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I had my first anxiety attack in my late teens. Although I didn’t know at the time what it was. I was sitting on one of those red double decker buses in London, thinking of goodness knows what, when my head began to shake.
It was weird. A sort of little head shake from side to side.
To make matters worse my heart was pounding in my chest like a sledgehammer. And as suddenly as it started, it stopped and I forgot all about it, until the next time.
The next time came fairly soon after the double decker bus incident.
I was interviewing for something…not too sure today what it was because all of this was a long time ago.
Everything was going well. I had been offered a cup of tea whilst we spoke and then it happened.
I was putting the cup up to my lips to take a sip of tea and my head started to shake and hard as I tried I couldn’t keep it still enough to get the cup to my lips.
So I did the next best thing and put the cup down, hoping it wouldn’t look too odd. There was no heart pounding this time, just the shaking head thing.
I know it doesn’t count as an all out crumbling to the floor, crying inconsolably and feeling disoriented anxiety or panic attack. But it was scary. Not knowing what it was felt scary. Maybe I had a brain tumor…or some strange illness I’d never heard of.
Maybe we should start here to help you or others who are experiencing anxiety.
Understand if there’s a difference between a panic attack and anxiety
According to Healthline panic attacks are sudden affairs, coming on without a moments notice. Check. That was me.
They tend to be accompanied by fear (not sure if I can relate to that one) shortness of breath (nope) racing heartbeat (yep).
As for anxiety attacks – typically they’re related to perceived threats or stressful situations. They tend not to happen out of the blue like panic attacks.
But guess what? To make matters worse we can experience both at the same time! And I think that was what happened to me.
Although my memory is a little dim here I believe I was in a pretty constant state of anxiety at that time. My life was changing so fast and I felt that I couldn’t keep up with it. I was certainly stressed out and if my memory serves me well, I do believe I worried a lot, about everything, back then.
So whether it’s panic or anxiety or both I’ve learned some things over the years that I hope you can use to help yourself or others.
Hit the reset button
We can reset our focus.
As I wrote in The Power of Consciousness:
Basically, we’re either reacting to life or we’re choosing how to act. It’s only as we change our mind by determining what we will consciously accept or believe that we can and do change the events and conditions we encounter in our world.
Our emotions can easily take charge because we think they’re us. They’re not, but our default setting is to simply accept them as being the truth of who we are. And so it’s important to be able to acknowledge feelings, and then let them go unless of course they feel good.
Panic mode can still strike me when something major goes wrong in my life, though this has happened less and less over the years. But these days because I’ve learned to pay attention to the flow of thoughts and feelings within and become more practiced at letting go of those that don’t help, it makes it easier to hit the reset button.
Shift your focus
It turns out the socially anxious among us are more likely to remember negative information than those who don’t experience such anxiousness.
It appears that anxious people focus too much on the bad and when trained to focus on the more positive aspects of life they experienced improvements in their life..
This makes perfect sense to me. I know that whatever we focus on is the energy we are occupying. And as we train our minds to focus on thoughts and feelings that feel good, they are transformed into our life experience.
And if this feels too challenging. Here’s a simple trick to help. Each night before you go to bed write down three things that were good in your life today. Doesn’t need to be earthshaking stuff. “I enjoyed that ice cream” will do just fine.
Switch up your story
We’re all telling ourselves stories about who we are and what our place in life is. Maybe it’s time to change your story to one of heroism. Your heroism.
If you’ve been dealing with anxiety for a long time and still managing to put one foot in front of the other. You’re a hero. Believe me, I know how hard that is.
Author and Harvard Researcher Shawn Achor taught people to change their story and view stress as a challenge. He worked with a group of bankers, some of whom were feeling stressed and burned out, and others who were happy and managing anxiety better.
What was the difference in these groups? The latter had different stories to tell themselves. Their stories were that problems weren’t threats but were challenges to be dealt with.
And we watched those groups of people over the next three to six weeks, and what we found was if we could move people to view stress as enhancing, a challenge instead of as a threat, we saw a 23% drop in their stress-related symptoms. It produced a significant increase not only in levels of happiness, but a dramatic improvement in their levels of engagement at work as well.
If you constantly listen to an inner story that says …. this is too hard, I can’t cope then you’re operating in the vibrational energy of lack. Change your story to one that you want to be true. Even if it doesn’t seem to be true right now.
Why does this work? Because as you change your story, your feelings change. As you change your feelings the pattern of your life experience changes.
Feelings create the patterns of your life.
Loving someone who experiences anxiety
Sticking by someone who has anxiety isn’t the easiest thing in the world. It’s hard on them and on you. So here’s a couple of pointers.
Don’t define your loved one simply by their feelings of anxiousness. They are much more.
Don’t be dismissive of the things that make them anxious. And pointing out that they’re being irrational doesn’t help one bit.
Do remember that loving compassion always works. Remind them that they are awesome. That was why you loved them in the beginning, right? And if you feel that they are awesome, so can they. It’s a win/win.
To sum up
Understand the difference between a panic attack and anxiety: You can better help yourself or others.
Hit the reset button: Follow the ‘change your mind change your life’ philosophy.
Shift your focus: Before bed write down 3 things that were good in your day. It helps you to remember the positive.
Switch up your story: Time to be your own hero/heroine. Tell yourself a new story about who you are.
Loving someone with anxiety: See your love with eyes of compassion. And remind them they are still awesome
With all this said I’m no doctor, so if you have serious problems please do see a professional.
Encourage one another.