In both in our personal lives and globally, there are many situations that generate fear and anxiety. Many people experience fear and anxiety in unfamiliar surroundings or when doing something for the first time. For adults, job loss, financial problems, loss of a home, deployment of a family member or friend, or just watching the news can create anxiety. For children, school can be a source of anxiety, especially if they are having problems or being bullied. Over time, anxiety can take a toll on physical health as well as emotional well-being. When anxiety or panic limits life choices, it can become debilitating.
In his book “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook,” Edmund Bourne explains that there are several levels to the development of panic attacks.
Level one is the awareness of the situation that arises to cause fear. For example, for those who have social anxiety, it may be noticing that you are surrounded by a crowd of people and cannot escape.
Level two is evidenced by a slight increase in unusual or unpleasant body symptoms such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, faintness, dizziness and sweating.
During level three there is an increased focus on symptoms that makes them more noticeable.
And finally, level four, which is an interpretation of the anxiety that is catastrophic and in which you may tell yourself the symptoms are dangerous, i.e. I’m having a heart attack, I’ll suffocate, or I’ll go completely out of control.
Here are some of the strategies Bourne recommends.
1. Exit or retreat from the situation until your panic subsides. Retreat means to leave a situation temporarily with the intention of returning when you feel better.
2. Talk to another person. This can help you get your mind off the situation.
3. Move around or engage in physical activity. This allows you to dissipate extra energy/adrenaline created by a flight-fight reaction.
4. Stay in the present. Focus on concrete objects in your immediate environment and helps to minimize the attention to your physical symptoms.
5. Engage in a simple repetitive activity. Distract your attention from the panic symptoms or anxiety-producing thoughts.
6. Express anger. Anger and anxiety are incompatible. Express anger physically onto an object when you feel sensations of panic coming on.
7. Do something that requires focused concentration. This is hard to initiate when feeling anxious but works as a distraction.
8. Experience something immediately pleasurable as feelings of pleasure are incompatible with anxiety.
9. Visualize a comforting person or scene.
10. Practice thought-stopping.
11. Practice abdominal breathing.
12. Practice muscle relaxation.
13. Repeat positive coping statements.
14. Combine breathing (or relaxation) with coping statements.
If you experience increased anxiety or panic that impacts your life negatively, it is advisable to seek medical help. Although the best combination of treatments is usually medication and therapy, the preceding strategies can help to reduce symptoms and manage fear effectively until you can get help.