Anxiety is a normal physical response produced by your body when faced with severe stress, or perceived danger. It is a feeling of unease and includes feelings of worry and fear – usually related to the anticipation of a stressful situation, experience or event. Anxiety becomes a problem when the feeling is long term due to a perceived inability to cope.
Avoidance is a typical response to anxiety and when we avoid what makes us anxious, we reinforce on our body and mind that the thing we are avoiding is bad. So when we are exposed to a particular situation, the effects of the anxiety can increase.
Spending a few minutes enduring what makes you anxious can help to reduce the effects. It also reinforces that it is not bad. As anxiety generally comes from a perceived inability to cope, having strategies in place to manage something will increase your ability to cope. For example, knowing where the exits are on an aeroplane can empower you in an emergency.
Panic is the most severe form of anxiety with panic attacks generally last between five and 10 minutes (although some people can have them for up to an hour). Frequency also varies with some people experiencing them once or twice a month while others can have them weekly. A panic attack can feel very intense and are often mistaken for a heart attack.
Ten rules for coping with panic
- Remember that the feelings are nothing more than an exaggeration of the normal bodily reactions to stress.
- They are not in the least bit harmful or dangerous – just unpleasant. Nothing worse will happen.
- Stop adding to panic with frightening thoughts about what is happening and where it might lead.
- Now notice what is really happening in your body right now, not what you fear might happen.
- Now wait and give the fear time to pass, without fighting it, or running away from it. Just accept it.
- Notice that once you stop adding to it with frightening thoughts, the fear starts to fade away by itself.
- Remember that the whole point of practice is learning how to cope with fear without avoiding it. So this is an opportunity to make progress.
- Think about the progress you have made so far, despite all the difficulties, and how pleased you will be when you succeed.
- When you begin to feel better, look around you, and start to plan what to do next.
- Then, when you are ready to go on, start off in an easy, relaxed way, there’s no need for effort or hurry.