Interventions to Manage Anxiety, Part 2: What We Need to Get Started

When putting together our interventions to manage anxiety, we need two pieces of information unique to us individually to build our coping toolkit. 

Let’s start by breaking down a panic attack.  (Not everyone experiences panic attacks, but there are general principles that apply to generalized anxiety and phobias as well.)   Last article we discussed looking at anxiety as a symptom of a deeper root problem, but today let’s focus on the two things we need to begin to build our toolbox!

Think thermometer.  At the base of the thermometer, levels 1, 2 3, we can have some mild symptoms.  Things like sweaty palms, tension in our neck and shoulders or different areas of our body, and our stomach begins to flutter. 

The temperature can increase, levels 4, 5, 6, and we can begin to experience difficulty breathing, pressure in the chest, getting hot or cold and nausea. 

As we climb to the higher levels, 7, 8, 9, 10, it can feel like someone is sitting on our chest, our heart is racing, we can’t breathe or swallow, maybe even feels like we are choking.  Sometimes it even feels like we are going to die.

First, we need to know our unique scale.  Draw out your own thermometer with your symptoms from start to finish.  It may take some time and thought but figure out what your very first signal is.  One of our goals in treatment is for you to have some coping strategies in place that are uniquely addressing your symptoms.  In order to be able to do that, you will need to know the what, when and how of each symptom to target.

Second, we need to refocus the goal.  Typically, there is something stressful that triggers a panic attack.  Like getting lost, having an argument, hearing a loud noise, etc. 

The knee-jerk reaction is to focus on logically stopping the symptoms to calm us down.  Thoughts like “Calm down.” “Stop it.”  “I don’t have time for this.”  Unfortunately, this doesn’t work but instead increases our stress level and our panic attack symptoms. 

Instead, the very first goal in a panic attack is to refocus from the logical to the physiological.  Put all of the logical arguments on the shelf.  We need to be objective and calm before we can adequately problem-solve. 

When our first signal of anxiety shows up, we need to:

  • Acknowledge what’s happening.  Something like “my body is ramping up.”
  • Implement our new goal: calming.  A full thought could look like “my body is ramping up and my goal is to focus on calming and relaxing.”

At this point, we are no longer fighting the anxious energy (and exacerbating it), but embracing and moving with it.  Knowing your scale and refocusing your goal are the two things you need first before you are ready to implement a coping strategy tool kit. 

Stay Tuned for Interventions to Manage Anxiety Part 3: Using Your 5 Senses to Calm

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