When Anxiety Attacks: Skills to Help You Cope

I was 8 years old the first time I had a panic attack. Of course, I didn't know that's what it was but I remember the feeling well.

I jolted out of bed in the middle of the night, gasping for air. My heart was racing and no matter what I did, I just couldn't seem to catch my breath. I didn't know what was wrong with me and the best way I could explain it was that I forgot how to breathe. 

How could I forget how to breathe?

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Easy. I must have died. At least, that's the conclusion my 8 year old brain came to. 

Obviously, I did not die, but I have had many more panic attacks since then and I know that it really does feel as if you are going to die. In fact, it is not at all uncommon for someone to go to the ER due to a panic attack. It’s even happened to me!

When I finally figured out that I had anxiety and panic attacks (at age 26) I started to seek out some help and resources to help me cope with my anxiety. Because of the tools I have gained, I can say that panic attacks and overly anxious feelings are extremely rare anymore.

As a matter of fact, at my last physical, almost 10 years after being officially diagnosed with anxiety disorder, my doctor marked it as “resolved”. I had no idea that was even possible!

I am not saying that will happen for everyone and I certainly don’t claim to be an expert but I am very familiar with anxiety and the techniques that can help a person work through an attack.

And while not everyone gets anxiety to the point of panic attacks or diagnosis, many people deal with anxiety on some level. I believe it is important to learn tools and techniques to help you with your anxiety.

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Here are some of the tools that I have found most helpful in managing my anxiety:

Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you might know that I really like positive talk. Does this mean my life is perfect and that I always feel positive? Not by a long shot!

While I have always been much more of an optimist than a pessimist, I am prone to worry and worry starts in the mind. The first time a negative thought enters my mind, I have a choice to make - feed it or starve it.

We all know that when you feed something it will grow and when you starve it, well, it will die.

Anxiety occurs when our thoughts become bigger than life. So, if you want to stop anxiety in it's tracks, you have to starve those negative and worrisome thoughts. 

Self talk.

Just as I believe in positive thinking, I believe that your life follows your words. Words have power. I have had to learn not to give power to my fear and worry by speaking it out loud.

Instead, I speak the opposite. And when I say, I speak, I literally mean, I speak.  

Breathing exercises.

If you've given birth, you know that breathing is a powerful exercise. It calms you, improves flow of oxygen and lowers blood pressure among other things. When you feel anxious, close your eyes, take slow and deep breaths in, then exhale until you feel calm.

You may also want to consider taking a yoga class or practicing yoga at home on a regular basis to keep anxiety at bay.

Play a game of “then what”.

This may seem contradictory to replacing negative thoughts with positive ones but this is not meant to feed fear and worry by dwelling. Instead, playing out the possible outcomes can bring you back to reality.

So, here is how it works:

When I find myself worrying about something, I ask myself, "and then what?" I continue to ask myself this until I have come up with every possible outcome. Generally what happens is, I realize that in the end everything will be OK because most likely I am not going to die and if I do, well then, there's nothing else I can do!

I know this may sound extreme but the thing about anxiety is that it often involves irrational fears. By doing this exercise, you will be able to recognize that by addressing these fears instead of allowing them to overwhelm and paralyze you.

Photo Credit:  Cynthia Magana

Photo Credit: Cynthia Magana

Practice mindfulness.

I believe that this is one of the most powerful tools for combating anxiety!

Mindfulness is the act of being aware of what is currently going on.

Basically, it is being present.

Practicing mindfulness will keep your mind from wandering and entertaining thoughts that will cause fear and anxiety.

One way I do this is when I drive. Instead of allowing my thoughts to run wild, I will look at the colors of the cars, landmarks, etc.

Not only does mindfulness help you keep anxious thoughts away but it will also help you to enjoy life.

For example, in the scenario of driving, mindfulness will help you take in the scenery around you and instead of worrying about life, you appreciate it - the beauty of the flowers in the field, the blue sky, the green trees - there are so many things to enjoy about the world around us, regardless of what may going on in our personal lives.

I try to practice mindfulness anytime I am doing a "mindless" activity because these are the times my thoughts will get away from me most.

These are just a few of the skills I have learned over the years to help me cope with my anxiety. I am not a professional and, if you are dealing with severe or ongoing anxiety, I recommend that you make an appointment to see one. You are worth it!

Inez Bayardo - Writer - Speaker - fortheloveofmom.org

About the Author

Hi! My name is Inez and I am the mom behind For the Love of Mom, a website dedicated to inspiring women to pursue better in life & motherhood!