By Christina Winholt Raccuia
Last month, we explored the nature of anxiety, panic, and the symptoms associated with those conditions. In this segment, we look at techniques which can help to facilitate recovery.
Practice diaphragmatic breathing and relaxation skills. To practice, lie on your back, with one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Observe the movement of your two hands as you breathe regularly. Now try to focus your breathing in your belly so that hand moves while the one on your chest stays virtually still. Allow your breathing to be calm and rhythmic rather than hurried or forced. As you breathe in this manner, allow relaxation to flow into your muscles throughout your body. Once you have developed some skill with this method of breathing, try it in other positions, such as sitting or walking. Try it while you’re in a conversation with someone. Eventually, practice your abdominal breathing skills when you feel anxious.
Although such breathing skills usually help anxiety, the goal of such breathing is not to get rid of your symptoms. Such breathing activates the part of your nervous system that counteracts panic, may directly reduce any symptoms due to hyperventilation, gives you something to do rather than catastrophize or flee, and encourages calm acceptance of your anxiety. Tell yourself: “Breathe low and slow.” “Loosen and accept.” “Breathe and accept.” “I can practice breathing and accepting when I’m anxious.”
Practice and be patient. Remember that recovery lies in changing your relationship with your anxiety and panic symptoms rather than in making them go away. Oddly, you have to be entirely willing to have them before they can begin to subside. Consider your options for practice every day. Be committed to recovery, but don’t be rigid and perfectionistic. It’s okay not to be perfect. Give yourself credit for small successes—don’t diminish them with thoughts like “Yes, but I used to…” or “So what, anybody can…” There will be times when you feel you are no better—you may even fear that you are getting worse.
Remind yourself to be patient and not to be too harsh in your judgments at any given point in time. Strive for a sense of perspective about progress over time. Recovery is accomplished in thousands of small steps, one step at a time. Do not try to control things outside yourself that are beyond your control. Nothing in your future is prevented by worry. Tell yourself: “It took time to get this way. It will take time to recover.” “Each time I face the fear, I learn that I can see it through by accepting the anxiety.” “It’s okay to make mistakes. I’ll just try not to make the same mistakes repeatedly.” “I do not have to judge my progress by how bad I feel today.” “I can recover just as others before me have recovered.”
Christina Winholt Raccuia is a psychotherapist with offices at 23A West 10th Street.
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