I received so many responses to my first post on panic attacks and anxiety disorders, it only seemed right to continue the conversation and try to share a few simple solutions short of therapy.
Triggers for panic and anxiety are often internal and induced by repeated behaviors that caused the first panic attack. So, changing behavior can be the quickest way to lessen the frequency of episodes.
But external events – such as the Paris terror attacks in November – can also serve as a stimulus for panic attacks. Watching the same video of the crisis over and over again recreates and amplifies the dread you experienced the first time you were alerted to the violence or threat. This frightening, gut-wrenching reaction sends the fight-or-flight message to the brain over and over again.
In my experience, people who suffer from anxiety disorders and panic attacks seem to share many of the same traits. For instance, they tend to have higher IQs or quick minds that seem to be “going a mile a minute.” Much like those who suffer from attention deficit disorders, they often have an extraordinary ability to hear (or inability to ignore) all the sounds and conversations around them.
Perhaps most significantly, people who suffer from panic attacks and anxiety disorders all seem to have an usually high sense of empathy; not only for those in their intimate circles, but also for those they encounter via different venues. This high emotional sensitivity allows (and even compels) them to absorb the suffering and drama of others.
Here are three simple actions I’ve learned to take whenever the whole world appears to be a dangerous place and newscasters are telling me the sky is falling:
1. Turn off the television, laptop and desktop computer. Stop reviewing and reliving whatever is causing your anxiety.
2. Get outside into the fresh air – even if it’s snowing or unbearably hot. Go for a walk, get your legs moving and get more oxygen to your brain
3. Drink as much water as possible. Fear and stress cause dehydration and rehydrating will make you feel better. Some experts say 8 glasses a day, some say 4. I say just drink more water than you currently are.
If you’re taking medication for your anxiety disorder and it doesn’t seem to be working during these extraordinary world or personal events, call your therapist or your internist. Reach out for advice and assistance from a professional, not just your friends, family or some online blogger. Your meds may need tweaking or you may need a session with the person who knows you and vulnerabilities best.
Most importantly, be kind to and forgiving of yourself. Berating yourself over the way you feel or react to certain situations only adds to your anxiety. Remind yourself of the progress you’ve already made and the world won’t seem quite so frightening.