We can heal from those feelings of anxiety and the patterns that help spur them to arise. We can learn to turn the flame down of that fire of fear that lives inside of us. We can unlearn patterns that we have learned behaviorally-speaking and develop new ways of living and being.
When we are used to reacting, rather than consciously choosing to respond to all that we experience in our environment, day after day, moment after moment, and have no guidance of how to navigate such territory, it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed. I became hypervigilant as a part of my experience with anxiety and panic attacks. As I continue to walk through my recovery from years of anxiety and panic attacks, I feel as if I am undergoing a great unwinding from so much time spent in reaction and in resistance to what I encountered in my world.
Let’s pay some attention to the power of the mind to spin us into the past or the future, but not necessarily help us stay focused on the present. We can get ‘lost’ in the imaginings of the mind and become quite swept up with the scenarios that it produces, no matter if such imaginings are fictitious or not. This is the realm of fear – in the mind. We may feel the sensation of excitement in the body, but as the mind makes the meaning that we ‘are not safe’, then our excitement – a neutral experience – turns into fear. Now we have moved from having a neutral experience to feeling a state of being under threat, due to the meaning our mind made of the source of the original sensation – excitement.
Fear raises its great shadow over us and we’re overcome – overwhelmed by the feelings it brings. It can make us angry and mean, judgmental, petty, even domineering. In the grip of fear, we become completely reactive and ‘lost’ in our emotions. We lose our sense of having roots and feel as if we have become utterly untethered in the world. It is as if our ability to assess and respond to the situation at hand is stripped away from us altogether.
Here are nine ways to calm anxiety and panic attacks. These tools will help you adjust yourself in circumstances so that you become more of the witness to what is happening around you, and are better able to respond to situations, rather than purely react.
1) Slow down and take it easy: We live in a culture that feels like it moves at record speed. We feel pushed to perform. We might even feel as if we are always late in a world filled with deadlines and clock-worked schedules. This frenetic energy pace is stressful for anyone. We can do our best to become aware of the rapid pace of society and act. We give ourselves a little more time. We learn to go a little slower. People will wait. For instance, you would be surprised how helpful a ‘pregnant pause’ can be during a conversation. It’s okay and maybe even productive to slow down enough to take a measured, deep breath – or three, or ten, or a thousand breaths. Open yourself to that rich and spacious spot that sits silently and with such innocence in the present moment. We can live in the hustle and bustle of the world, but not necessarily feel and exhibit the excitement of such a world.
2) Come back to the present moment: Reconnect with your senses to help bring you back to a grounded sense of yourself and stay here, rather than slip back into the past or slide into projecting into the future. We want to engage our tactile senses here. Run your hands through your hair, the soil, the grass, or along the bark of a tree trunk. Take off your shoes and place your feet on the earth. Cuddle yourself into a soft blanket. Take a hot bath. Even a nice long drink of water can help ground us. Get in touch with all your senses as if you were checking them off of a list: what are you seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling in this moment? These are all thing you can do to help you come back to the feeling that you are steady and buoyant when you feel unanchored.
3) Embrace the world rather than brace against it: Open yourself to all the motion in life, rather than trying to contain any of it. This was quite the lesson for me to learn and I felt so much peace as a result. I once pushed with all my might against anything in my world that didn’t feel good. It never occurred to me to just allow myself to feel whatever I am experiencing in the moment, even if it was discomfort. When we accept things as they are instead of resisting their presence, we find we just get along better with ourselves and our world.
4) Meditate: Give yourself the gift of leaving the thinking mind behind, or at least giving it a rest, and silence your thoughts through meditation. It never ceases to amaze me what a powerful practice this is for me when I have what feels like a chaotic day. Meditation not only brings me right back into the present moment, but I also find a deep and lasting sense of inner peace.
5) Find support: Reach out and let your friends know what’s going on with you and ask for help. Their presence will help ground you and bring back your sense of safety. Your friends want to be there for you. Do yourself and them a favor and speak up. When we solidify our connections with loved ones, we come back to ourselves.
6) Build structure into your life and stick with it: We thrive in structure and find security and surety in it. Develop a routine and stick with it. If you have a chaotic day, do your best to shift back into your routine and find your rhythm again.
7) Keep your health front and center: Good healthy foods, plenty of water, regular exercise, and a disciplined sleep routine all help contribute to keeping us steady and focused in a mindful way. It may sound simplistic and you have heard this before, but our health is a big part of our ability to adapt in a healthy way to the joys and challenges in life. When our challenges turn into anxiety and stress, a look at our health habits is front and center as we move to relieve our stress reactions to life.
8) Manage your expectations: Become conscious of what you expect. Be realistic and flexible. Whatever it is that you are experiencing is impermanent. You will get through it. Just be mindful of deciding ahead of time what that will look like or turn out to be. The first time you rode a bicycle, you weren’t quite sure what would happen. You hoped you wouldn’t fall, but if you were like me, you fell once or twice. I didn’t count on how scary those falls would seem to me. I felt pretty inept at not getting it right the first time. My expectation that I would ‘get it right’ the first time made my falls that much more terrifying and only deepened my sense of insecurity. If I had dropped any expectations of what the experience would be like going into it in the first place, I might not have felt so forlorn by falling. I would have just gotten back up, without the judgment, that I hadn’t done it ‘right’. By letting go of thinking that “things should be a certain way”, you will feel your very being open, expand, and experience things beyond what your mind has ever been able to remotely imagine or fathom. This has certainly been my experience.
Furthermore, we are so used to thinking, “When am I going to feel better?”, “When will the pain stop?”, or “Will it always be like this?” that we miss living in the here and now. I have spoken about ways to bring you back into the present moment. Now I elucidate how important this is for the person who is living with anxiety. When we are constantly in waiting mode – waiting to heal, waiting to feel better, and in wanting mode – wanting ‘it’ to be different than however ‘it’ is showing up for us now, then we are missing out on so much power for ourselves. We close the door on allowing ourselves to experience what is possible in the now. When we are constantly holding ourselves in the future and comparing it to our past, we are in resistance what is in the present. When we surrender to the ‘now’ and accept it, we will feel an energy shift from tension to relaxation. The shift may seem subtle, but it is a very powerful one. We must surrender our “when” and accept the “now” and we are no longer caught in the cycle of worry over the future. As long as we hold onto ‘when’, we hold ourselves in doubt about our future and doubt about what is showing up in our ‘now. That is a lot of resistance and pushing against ‘what is’at the moment that we are experiencing. We swerve away from opening to the extraordinary power we have to adapt to circumstances when we keep the cycle of waiting to go. The resistance is what is at the root of our pain. When we drop and shift away from our idea of resisting what is showing up for us and surrender to it instead, we find relief for our pain.
9) Love yourself – for real: Find and hold a great and mighty space of compassion for yourself, and in holding that space, you will find that you feel that you can also hold a vast space of compassion for the world. Let your heart take center stage. Live from here and find contentment.
- We can heal from anxiety and panic attacks.
- Notice whether you are purely feeling a sensation in your body, or whether your mind has put its spin on it.
- Slow down and take it easy.
- Come back to the present moment using all of your senses and the breath.
- Embrace the world rather than brace against it.
- Find support.
- Build structure into your life and stick with it.
- Keep your health front and center.
- Manage your expectations.
- Love yourself.
Fear can wreak havoc with us if we let it. When we become mindful of how we are reacting to life as it comes, we find less stress and anxiety arising within us around events. By practicing the suggestions here, you will find yourself better equipped to shift with the changes in your day and in your world with more ease, peace, and grace. Challenge is just part of the human experience. When we learn to accept this and understand the underpinnings of how we are reacting in our world, and when we take the time to ground ourselves if we feel untethered, we find we can take the time to evaluate the situation and respond appropriately.
Elizabeth Kipp is a long time seeker of truths with a foot each in the spiritual and scientific worlds. Her life experiences and training enable her to bridge the gap between these two somewhat different worlds.