxiety disorder. Wile most of the panic attacks are triggered by a specific situation, they can also begin suddenly with no obvious cause and then escalate really fast.
After many years of experience helping my clients cope with their panic and anxiety, I am certain that if you carry out and repeatedly practice this 4-step plan, you will be able to cope with your panic attacks more effectively.
Every anxious thought or panic attack is usually preceded by a „what if“ thought. E.g. What if my heart doesn’t stop beating? What if i faint? Have you ever noticed that these hypothetical what if thoughts barely ever revolve around good things? You need to stop the downward spiral where negative what if thoughts reinforce negative emotions and ultimately a panic attack. Here is what you will do whenever a what thought pops up in your head. You will respond with „So what “. E.g. "What if I faint? – So what, somebody will come and help me" or "What if my heartbeat starts raising? – So what it won’t kill me". The reason why it's effective is because it neutralizes your fear and signals your brain that there is no threat. You don’t need to believe it in order for it to work.
Important note: It is not about getting the desired outcome but about the way we respond to the fear ("what if" thought).
The next step is about accepting your anxious feelings. While you have probably spent a lot of your time avoiding the feeling of fear, you are now being asked to do the opposite. As alien it might sound to you, fact is, fear isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually just a feeling. The reason why we try to resist it is because of the negative label we have attached to it.
What if fear is a positive feeling that keeps us safe and protected. The moment we begin to accept fear the moment we experience personal growth and self-love.
And lets be honest, resisting your fears wasn’t very helpful for you. The more you were trying to avoid it, the more it was hunting you. So why don't you try a different approach?!
Repeat to yourself: I accept and allow this anxious feeling
Now I am going to ask you to do something that you have probably never done before. I want you to run toward your anxiety by telling yourself how excited you are by your anxious thoughts and sensations. Just repeat to yourself: "I’m excited by this feeling". Even if you don’t believe it can be effective. By just pretending you do, you trick your mind to interpret the sensation of anxiety as an excited state instead as a threat. Here is the thing, fear and excitement are the exact same physical state. Your heart races, you sweat, you might feel tightening in your chest. In both cases, your body goes into a hyper-aware state. However, when you get up in the middle of the night and your heart starts raising and you start sweating, your mind will get agitated because it thinks that there is something physically wrong with you, so it has a panic attack to try to protect you and remove you from that situation. But by telling yourself “I’m excited” your mind will be able to make sense of the physical symptoms and the frightening sensations will fade off.
Step four is all about occupying yourself with an activity. This has to happen right after you told yourself how exciting the sensations are. Once you occupy yourself with an activity, you prevent yourself from getting hooked back into the anxiety loop. This step is not about distracting yourself but about engaging with life again. Go back to the activity you were doing before your anxious started to ruminate. Or come up with an activity you can do whenever you start anxious. It has to be something that engages your mind.
Now note, whenever you notice your "what if" thoughts to pop up or your physical symptoms to take over your emotions, you need to carry out these 4 steps consecutively.
Don't for get to let me know how these techniques worked for you.
I believe in you.