As you may have read in previous posts, anxiety is something I struggle with from time to time. Sometimes it’s not so bad — just a bit of a tickling annoyance at the back of my mind — and other times it’s drive-me-mad frustrating, keeping me from doing things I want to do and preventing me from living the positive, present life I spend so much time writing about. There are a lot of unpleasant aspects of anxiety, but one of the worst parts is feeling panicky.
Even if you don’t have anxiety on a regular basis, you’ve probably experienced panic at some point in your life — those moments when your heart is pounding and your mind is racing with ideas (some completely irrational) about what’s happening. It’s not a pleasant experience and, even if there’s something legitimate to feel panicked about, panicking never helps make a situation better. It only heightens anxious feelings and makes it more difficult to take positive, productive action.
Once panicky feelings start, however, they can be tough to get control over, which is why it’s important to try your best prevent the panic before it begins. Of course, sometimes this isn’t possible, like if you’re sudden, dangerous, actually-life-threatening situation. But, more often than not, things we panic about are a result of the way we’re seeing a situation, and don’t necessarily reflect what’s actually happening.
Because tomorrow is the second annual International Day of Calm, I wanted to spend some time reflecting on how to keep calm on a regular basis. This way, if you are presented with a situation that makes you feel panicky, you’ll be better equipped to cope with it. Here are five of my best tips for preventing panic…
(And stay tuned for two awesome keep-calm goodies mentioned at the end of the post!)
TRY TO FIND CALM DAILY.
We usually hear the phrases “keep calm” or “calm down” only when there’s already an anxiety-inducing situation right in front of us, but if you want to reduce panicky feelings in the future, it helps to practice calm on a daily basis. Creating calming routines for yourself (especially at the beginning and end of your day) can be really helpful. Also, taking advantage of calming resources: books like Calm or Stay Positive and apps like Calm are great places to start. Anything you can incorporate into your life on a daily basis to make you feel more peaceful will help add to your state of calm whenever you feel panicky.
RECOGNIZE YOUR REACTIONS.
When it comes to preventing full-blown panic, one essential step is to recognize how you’re reacting to a situation so you can understand (and rein in) your emotions before they get to an irrational place. One of the best ways to do this is to pay close attention to your body. Is your heart beating faster? Are your palms sweaty? Are your muscles tensing? Is your breath coming more quickly? When you’re aware of what’s happening to you physically, you can put yourself in a better mindset to avoid panic. You can remove yourself from a situation or ask someone else to talk you through what you’re experiencing.
CENTER YOURSELF IN REALITY.
One of the most vital steps for preventing panic is to ask yourself, What’s actually happening? So much of panic is a result of what we think is going to happen, not what’s factually right in front of us. For example, let’s say you’re going through a breakup. It’s common to start in with panicky thoughts like, I’m going to be alone forever. Oh god, no one is going to date me now. I’m never going to find love again. Those thoughts are all based on the future — and a very dismal future at that. In the present moment, the only thing that’s happening is you’re suffering from heartbreak, which you will recover from. Bring your focus to the present and it becomes much more difficult to launch into panic mode.
ACCEPT WHAT’S HAPPENING.
Part of panicking is detaching yourself from reality, allowing your mind to spiral into a maze of irrational thoughts. As unsettling as these thoughts are (usually of the all-or-nothing variety, like, Everything is ruined! No one will ever want me! Nothing will ever be the same!), we often use the panicky thoughts to distract ourselves from the real pain right in front of us: the heartache, the loss, the realization that we’ve done something wrong. It’s hard to do, but acceptance of the actual situation is key for redirecting panic into a more productive outlet. Yes, you might have lost your job, but thinking, no one will ever hire me now is certainly not going to get you a new one. What will is accepting the loss and striving to move positively forward by taking action in the present (going to a job fair, applying for new jobs online, etc.).
FIND A SELF-SOOTHING TECHNIQUE.
Acceptance is hard, but once you do that, you’re in a much better place to prevent panic. Still, it can creep up on you sometimes, like a stealthy little snake in the grass, and when that happens, it’s a good idea to have a self-soothing technique that helps to take your mind to a calmer place. Your self-soothing technique can be anything from taking a few deep breaths to using a mantra (like “keep calm” or, my personal favorite, “you’re okay”) to calling up a calming friend for a quick chat. Whatever your calming weapon of choice, make sure it’s something you can always have in your holster — an easily accessible tool that you can whip out whenever you might feel a bit panic-stricken.
*KEEP CALM GOODIES!*
For the second annual International Day of Calm (April 5, 2016), I’ve partnered with Calm, a popular meditation app and book, to provide you with some keep-calm goodies!
- Get 25% off a yearlong subscription to the Calm app by visiting Calm.com/PositivelyPresent.
- Pop on over to my Instagram account for details on how you can win a copy of Calm the book!
Want to explore how to have even more calm in your life? Pick up your very own copy of my book, The Positively Present Guide to Life. The book is all about how to stay positive and present in various areas of life including: at home, at work, in love, in relationships, and during change. I’ve turned back to it often this year as I’ve gone through major changes and it’s been tremendously helpful. The book is filled with inspiring images that make it even easier to stay positive and present. You can learn more about the book and find out where to buy a copy here. (You can also get a sneak peek at the book, access a free download, and watch the book trailer!)
Thanks for bringing this up, and being open and honest about it. A few questions come to mind…
When you mention a ‘full-blown panic’ do you mean a panic attack? And more importantly, don’t you ever get mad at yourself for being anxious? Get upset for not being calm? Not long ago, I had a period of anxiety and stress and I really was angry at myself for this. I have been meditating for five years and trying to living mindfully for over a year – by now I should get the hang of it, right?
Additionally, while trying to be aware, be in this moment, live mindfully and life being life meaning difficult from time to time, I have this expectation that (while life won’t get any easier) I know how to deal with difficulties better. That it gets easier to maintain myself, to stand my ground, that I would struggle less. But at the same time mindfulness is about not having expectations, I understand that. However, I still have this idea that mindfulness holds that promise for things to get easier. I know I should let go of expectations, but even that is not that easy! What do you think?
If this is too much, too personal: please, feel free to block my comment and/or reply privately by mail.
Enjoy your day, kindly, Fleur
I think you’d really enjoy reading The Worst is Over written by nurses and critical incident providers, including people who were at Ground Zero after 9/11. Authors are brilliant and the book is very unique.
The Worst is Over by Judith Acosta and Judith Praeger. I don’t know them but I really loved the book.
Fleur – Those are great questions! In this article, I’m talking about preventing panicky, overwhelmed feelings (and potentially a panic attack, though I don’t personally have many of those). The goal with this article was to help people keep calmer on a regular basis so they don’t get to a panicked emotional state. As for getting angry at myself for not being calm, no, I don’t get angry about it. I think dealing with anxiety and stress is very complicated and challenging, and I’ve accepted that I’ll always struggle with it to some degree (though I hope I get even better at coping with it as I get older). Regarding mindfulness and the expectation that it will make things better, I completely understand where you’re coming from. In theory, it seems that being mindful would make life better or easier, but life is filled with a lot of really hard moments and, while being mindful helps, it won’t take away pain or struggle completely. For me, mindfulness helps me cope better with the difficult times and makes me more appreciative of the good times, but life can still be very challenging. For me, I get even more out of mindfulness when I couple it with gratitude and positivity. Those three things together don’t make life easier (it’s always going to have highs and lows), but they make me better at handling whatever comes my way.
Lucille – Thanks for sharing that! I love reading and am always looking for new books to read. That sounds like a great one, especially for putting things in perspective.
Thanks for taking the time to respond! I am grateful for you thinking through and answering my questions. I have been thinking them over from time to time. Indeed, prevention is the best way to work with this anxiety problem and relaxation in general will all do us good! You mention gratitude, good point – I was thinking of self-compassion, but all these elements are interconnected, I think.
Let me give you a bit of information about myself, so you understand the context where my questions were coming from. I have been chronically ill and housebound for 11 years. Therefore, relaxation is not as easy as talking a stroll in the park or the woods. Thankfully, I am not unhappy about that any longer. The key is to be gentle and to let go. Recently I wrote an article about that, perhaps you are interested in this. It is not literally about prevention or relaxation, but it is about letting go – trying not to worry: http://www.bluemarkforme.com/but-inner-calm/
Thanks again! Ciao, Fleur
I have anxiety and depression Really bad. Sometimes My mood goes up and down so much, I think I’m bipolar as well. But that’s probably just my anxious mind playing tricks I me again. Anyway I’ve been struggling with these issues since I was about 12 or so and its only getting worse with time. I have 2 kids now and have noticed allot of similarities in my 7yr old daughter. Is that common??? How can I help her, I would like to do something asap. I’m27 and have never asked for help because my fear cripples me! Would therapy be beneficial for the both of us?
Fleur – You’re welcome! I hope some of my words were helpful. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been chronically ill and housebound. That must make it very difficult to stay relaxed and positive, but it sounds like you’re doing an amazing job at trying to make the most of your situation. Thanks so much for sharing that article!
Victoria – I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling with anxiety. It is such a difficult thing to cope with. I’m not a doctor or a therapist so I can’t say for sure what would work for you and your daughter, but I’ve personally found therapy to be very helpful. Seeking the help of a professional is always a good idea. They can diagnosis your individual needs and see if therapy (or medication or both) will be helpful. If you’re not sure where to start, trying asking your regular doctor for recommendations.
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