In the United States, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness, and they affect about 18% of people over 18 years old. By comparison, only 11.5% of adults are diagnosed with heart disease. It's becoming clearer that anxiety has become an epidemic in our country, and it's no wonder.
Our lives are fast-paced and stressful, and many of us feel constant pressure to perform at an impossible standard in our personal and professional lives. The advent of social media means that we constantly compare ourselves to others and seek validation from the very people we are trying to outshine. It's exhausting, and the price of keeping up is often our peace and mental health.
Chances are, you already know one or more people who suffer from anxiety. And if you are the one dealing with this kind of disorder, you know that it can manifest in a number of different ways, from generalized and social anxiety to panic disorders. The worst part of anxiety is that it feeds into itself: the more your fear the symptoms, the more likely you are to experience them. It can feel like a never-ending cycle of negativity, and breaking that cycle is no easy task.
But there are things that you can do to ease the symptoms. Paying attention to self care, connecting with others, going to therapy, and even taking medication can create an environment in your life that reduces anxiety. But when you are in the throes of a panic attack, those things are typically out of reach, and that makes the situation feel hopeless. However, there are things you can do to reduce that out-of-control feeling, and one of the most effective ways I've found is practicing mindfulness.
Being mindful in the midst of a panic attack is difficult, but it is possible. When thoughts are flying through your head like cows in a Kansas tornado, pick a positive thought and focus in on it. I often repeat to myself, "I am safe. I am comfortable. I am warm." You could also choose to think of a happy memory, recite a Bible verse, or even tell yourself a favorite joke or story. It's important not to judge yourself for losing track of your thought, because that's a natural reaction and you'll only send yourself further down the path of panic if you're pressuring yourself into focusing. When your thoughts wander away, acknowledge that it's happening and then consciously turn your attention back to your thought.
Do your best to actually comprehend the meaning of your thought. Often, I find myself reciting the words quickly and without thinking, so I have to regroup and start one piece at a time. I think to myself, "I am comfortable. What does comfortable mean? What is making me comfortable right now? What can I do to increase my comfort?" Once I have answered each question, I move on to the next part. Doing so helps me slow down and makes it easier to focus. Even if you're not using a mantra like I do, you can still focus in on the details of whatever your thought may be.
Usually, I'm feeling calmer and more in control of my mind by the time I finish thinking through my positive thought. This is when I begin to notice my heart rate and my thoughts slowing down. Since I have more of a handle on the situation, I'm able to think more coherently and can start to relax, knowing that my panic attack is almost over.
This method takes a lot of practice to master, but it's very effective. For the best results, choose some time when you aren't having a panic attack to go through this process, preferably on a regular basis, so that your brain is able to recall it more easily in a crisis situation. I've found that doing this also reduces the frequency of panic attacks.
There are better ways of recovering from a panic attack than gritting your teeth and getting through it. What are your tips and tricks for coping when this happens to you? How have you been affected by anxiety in your life? Let me know in the comments. I would love to learn more!