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Anxiety can be a debilitating experience, especially when it leads to a panic attack. Panic attacks can be scary and overwhelming, and if you’ve experienced one, you know how important it is to have some tools in your toolbox ready to manage it and get yourself through it. The good news is that there are things you can do to reduce the severity and duration of a panic attack! While part of the process is the waiting for the physical reaction to pass, the more you are able to get your body out of fight or flight mode, the sooner you will be back to a regulated state.
When you’re in a panic state, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to think rationally and use all of your executive functioning skills. So, it can be helpful to create a physical anxiety self-help plan you can turn to when you’re struggling. This is a personalized and flexible working document that can be referred to when you feel the anxiety and panic start to seep in. You can physically write it down or put it in a note in your phone; the most important thing is that it’s easily accessible when you need it. So what should you put in the plan? Here are some buckets you could consider::
- Signs you might be panicking: What are your panic triggers? What does it look like when you’re starting to panic? Your anxious brain may start by telling you you aren’t actually panicking, or you may start to feel like you are physically in deep distress or even dying. Knowing what this looks like for you can help remind you that this is, in fact, a panic attack and then inform you on what to do next.
- Relaxation techniques: When you’re experiencing a panic attack, your body can feel like it’s out of control. Plus, the amygdala responds when you slow your breathing and ground your body! That’s why it’s essential to have physical coping techniques to help. Some of the things you can do include slow breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or going for a walk. Some people find splashing cold water on your face or holding ice to be helpful in regulating their bodies as well.
- Cognitive strategies: It can be tough in the thick of panic to use some of the cognitive techniques you may have learned in therapy, but even a little bit can go a long way. Cognitive techniques like restructuring and challenging your thoughts (working to identify those distorted thoughts and re-framing them or finding evidence for and against them), journaling, and practicing mindfulness can help. In a state of panic, having a specific mindfulness app you are planning to use or journal prompt can be beneficial! We like Calm and Insight Timer if you’re looking for an app to try.
- Supports: Who can you call/text/FaceTime when you’re spiraling? Write down a list of people to your plan, including family, friends, and mental health supports, whether that’s a crisis line or your therapist. Make sure you include their contact information and how you could reach them – the more detailed the better. This way you can reach out without having to do any high level thinking!
- Soothing Techniques: When you’re feeling anxious, it can be helpful to have some self soothing techniques to help you calm down. Consider adding things like listening to calming music, taking a warm bath, and/or looking at pictures or images of water or cute puppies or TikToks of baking or other less stimulating, relaxing topics things that bring you ease and joy. It might seem silly, but it can help!
- Distraction techniques: Sometimes, you just need to distract and pull your attention to something else. Listen to music, go on a walk, do a small house thing like dishes, do a grounding technique. Pick a few to try! And if you find that this category overlaps with others, great! Remember, this is your plan. You get to pick and choose what you add to it and what’s helpful for you.
The key to creating an effective anxiety self-help plan is to keep it simple and personalized. It should be easy to understand and use in moments of crisis. Try different techniques, see what works for you and then adapt! Your plan should be a working document that you can revise and update as needed. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, so it’s essential to personalize your plan and experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to reach out for support if you need it. With time and practice, you can learn to manage your anxiety and panic attacks more effectively. If you’re still struggling, or are just not sure where to start, reach out. We’re here to help.