An artistic take on an anxiety sufferer having a panic attack.

“Panic attack” by James Barkman. Creative Commons license.

At the worst of my anxiety, I did not want to leave the house. I would have a panic attack and rush back indoors. This would therefore have a knock-on effect the next time I wanted to go out. Remembering what had happened previously, I would become fearful of what might happen again. I would become overwhelmed and consumed with several “what-if” imaginary situations.  By doing this, I was creating my own private bubble of anxiety, allowing myself to become trapped and a prisoner in a vicious circle of fear and worry.

Over the years I have tried various methods to help me overcome my anxiety. I found Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to be the most successful for me.

There are lots of tools I learned through CBT which are helpful when you start to feel worried, fearful and anxious.  I still practice and implement this method in my daily life now. When I recognize bad habits returning, I can bring the tools of CBT into practice.

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Once you start to use what you have learned from CBT, you learn to recognize bad habits when they try to return. Keeping a mood diary can also help pinpoint anxiety triggers.

Here are five practices from CBT that have been very helpful for me:

1. Ground yourself and break the cycle.

You can very quickly end up fixating on something that will trigger your anxiety and affect your mood. It can be nerves about an interview, worrying about something you did or becoming wound up over something someone said to you. You can prevent this by learning to break the cycle.

Do not allow yourself to sit there stewing on something. The more you allow yourself to focus on it, the more agitated you will become. Get up, leave the room, leave the house and take yourself to a new place, a new environment. Put some distance between yourself and those negative thoughts. Focus your thinking on something else.

If you allow yourself to fixate on what is guaranteed to alter your mood, then your whole demeanor and perspective will change. This can then trigger your anxiety or launch a panic attack.

Grounding yourself is another way to bring yourself back to the moment and stop your thoughts racing. One thing I do is to ground myself is to focus on my five senses. I visualize different scenarios where I can see, hear, taste, smell and touch. For example, I might imagine myself to be at a fair, in a park or at the beach and think of five things in these environments: seeing the green grass, hearing the birds tweeting, tasting an ice cream, smelling the ocean air and touching the sand with my fingers. I repeat this exercise, alternating the locations and what I can focus on with my senses. I find this is a helpful way to bring myself back to the present. It stops that “stinking thinking” and it helps to calm me. This is a good way to stop the negative fixation.

2. Take deep breaths.

An anxiety attack can be terrifying, and your body will react to how you are feeling. The more you feel like you are panicking, the more your blood will pump faster and your breathing will increase. This will make you feel as though you are having a bigger attack, making you even more fearful. This can be a scary vicious circle. Take some deep breaths. Deep breathing is a good way to lower your heart rate and pulse and help to calm you down. This will help to return your body back to its natural state and stop the feeling of panic.

3. One thing at a time.

At the height of my anxiety and panic attacks, I would freak out about how I would get home if I was out of the house. My home was my sanctuary and I needed to return there as quickly as possible. Rather than focus on the overwhelming bigger picture of desperately needing to be indoors, I would do things in more manageable steps. For example, split your journey into stages. Focus on getting to something or somewhere else before you reach your destination. Focus on getting to the shop, then the post-box and then reward yourself by sitting on the wall for a few moments. Breaking the journey down into smaller stages makes the end goal not seem as overwhelming.

4. Think positively.

I was amazed how much easier things became when I faced them head on with a positive attitude rather than a negative one. Thinking positively really does change your whole outlook and demeanor. If you allow negative thoughts into your life, you will be surrounded by a black cloud. Nothing looks bright if you are constantly focusing on the negative.

There is always something to be grateful for. A gratitude list is another good way of grounding yourself. The things you can be grateful for can be small or big! Bring yourself back to the present by making a list of things you are grateful for.

When I struggled with my anxiety, it would take all my strength to leave the house. If I was faced with an angry, negative and miserable person, my anxiety would be worse and my confidence was affected. But if I was faced with positive and friendly people, I found it was easier to venture out into the world.

As an anxiety sufferer, being around positive, happy and bubbly people can have a big effect on my overall mood. I now distance myself from negativity because it is not something I want or need to be around. It is unhealthy for me and I cannot sacrifice my happiness or health.

5. Say no.

I can be merrily walking down the road, happy and content, when I have a moment of panic. Did I send that email to the correct colleague? Did I turn the oven off? Have I locked the door? If you allow these controlling thoughts to engulf you, you can easily convince yourself you have done something wrong.

The more you allow these thoughts to consume you, the bigger fear becomes. Say no to it! As soon as that little niggle or irritation of anxiety enters your thoughts, tell it to go away. Shut the door on it. It is not welcome. Do not allow it to grow.

You have the overall control — it is incredible how, at times, we can be the creator of our own anxiety. We just don’t always realize it. While we have the power to allow anxiety to take control, we also have the power to stop it in its tracks.

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