Hijacked by Panic? Tips for Overcoming Overwhelm

black and white image of woman's face surrounded by wordsDo you know panic?

Sometimes it comes in hot and harsh, takes over, knocks you back with fear or upset, and spooks you for a long time afterward.

Sometimes it rises slowly, overwhelming you with the thought that when you do let your guard down, disaster will strike and you will be unprepared.

Anxiety counseling experts and The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describe panic as “the fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger.”

And living with an ongoing feeling like that can seriously hinder your physiological, psychological, and emotional health.

Are you experiencing the following signs of panic?

• an inability to focus or concentrate
• difficulty resting or relaxing
• feeling perpetually unprepared
• distractibility
• irritability and annoyance
• feeling a strong urge to cry
• emotional numbness
• an inability to calm down
• an urge to get away or escape

Unaddressed, panic can also lead to ineffective or harmful coping methods, such as substance abuse, emotional eating, or withdrawal. A sense of hopelessness may result as well, leading to depression over the situation, compromised mental well-being, and reduced quality of life. Especially if you spend a lot of time simply trying to avoid panic causing situations.

Do you wonder when the next bout of panic will strike?

When panic becomes a fixture in your life it hijacks your happiness, sense of social competency, and security. The fear-filled assault on your mind and senses will not let you ignore it easily.

Furthermore, when you are constantly bracing for disaster, you live with extreme tension, make unhealthy choices, and may seek comfort in counterproductive ways. Panic and fear of panic attacks can become the focus and is reflected in the way you treat your body, how you think, and the way you interact with others.

Fortunately, you needn’t live at the mercy of always being fearful of panic. You can overcome by learning to be more self-aware, utilizing practical coping tools, and seeking help and support from loved ones and qualified anxiety counseling.

Try these tips for relieving pervasive panic

Pay attention to your body and identify what you’re feeling.

Do you experience some of these common physical responses to panic?

• Heart palpitations: Is your heart racing or beating unusually hard, rapidly, or irregularly?

• Hot flashes or chills: Does warmth or cold spread over your body, causing you to alternately sweat or shiver?

• Hyperventilation/Shortness of breath: Do you feel like you are out of breath, choking, or smothering?

• Lightheadedness: Are you disoriented, feeling faint or experiencing dizziness? Do you feel that the room tilts or spins at the height of your panic?

• Shaking: Is your body flooded with adrenaline, sometimes trembling uncontrollably with nervous energy?

Chest tightness or discomfort: The squeezing or aching in your chest that may increase as the attack builds. This feeling is often confused with a heart attack.

Nausea or abdominal discomfort: Do you feel churning, cramping, or nauseated sensations in your gut?

• Numbness: Is there a loss of physical feeling or a tingling sensation in various parts of your body?

Practice calming techniques to quell your tension and restore order to your body:

• Breathe. Try calming techniques that help you breathe through stress, rather than simply brace for it or hide from it. Learn several deep breathing exercises and employ them daily to help soothe, reduce tension, and clear your head. The intention here is to learn a new habit by practicing with regularity.

• Get outside. Take nature breaks. Walk to a window if you aren’t able to leave the room. Interrupt your panic symptoms by focusing on fresh air, the sights and sounds of the greater world for a bit of perspective that can help slow your bodily responses and keep you more present.

• Exercise. Move your body to help clear out the overdose of stress hormones your panic response creates inside your body. Shoot for at least for 30 minutes of activity per day. This supports a healthy dose of feel-good brain chemicals and endorphins to make anxiety more manageable.

Pay attention to your thoughts and identify your mental reactions.

Are you experiencing some of these common mental responses to panic?

• Depersonalization: Do you feel detached from your surroundings, as if you are experiencing a dream?

• Fear of losing complete control, dying, or “going crazy”: Are you desperately afraid or nervous something life-threatening, humiliating or unbearable is imminent?

• Emotional Numbness: Do you experience periods of persistent emotional numbness, feeling little interest or joy in your life?

Be mindful of unproductive thought patterns. Practice facing your fears.

Be intentional. Make an action plan. Choose to take back control.

Prioritize and practice being present. Don’t live and think too far from today. Focus on the moment, use your senses to round yourself when panic tries to pull you into “what ifs” and upset.

Resist the urge to overreact, catastrophize. It’s appropriate to be anxious about truly imminent danger. It’s unproductive to barricade yourself against a calamity that maybe, possibly, or could happen.

Avoid exaggerating the impact of your choices. Mistakes and misjudgment happen. Anxiety can convince you that every decision is life or death, stealing the fun and excitement of new experiences.

• Listen to your self-talk. Don’t shame, blame, or belittle yourself for feeling panicked. It just makes matters worse. Show yourself compassion and rein in your inner critic.

• Celebrate perseverance. When you cope rather than avoid, give yourself credit.

• Allow for the fact that anxiety has a purpose. It’s okay to be afraid sometimes. Wrestling with unpredictability, uncertainty, and feeling unprepared is part of life. When those feelings overwhelm your life, it’s time to seek help.

Don’t let yourself be hijacked or attacked by panic!

If you recognize that panic is interrupting your quality of life, consider reaching out to a qualified therapist. Panic attacks are treatable and anxiety is manageable. With help, you can overcome overwhelm.

If you feel stuck in a cycle of panic and anxiety, let me help. Click here for more information on anxiety counseling.

About the Author

Dr. Stan Hyman is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach in private practice in Miami, Florida. He works with people struggling with powerful issues such as panic, anxiety, stress, depression, addictions, anger and work-life balance.

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