Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. It helps one deal with a tense
situation in the office, study harder for an exam, keep focused on an
important speech. In general, it helps one cope. But when anxiety becomes an
excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it has become a disabling
GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER
People with generalized anxiety disorder can't seem to shake their concerns.
Their worries are accompanied by physical symptoms, especially fatigue,
headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling,
twitching, irritability, sweating, and hot flashes.
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by unexpected and
repeated episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms that may
include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or
People with panic disorder have feelings of terror that strike suddenly and
repeatedly with no warning. During a PANIC ATTACK, most likely your heart
will pound and you may feel sweaty, weak, faint, or dizzy. Your hands may
tingle or feel numb, and you might feel flushed or chilled. You may have
nausea, chest pain or smothering sensations, a sense of unreality, or fear of
impending doom or loss of control.
5 STEPS TO HELP WITH PANIC ATTACKS...
Here are 5 steps that have proven to be helpful to those who experience panic
Step 1: R-e-l-a-x...
One step that helps lots of people get a handle on their panic attacks is to
learn and practice relaxation strategies. Here are three different types of
relaxation strategies you can try:
First, try changing your breathing patterns. Stress often causes us to
breathe shallowly. Unfortunately, breathing shallowly can actually prolong
stress by depleting your oxygen supply and increasing muscle tension. This
can lead to headaches, nervousness and a lowered threshold to panic attacks.
To overcome this, practice monitoring your breathing and noticing when it
becomes shallow or rapid. When this happens, take a minute to slow down, get
comfortable, and breathe deeply. Begin this process by slowly but forcefully
blowing all of the air out of your lungs, deep-down into your belly. This
allows you to slowly and effortlessly "refill" your lungs with fresh air. Try
breathing in through your nose and focusing on filling the bottom of your
lungs first before filling the top. As you breathe in, your abdomen should
rise slowly; and, as you breathe out, it should fall slowly. Gradually
breathe more deeply and more slowly until you reach a comfortable plateau.
Sighhh . . . .
A second technique is to scan your entire body, tensing and relaxing all your
muscles. Begin by sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Focus
on your feet and notice any muscle tension in your feet or toes. Tense your
feet muscles by curling your toes like you're trying to dig into the carpet.
Tense the muscles for a five-count, then allow them to go limp and release
all the tension. It helps to exhale deeply and think the word "relax" at the
moment you release the tension. After relaxing your feet, move up to your
calves, tense and release. To your thighs, tense and release, and so on. Try
to move through all of the following muscle groups: your feet, calves,
thighs, "glutes," abdomen, lower back, chest, upper back, neck and shoulders,
and finally, facial muscles. To tense up your facial muscles, squint hard and
press your lips together (think Clint Eastwood), then just let your face go
slack and expressionless. When you've completely covered your entire body,
your muscles should feel warm and relaxed. Ahhhhh....
Finally, try taking a "mental vacation." No, not a trip to the BEACH - just
an imaginary visualization of a peaceful place. Mental imagery can be a great
way of creating peaceful feelings. Start by imagining a peaceful, serene
setting. Perhaps this will be someplace you've gone before where you felt
totally calm and relaxed. Or maybe it can be a fantasy place with all the
ingredients to help you relax and unwind. Once you've imagined this fantasy
place, take a "sensory inventory" by asking yourself: "What do I see that's
peaceful or beautiful?" "What do I hear that's soothing?" "What do I smell
that reminds me of pleasant, peaceful feelings?" "What do I feel on my skin
(is it warm, cool, breezy, still?)" and "What do I taste?" For example,
someone who loves the beach might think about seeing a beautiful sunset over
the water, hearing the waves gently lapping at the shore or the seagulls
peacefully calling, smelling the scent of suntan oil, feeling the warmth of
the sun and the gentle breeze, and tasting the salty air.
Imagining each of these sensations in detail actually helps to create the
same peaceful feelings in your body that you'd experience if you were
actually at the beach. Plus, no sand in your clothes.
By themselves, deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and mental imagery can be
very powerful. When you put them all together, you've got a combination that
can melt away your physical tension and anxious thoughts and replace them
with peace and relaxation.
Step 2: Change Habits
Sometimes it helps to make some changes in your daily routine, like adding
exercise and reducing or eliminating stimulants like caffeine, nicotine and
sugar. Exercise helps to burn off excess tension that might otherwise come
out as anxiety or panic. Eliminating stimulants, like caffeine, helps prevent
your cup from "running over" with anxiety.
If you tend to bottle up your feelings and worry a lot by yourself, it may be
helpful to pay more attention to your emotions and become more willing to
express them to others.
Step 3: Discover The Power of Positive Thinking
Another way of tackling panic attacks is to look at the way you talk to
yourself, especially during times of stress and pressure. Panic attacks often
begin or escalate when you tell yourself scary things, like "I feel light-
headed . . . I'm about to faint!" or "I'm trapped in this traffic jam and
something terrible is gonna happen!" or "If I go outside, I'll freak out."
These are called "negative predictions" and they have a strong influence on
the way your body feels. If you're mentally predicting a disaster, your
body's alarm response goes off and the "fight-flight response" kicks in.
To combat this, try to focus on calming, positive thoughts, like "I'm
learning to deal with panicky feelings and I know that people overcome panic
all the time" or "This will pass quickly, and I can help myself by
concentrating on my breathing and imagining a relaxing place" or "These
feelings are uncomfortable, but they won't last forever."
Sometimes it's helpful to remind yourself of these FACTS about panic attacks:
A panic attack cannot cause heart failure or a heart attack.
A panic attack cannot cause you to stop breathing.
A panic attack cannot cause you to faint.
A panic attack cannot cause you to "go crazy."
A panic attack cannot cause you to lose control of yourself.
If it's too hard for you to think calming thoughts or to concentrate on
relaxation strategies when you're having a panic attack, find ways to
distract yourself from the negative thoughts and feelings. Some people do
this by talking to other people when they feel the panic coming on. Others
prefer to exercise or work on a detailed project. Changing scenery can
sometimes be helpful, too, but it's important not to get into a pattern of
avoiding necessary daily tasks. If you notice that you're regularly avoiding
things like driving, going shopping, going to class, or taking buses, it's
probably time to get some professional help.
Step 4: Getting Help
You might find that dealing with panic attacks will be easier if you have a
person who can act as a coach as you learn how to cope with the attacks.
Meeting with someone who has experience working with panic attacks and
anxiety can help you find the right mixture of strategies that will work for
you. This might be a therapist, psychiatrist or family doctor. In individual
counseling, group counseling, or a combination of the two, you'll probably be
able to learn the skills and develop the self-understanding you need to
overcome your panic.
Step 5: Keep the Faith!
Above all, have faith that you CAN learn how to handle panic attacks. If you
practice the techniques you've learned about here, or seek out more
information through counseling, the chances are EXCELLENT that you'll be able
to overcome the panic problems in your life!