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10 Step Mental Exercise that Will Reduce Panic

Posted Oct 02 2008 6:17pm

When you feel a panic attack coming on, usually everything escalates very quickly. With or without noticing it, your mind begins to race and quickly the negative thoughts overwhelm you furthering the panic. Negative thoughts usually start off with “What if…” “I should be able to ….” “I have to…” or other critical comments like “I’m so weak” or victimization “Its hopeless, why bother”. These thoughts are called Negative Self Talk.

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne lists a quick explanation of what Self Talk is and how it works:

  • "It is so automatic and subtle you don't notice it or the effect it has on your moods and feelings.

  • It appears in telegraphic form- one short word or image ("Oh no!) contains a whole series of thoughts, memories, or associations.

  • Anxious self-talk is typically irrational but almost always sounds like the truth.

  • Negative self-talk perpetuates avoidance.

  • Self-talk can initiate or aggravate a panic attack.

  • Negative self-talk is a series of negative bad habits. (You have to reprogram your brain to say helpful uplifting confident talk to remove the negative thoughts)"

Recognizing that you are doing this is a huge step towards learning to manage your anxiety. The next huge step is successfully slowing your thoughts down, analyzing them, and then reprogramming your mind to think differently. This will greatly reduce the amount and size of panic attacks you have. It helps me stop panic attacks dead in their tracks probably about 80% of the time.

So here is the exercise:

I have many posts where I outline this exercise for myself to help me cope with whatever panic attack I may be having at that time. It is extremely helpful for me to go back and read them when the same situation appears again in the future. I encourage you to read a couple to get some ideas or more details on how to fill this out.

  1. When you feel panic coming on, take some deep breaths.
  2. Ask yourself, “ What am I telling myself to make me feel this way?
  3. Write out any automatic thoughts (fears, concerns) that are making you feel panic.
  4. Then write out or ask yourself, “ What if the worst case scenario happened? What would I do?”
  5. Then write out a rational response or game plan as to what you could do if the worst did happen.
  6. Then take each of your fears or concerns you wrote out and challenge their truthfulness. Try replacing that thought with a positive counter statements and/or positive affirmations:
    1. Ex: WORRY- “What if people around me see my anxiety and judge me?”
    2. POSITIVE COUNTERSTATEMENT - “I am willing to go forward with my life and try to better myself regardless of what others think.”
    3. POSTIVE AFFIRMATION - “I respect and believe in myself apart from other's opinions.”
  7. Repeat those affirmations or counterstatements over and over while taking deep breaths.

  8. If you find yourself not believing them, realize that these can also be considered goals. Place “I am learning” in front of them. Ex: “I am learning to respect and believe in myself apart from others opinions.”
  9. If your mind is still racing, choose one that you are working on and write it out ten times on paper (printing not cursive) so that you can really concentrate on the words.
  10. By this time you should be feeling calmer, or at least the symptoms aren’t as severe as they were. You can then follow up any more anxiety with medication as needed, or by temporarily leaving the situation if possible and then returning when you feel better.

Following these steps takes practice and patience. But it’s worth it. There are many websites that have lists of positive affirmations. Here are a few:

At one point I even taped them around my house so that I could see them often. At work I have little symbols or stickers that have hidden meaning behind them to help remind me of them. This exercise has probably been the most effective thing I have introduced in my life to help me manage panic attacks. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes it all happens so fast that its too late when I try to slow things down, but if you start doing this the moment you feel a twinge of anxiety, then it will help you keep it at just that level of intensity.

Edmund J. Bourne further says, “Cultivating the habit of countering [negative self talk] is one of the most significant steps you can take in dealing with all kinds of anxiety as well as panic attacks.”

There is so much more you can learn about the art of countering your negative self talk. I encourage everyone to find some that can help you in your life and remember them when the panic comes.

I would love to hear if anyone else has used this type of exercise and whether it helped them or not.

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