When you wake up with a chest full of anxiety, it does not bode well for what the rest of the day will bring. But there are a multitude of ways to help relieve your anxiety and maybe even put it away for good. Many of these techniques were developed at the UCLA Pain Control Center and published by its founder, Dr. David Bresler, whom I was fortunate enough to be mentored and trained by.
1. If you wake up with a panic attack or anxiety, get out of bed. This may seem counterintuitive, but if you’re lying there trying progressive body relaxation or another mental exercise to relax, it probably won’t work well. A better way to break the cycle of negative thinking is to get up and take a quick shower.
2. If you find that negative thoughts keep returning, you need to engage in positive self-talk. This is exactly what the title suggests: start saying positive things to yourself like “This can’t hurt me” or “I have more control here than I have been using,” and, my favorite, “I’m okay.” (Repeat the last one many, many times.)
3. Learn to recognize the symptoms of a panic attack. A panic attack is not an indicator that something scary is actually going on, but in the moment our body-mind needs a little time to process the feelings to realize that these feelings aren’t facts. Once you become aware that “This is a panic attack,” you will be able to regain control.
4. If the focus of your panic attacks is your own body or health, get a health checkup to rule out any real issues. It’s good to get a regular checkup once a year, and knowing that you’ve gotten a clean bill of health is important to remember when you find yourself panicking.
5. If the focus of your panic or fear is someone else, you may need to work with a therapist to make this fear a reality-based issue rather than one directed by fantasy. The world works in reality, not in your head, and you may be having difficulty seeing the difference between a real threat or a perceived one.
6. Remember lesson 1 from “A Course in Miracles”: We’re usually not upset for the reasons we think. Your fear is a combination of what has happened to you and what you fear could happen. If you keep your thoughts directed to a positive outcome, you will find an answer and a comfortable place to discharge the negative energy.
When it comes to panic attacks, being totally aware would be very helpful, but awareness usually comes in little drops, not big cloud bursts. The good news is that you can be in the middle of a panic or anxiety attack, or just worried to pieces, and the next second become fully aware that whatever you are worried about can’t really hurt you.
Anxiety can make even the best of lives unlivable. Medication can be very helpful. If you struggle with anxiety, I strongly urge you to see a licensed mental health counselor and a medical doctor. If you work together, you can get control over your anxiety and panic.
Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., is an award-winning therapist and humanitarian. He is also a columnist, the author of seven books, and a blogger for PsychologyToday.com with nearly 27 million readers. He practices in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles and is available for video sessions. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Sundays and Tuesdays in the News-Press.