I’ve talked a lot in recent weeks about stress and how to manage it. As a high-anxiety person, I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling with myself. There always seems to be something to worry about. And sometimes I get the strange feeling things will go worse if I don’t devote enough time to the worrying (strange and backwards, I know). I’ve come to the slow realization that most of the things I worry about are out of my control. After two weeks of sleepless nights, and a lot of self-reflection, I embarked on a journey to overcome my stresses and live a healthier life. In addition to resuming proper sleep hygiene, I undertook the path of positive thinking. I even started doing yoga. But the biggest impact to my life came from an article entitled “Beat the Anxiety Trick.”

Anxiety is that ache in your chest when you walk into a situation that makes you uncomfortable. It’s that nervous nagging in the back of your head the night before a long journey. It’s the force that will not let you sleep even when you’re exhausted. The endless fear that something bad is just on the horizon. Anxiety is a sometimes overwhelming sense of fear that occurs in the absence of danger. It is your brain’s attempt to convince you there is cause for panic when you are, in fact, safe.

How do we combat anxiety? Frequent suffers of anxiety attacks (like myself) usually try to convince ourselves we’re fine. This is a brute force attack; convince your mind to think of anything else. Convince yourself to focus on any other task. Distraction. Bribery. Negotiation. Whatever it takes to make you stop thinking about the problem. The trouble is; the harder we try not to think about something, the more we think about it. Worse, the ‘protective measures’ we take to ward off the perceived dangers of our anxiety actually make the problem worse.

As the article summarizes, the anxiety trick is our mind convincing us to act on our anxieties as though they are genuine dangers. And when we deal with those fears using the brute force methods discussed above, we convince ourselves that it is only by way of these methods that we can continue to combat anxiety in the future. If you have ever thought or uttered the harder I try, the worse it gets, this post is for you.

How do we break the endless cycle of anxiety? By realizing that it is not our responsibility to combat anxiety; it will fade on its own. A.W.A.R.E provides the tools to do so.

A) Acknowledge and Accept
Instead of snapping to the tired old try not to think about it, take a moment to accept that an anxiety attack is about to take place, or already under way. You might tell yourself: I am having an anxiety attack. I am afraid. I am not in danger. I usually repeat this to myself while trying to maintain a deep breathing pattern. Anxiety attacks suck; no one’s going to tell you otherwise. But if you struggle against quicksand, all you do is sink faster. Suffering an anxiety attack does not mean there’s anything wrong with you. You are not damaged or inferior. Accepting the fact that something frightening is happening while forgiving yourself for the experience makes it a lot easier to bear.

Remember; this too shall pass. It isn’t your responsibility to get rid of it.

W) Wait, Watch (and possibly; Work)
When you suffer an anxiety attack, you aren’t thinking rationally. Like any situation involving fear, it’s going to trigger the fight or flight response (and in most cases ‘flight’ will be the preference). If you take action right away, you’re going to fall into the the more I try the harder it gets cycle because your brain simply isn’t thinking straight. In order to make a rational decision, we have to wait for that part of our brain to start working again. Take a deep breath. Count to ten and feel out the situation. Leave if you decide it’s the best decision, but let that decision come slowly.

If you’re in an active situation (shopping, driving, giving a presentation), then you may not be able to stand still while you wait for the anxiety to pass. In those cases, tend to the work you started. Continue the presentation as best you can. Focus on the work but don’t forget that awareness; don’t let your focus become a brute force attack.

A(2)) Actions to Make Yourself Comfortable
These aren’t ‘actions to make the anxiety go away’. Anxiety attacks are defined by their discomfort, so try to make yourself as comfortable as possible. Do a breathing exercise. Write a panic journal. Practice mindfulness. Have a positive conversation with yourself. Do whatever works for you.

R) Repeat
Sadly, panic comes in waves. You may start to feel better only to descend back into the attack. Apparently, this is normal. I wish someone had told me that sooner! If you feel a second wave coming on, take a deep breath and start back at the beginning of the steps.

E) End
Just as the word ends, just as the day ends, just as the rainstorm ends, so too will your panic attack. You don’t have to lift a finger, it will get there on its own. If you ever find yourself asking does it ever end? Remind yourself of the final step; the answer is a resounding yes.

I have applied these steps to my panic attacks and I’ve been gratified to discover they reduce the time they take to pass considerably. If you’re like me, if you’ve ever spiralled through that seemingly endless struggle to regain control of your thoughts, this article is for you. It even has instructions on how to keep your own panic journal.

The cycle of critical negative thinking can be broken. For me, this was that first all-important step.

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