Panic and anxiety can take hold of us in the most unexpected and frightening of ways, making us feel like we have no control over our minds or bodies. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Mindful strategies can be used to empower ourselves and overcome panic. By creating awareness and developing a better understanding of the psychological and physiological effects of anxiety, we can gradually redefine our relationship with fear and, in time, develop coping mechanisms we can rely on.
Learning to Understand Anxiety: A Mindful Approach
Mindful awareness of our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations is the first step to managing panic. When confronted with an anxiety-provoking situation, recognize the early signs that cause fear to surge: is your heart racing, are you suffering from shallow breaths, is your body trembling? Acknowledge these signs without judgement and keep breathing through the discomfort. The challenge here is to not be afraid of the fear itself and to resist the urge to flee or suppress it. Doing so will help us to cast aside the capricious whims of our emotion and learn from its lessons.
To break the panic cycle, observe your feelings with non-judgmental curiosity and recognize that your experience is valid and that it will pass. Allow yourself to feel the feelings and to express them in a contained and healthy manner. Do not be afraid of discomfort or try to push away or repress your distress. Doing so will only make it worse.
Practicing self-compassion is key in dealing with panic. Our thoughts can become distorted during times of stress and we often burden ourselves with expectations and guilt. Challenge any irrational thinking and strive to be kind to yourself. Negative self-talk often serves to amplify fear, but by letting go of it you can regain control.
The Power of Breath: Developing a Mindful Practice
The power of breath is an invaluable tool in managing panic. Anything from breathwork to meditation can be used to help regulate your body’s fight-or-flight response. Slower and deeper breaths can be used to induce a state of relaxation, and to lower the heart rate and blood pressure.
Diaphragmatic breathing is an effective way to reduce anxiety and alleviate stress. Focusing on the breath can bring the mind and body back into sync and help you to stay in the present moment. When feelings of panic arise, try deep, slow belly breaths, allowing your stomach to fill with air. Then, visualize the air releasing. Repeat five times or until the unease has subsided.
Meditation helps to ‘trick’ the mind into calming down. Gently close your eyes, pay attention to your breath and let the chaotic stream of thoughts pass until your mind finds peace. Find a comfortable position, begin your practice and focus on the moment. With dedication and practice, your need to panic will gradually weaken.
Cognitive Restructuring: Reframing Panic’s Insidious Effects
Just like our bodies, our minds can be trained and must be subject to regular care and maintenance. Cognitive restructuring is the process of examining and challenging negative thinking and replacing it with more positive thoughts.
Challenge Unhelpful Thoughts
Name and dispute the thoughts that come to mind. Acknowledge when your mind begins to spiral into a negative thought pattern and use a healthy practice to disrupt it, like counting to ten or repeating a mantra or affirmation. Reflect on the truth and challenge the thoughts that are held in the darkest of places.
Create a Positive Mindset
Redefine the story you tell yourself and ensure that you do not get trapped in the past. Replace fear-based thoughts with positive affirmations and envisage positive outcomes. The power of positive thinking has proven to be an effective coping strategy, particularly when dealing with difficult emotions.
Building resilience can help to mitigate the effects of panic. Embrace small challenges and accept all outcomes with grace. Set realistic yet achievable goals and take measurable steps towards achieving them. Building these steady steps of progression can empower you to keep going and have faith in yourself, regardless of the outcome.
Walking into the Unknown: Strategies for Managing Anxiety
When fear takes over, we can be prone to wanting to escape. But navigating uncertainty and embracing the unknown with acceptance and courage is what helps us to take control of our lives.
Face Your Fears
Confronting life’s storms is one of the greatest acts of courage, and should not be taken lightly. Don’t run away, but be mindful of how you manage your fear. Evaluate the risk of potential harm, identify potential solutions and think of ways to mitigate it. Often, the fear of the unknown is more alarming than the actual experience itself.
Let go of expectations and create space for uncertainty. Acceptance does not mean resignation, but rather recognition of the present moment. Accept that panic is inevitable and step towards your fears with an open heart.
Acceptance does not come easily, but it does help to lift the weight of fear and anxiety. Embrace yourself with love and grace, and strive to accept whatever situation arises. Letting go of our desire to control can be liberating – it allows us to find joy and peace in the uncertainty of life.
Panic and anxiety can paralyze us with fear, but facing it with mindful intention can be empowering. By learning how to understand anxiety and developing a mindful practice to help manage it, we can gradually redefine our relationship with fear and build a strong foundation of courage and resilience. Building a practice of self-compassion, positive thinking and acceptance can help us to accept life’s uncertainties and to strengthen our faith in ourselves.