Coping Skills for Daily Living
Coping with the limitations of an anxiety disorder can be learned and skills can be practiced. Three situations that create anxiety-producing stress in my life are:
- the workplace, and
- crowded places.
The primary way I cope with panic and anxiety is to breathe properly and I use a breathing reminder to keep me focused when an attack is coming on (see BreathMinder.)
Personal Coach, Rochelle Melander, has provided an excellent overview in an article Coping Skills for Managing Stress and Overcoming Anxiety.
First things First No matter how great you are at coping with panic and stress, no matter how helpful my list of strategies might be to you, the first steps you need to take toward healing are setting up appointments with both a physician and a therapist.
See your doctor! Panic attacks can be caused by health problems and by medication as well as by emotional stress. Your doctor can help you to discern this and guide you toward taking the appropriate actions.
See a therapist! If your panic stems from past emotional wounds, a therapist can work with you to heal these. In addition, a therapist can provide you with coping skills that are appropriate to your specific situation and personality.
The following strategies have helped me cope with stress and alleviate panic attacks. I hope that they will be helpful to you in your own journey of healing.
- Eat regularly. The Panic Attack Recovery Book by Shirley Swede and Seymour Sheppard Jaffe, M.D. provides helpful dietary guidelines for preventing anxiety. They suggest that drops in blood sugar can induce panic attacks.
- Eliminate stimulants. Stimulants -- simple sugars, caffeine, and cigarettes -- can cause you to feel the symptoms of a panic attack and, for some people, can actually cause panic attacks. Limiting or eliminating your use of these stimulants can help to eliminate panic attacks.
- Breathe Deeply Learn to breathe deeply. During a panic attack or in the midst of a fearful moment, people tend to take frequent shallow breaths. This style of breathing may cause you to experience tingling in our hands and feet and to feel light-headed. Taking slow, deep breaths can calm you. Put your hand on your stomach - and breathe in so that your stomach expands. Practice this. After you learn how, try taking three breaths in this way whenever you experience stress: breathe in for a count of 8 and out for a count of 7. (Note: I advocate a little different "count" while the basic technique is excellent; please review my recommendation at Breathing Properly.)
- Learn Creative Visualization Techniques Creative visualization allows you to escape the stress of the moment and create a different reality. You can even fool your body into believing it is experiencing the vision in your head instead of the reality in the present. Use creative visualization to cope with panic, to image success in stressful situations, and to provide yourself with a break from the stress of daily life. As with deep breathing, the more you practice, the better you will be able to utilize this tool in the midst of a panic attack.
- Practice Relaxation Exercises In my college theater classes, our teacher taught us progressive relaxation exercises. Now, this and other relaxation exercises have helped me to survive daily life and childbirth! To progressively relax yourself, find a quiet corner of your home and lie on the floor. Beginning with your toes, tense and relax each muscle group in your body - from your toes to your head. When you are completely relaxed, take a moment to notice how you feel. The more you practice this, the better you will be able to recall this feeling in the midst of a panic episode or a stressful situation.
- Exercise! Participating in daily exercise, such as walking, can relieve stress and alleviate panic attacks. Make the time doubly effective by using your walk as a time for prayer or meditation. Start your walk with a question to God about your life, an affirmation about yourself ("I am loved," "I am okay," "I am a survivor."), or a simple prayer ("Thank You," "Bless this moment," "Guide me.").
- Pick up an inexpensive notebook. Every morning, take fifteen minutes to "dump" all of your negative, stressful stuff into that notebook. Write three pages of this "stuff."
- Purchase a journal that you like. Each night, write five experiences or people or situations that you are grateful for. (For example, "I am grateful that I am alive," "I am grateful that the sky was a beautiful shade of blue," "I am grateful for the smiles of children.")
- Carry a small notebook in your purse. Just as you begin to experience the symptoms of panic or stress, write down the following: the situation you are in, the sensations you are feeling in your body, the thoughts you are thinking now and the thoughts you were thinking before experiencing the first symptoms, your present feelings and what you were feeling before the symptoms began. As you do this, remind yourself that what you are experiencing does not define you - it is simply something that is happening. You are not the symptom. This exercise can help you, over time, to pinpoint the causes of your panic attacks. It can also relieve the symptoms of panic attacks. (You can use this exercise to control asthma. It comes from the wonderful book Asthma Free in Twenty-One Days by Kathryn Shafer and Fran Greenfield.)
- Connect with a friend or a support group. Talking about the stresses in your life can help to alleviate the symptoms of panic.
- Connect with a coach. A coach can support you in making the changes you need to minimize the stress in your life. Coaches can also recommend additional books and resources for coping with panic. Such coaches can be contacted by e-mail to set up a free coaching session, such as rochelle@LifeRhymeCoaching.com
Helpful tools . . . .