By Christina Winholt Raccuia
Anxiety is often driven by anticipation. Try not to indulge thoughts about what could happen. Allow your thoughts to focus on what you are doing now or where you are now. Stay out of the past and out of the future. If you “stay in the now,” your anxiety level will come down. If you are anticipating being upset, planning your escape, checking your watch, or thinking about past “failures,” your anxiety level will go up. Focus on your immediate surroundings to help you stay in the present, (e.g., colors, textures, the details of a conversation, etc.). Tell yourself: “Stay in the here-and-now.” “Keep your feet on the floor.” “Keep your mind where your body is.” “What am I doing now? What do I need to do now?” “I’ll deal with that when the time comes.”
Accept your “first feelings” of anxiety. Don’t try to fight off, control or ignore these initial feelings. You cannot make them go away and trying to do so will only worsen your anxiety. Rate your anxiety from 1 (none) to 10 (panic) and observe that it fluctuates. If you find yourself rushing, slow down. Tell yourself: “Accept—don’t fight.” “I can be anxious and still do this.” “I will accept this anxiety and continue doing what I must.” “It is okay to be anxious. It is okay not to feel in control.”
Accept panic when it happens. If you are having a panic attack, label it as such and remind yourself that it is self-limiting. That is, it will pass shortly on its own if you don’t add second fear. Don’t fight it and don’t try to make it go away. Try to bring on a panic attack or try to make your symptoms worse. This is the paradox: You can’t do either by willing it. Truly trying to do so is a move toward acceptance and will help the feeling pass. Try to make your symptoms worse: If your heart is beating fast, make it beat faster. If your legs are weak and shaky, make them feel weaker and shakier. If your hands are sweating, make them sweat more. Tell yourself: “If I’m going to have a panic attack, let’s go ahead and have it right here and now.” “It is an adrenalin surge. It will pass—just accept it.” “Even with panic, I can do what I need to do.” “What I resist persists.”
Strive not to escape or avoid. To do so only reinforces the idea that there is something genuinely dangerous about your feelings. Always stop and consider your options, rather than making decisions based only on how you feel. Remember that it is not the place, but rather your catastrophic thought that makes you anxious. Each time you face your fears and accept your feelings is a step forward. Each time you escape or avoid them is one less opportunity to take a step forward. If something you are avoiding seems too big, try to break it up into steps you can accomplish. Remember that your recovery lies in the places, situations, and anxious feelings you have fearfully avoided. Tell yourself: “It’s not the place, it’s the thought.” “I can be here (or do this) even with panic.” “I will not run or avoid—that only causes more problems.” “Face the fear and the fear will disappear.” Stay tuned for Part Two!
Christina Winholt Raccuia is a psychotherapist with offices at 23A West 10th Street.
Readers—We want you to “Ask Christina” about life, love, self-care, and parenting issues for her new advice column. To submit, email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.