I convinced myself that if something happened to me mid-walk, she might run to a nearby house and start barking. Gradually, I felt more comfortable walking longer distances with her and then worked back up to my normal exercise routine. I had to re-train my brain to learn that the physical signs of increased heart rate and breathing didn’t necessarily mean something bad was about to happen.
2. Re-Train Your Brain.
I now teach and train people how to be more resilient to stress, and part of that training involves building mental toughness and thinking differently about stress and the stress response. In addition to physical exercise, cognitive exercises can help you regain control over your thinking, and that will help you have healthier reactions to stress. These mental exercises have been an invaluable part of my own recovery.
3. Focused Breathing.
If you experience anxiety, you may report issues with your breathing, ranging from shallow breathing to literally feeling like you’re suffocating. Being able to have control over your breath is one of the most power techniques you can use when you’re anxious or panicked.
Two of the most popular methods are “4-7-8 breathing” first described by Dr. Andrew Weil, and the 4×4 method (the Army soldiers I taught call it “tactical breathing”). If you try 4-7-8 breathing, simply inhale for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight.
If you try the 4×4 method, inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds and hold your breath for four seconds.
Recent studies evaluating breathing practices and soldiers showed that the soldiers who immersed themselves in specific breathing techniques saw dramatically lower levels of acute anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
You don’t need to be a soldier to take advantage of the benefits of breathing. One study showed that a single 15-minute block of deep breathing dramatically lowered stress hormones. These techniques are most effective when you practice them when you’re NOT under stress. That way, you’ll be able to recall them easily when anxiety strikes.
Lastly, don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider for additional remedies, like medication or to learn about support groups. I am happy to report that my panic attacks are largely a thing of my past. I have learned a lot about my “wiring,” though, and know that I need to maintain the practices I outline above to most effectively manage my anxiety. I would love to hear from you – what strategies do you use?
Written by: Paula Davis, J.D., M.A.P.P Download her ebook Beating Burnout at Work: Why Teams Hold the Secret to Well-Being & Resilience. Originally appeared on Psychology Today Republished with permission.