Panic and Anxiety Connection

At PAC our "Toolbox" is where we keep the helpful tips and techniques that help us along our journey with recovery. Below are lots of "tools" for your "toolbox"...

Angel Breathing by Peg Streeter-PAC Network Coordinator
Place your hands on the back of your head or neck. As you exhale, bring your elbows forward as far as you can. As you inhale, bring your elbows back behind your head as far as you can (like an angel flapping her wings). Feel the deep breath you take. When you do this you will be breathing correctly.

Tools our members have found useful to ease their panic, anxiety or depression:
Walking, yoga or exercise-Physical activity raises endorphins, reduces stress, and relieves muscle tension
Deep breathing and muscle relaxation techiniques

Studies recommend three 10 minute sessions throughout the day for relieving anxiety or depression

Favorite scented candles or lotions (Vanilla and Lavender are especially calming)

Calling or texting a friend or support person
Positive Affirmations written on Post-Its to put around your house or on index cards to take with you
Journaling- Write down your thoughts, when you're feeling better you can re-read
Gratitude-Everyday write down three things you are grateful for
Watching TV or a movie, especially comedies-Laughter is a big stress reliever
Reading a book
A relaxing cup of herbal tea (Camomile or mint are good for anxiety)
Computer games or puzzles
Meditation, spiritual reading or chanting
Take a long, hot bath or shower with your favorite scents

Put bird feeders out in summer and winter so you can watch the beauty of nature
A wide rubber band to snap on your wrist and keep you in the present
If you are in a car, roll down the window and feel the air blowing on your face
Talk to people-Ask for the time or strike up conversation on line or while waiting
Positive Self-Talk :Tell yourself panic is just a feeling & it might be uncomfortable but cannot hurt you
Counting backwards from 100 by ones or threes or playing the Alphabet game or counting red cars
If you start to feel anxious tell yourself "I Can Do It" Repeat!!
Get a pet if you want one. It's very relaxing to take a dog for a walk or have a cat cuddle in your lap
Relax in a hot tub or whirlpool
Make a plan-Then you don't have to worry about it for awhile
While indoors use better lighting and open curtains to brighten up those gloomy days
Have a health buddy, to walk with or eat healthy and share recipes
Practice and learn to say "no" when something is not right for you
Find a passion in life, a hobby or a sport to watch (favorite team)
Be as social as is comfortable. You will be surprised how much getting out and making new friends can be a big boost for creating a calmer life. Join a class at the library or the swimming pool at the Y.
Remember the 3 Ps-Do your Practicing regularly, Have Patience and Persistence

Many of us have found it very helpful to prepare a "toolbag" to take with us containing our favorite comfort items:
Cellphone, cold water bottle, an ice pack, a cold facecloth, a snack, gum, mints, sour or cinnamon candies, music, camera, book or magazine, small notebook and pen, puzzle books, essential oil or Vicks,a small portable TV or DVD player, a favorite stuffed animal, an item of significant meaning and an I CAN DO IT attitude.

Taking Baby Steps by Peg Streeter-PAC Network Coordinator

So many times we hear the advice that in order to achieve our goals with anxiety and panic we must take baby steps. Its such simple and easy advice that we often take it for granted that everyone understands what it is to work through our problems this way. But, as I watch my granddaughter Emily attempting her first few steps, I we really think about what baby steps are?

Emily began climbing and standing up on things in early July. Slowly, she progressed to a few halting steps holding on with both hands to the couch or end tables. By early August she had summoned the courage to let go and stand alone on wobbly legs. All that month she practiced every day and I watched as her legs became stronger and surer and she stood for longer lengths of time. By the end of the month, she could stand alone with confidence and even drink from her cup or play with a toy without losing her balance.

September came and though she was confident in standing alone, she still would not attempt a step. No amount of coaxing could convince her it was safe to lift her chubby feet from the floor though we could see she wanted so to run and play like the bigger kids.

Then this weekend, it finally happened, Emily raised her foot and slid it almost imperceptibly forward. Though she had no problem with balance when standing, just that slight movement caused her little legs to give out from under her and she promptly fell to the floor. Determined, she picked herself up and tried again and again she fell, continuing to try until she tired and cried. The next day she was up and practicing once more, this time taking her tentative step with more confidence and a great deal of determination. Still, having mastered the first step, she could not move the other foot that was planted safely on the ground.

With each try, Emily cheered for herself, clapping her hands and squealing with joy, even though she only managed to move one foot. Soon, she found she could move the same foot, but became frustrated because she could only go in a circle with her safe foot holding still. She tried twisting her upper body in order to go straight ahead, only to find herself back on the floor.

Yesterday, she moved her other foot forward and managed to not fall. Cheering herself again, she would regain her balance, but would not attempt another step. This morning, she managed four tentative steps forward and I am sure that will be her routine for the day.

It may be next week, or even the first of October before she feels confident enough to walk across the room. By December I am sure she will be toddling all around the Christmas Tree with delight.

As I watched her through this struggle for independence, I thought of our baby steps for anxiety. Emily proves a perfect guide for us.
1. She recognized her need to walk.
2. Before she attempted a step, she made sure she was balanced.
3. No amount of prodding or tempting made her rush herself into a step.
4. She cheered herself for each achievement.
5. When she fell, she accepted it as part of the learning process.
6. She practiced everyday with determination. If she fell down, she did not just crawl to what she wanted, but got back up and tried again.
7. She never lost sight of her goal.

By next summer, Emily will be running with joy, able to keep up with her brother and cousins. She will still tumble and fall from time to time, but she will be up and about mastering the other skills needed for life. Think about it…so could we!!!!

15 Styles of Distorted Thinking
From Thoughts and Feelings-The Art of Cognitive Stress Intervention by Matthew McKay & Martha Davis
Contributed by Misti

1. Filtering: You take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all the positive aspects of a situation.

2. Polarized Thinking: Things are black or white, good or bad. You have to be perfect or you're a failure. There is no middle ground.

3. Overgeneralization
You come to a general conclusion based on a single incident. If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen over and over again.

4. Mind Reading
 Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act they way they do.  In particular, you are able to divine how people feel toward you.

5. Catastrophizing
 You expect disaster. You notice or hear about a problem and start “what if’s”. What if tragedy strikes? What if it happens to you?

6. Personalization
 Thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you.  You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who’s smarter, better looking, etc.

7. Control fallacies:  If you feel externally controlled, you see yourself as helpless, a victim of fate. The fallacy of internal control has you responsible for the pain and happiness of everyone around you.

8. Fallacy of Fairness:  You feel resentful because you think you know what’s fair but other people won't agree with you.

9. Blaming:  You hold other people responsible for your pain, or take the other tack and blame yourself for every problem or reversal.

10. Shoulds:  You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act. People who break the rules anger you and you feel guilty if you violate the rules.

11. Emotional Reasoning:  You believe that what you feel must be true – automatically.  If you feel stupid and boring, then you must be stupid and boring.

12. Fallacy of Change:  You expect that other people will change to suit you if you just pressure or cajole them enough.  You need to change people because your hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them.

13. Global Labeling:  You generalize one or two qualities into a negative global judgment.

14. Being Right:
  You are continually on trial to prove that your opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and you will go to any length to demonstrate your rightness.

15. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy:
  You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were someone keeping score.  You feel bitter when the reward doesn't come.

Confronting Anxiety or Panic Attacks

1. Don't attempt to fight your way out of a panic/anxiety attack, this will simply increase the adrenaline. Instead accept the feelings will come and go and allow the symptoms to play their tricks as they will. Use relaxation breathing, and other relaxation methods. Eventually the panic/anxiety will subside.

2. Focus outside of yourself during an attack. Listen to some music or do a pleasurable task while waiting for the panic or anxiety to subside.
3. Learn a relaxation technique such as progressive muscle relaxation. First close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply. Locate any areas of tension and imagine them disappearing. Then, relax each part of the body, bit by bit, from the feet upwards. Think of warmth and heaviness. After 20 minutes of doing this, take some deep breaths and stretch.
4. Firmly tell yourself that your symptoms are nothing more than an over sensitized nervous system. They are temporary feelings and are not medically harmful or dangerous.
5. Make your toolbox with the things you use.  Just of few of the popular ones are bottle of water, cell phone, rubber bands (to snap on your wrist), CD's of your favorite songs and a camera.  There are many and each of us has different tools that work for us.
6. Use a word or phrase as a reply to the panic and anxiety such as "Stop" or "Enough" or "Calm Down" or "Just Breathe"...use them often enough that your body will respond to you or a safe person telling you and you will begin to relax whenever you hear or say it.
7. Counter or confront the thoughts and fears that are making your anxiety or panic worse with logic, reason and facts and a more positive attitude.
8. Over the long haul, Don't bottle up your emotions. Find someone to confide in, such as a family member, friend or counselor. Exercise regularly and watch your diet.
9. Look into cognitive behavior therapy or other "talk" therapy or see your doctor for a referral to a specialist.

10. Join a self-help group such as are not alone!

Stop Signs to Recovery

A subject that we rarely look at are the barriers we erect that prevent us from moving forward with recovery.  We want to believe that going to therapy, taking our medication and working with our support systems and groups is enough...but its not enough if we erect stop signs that mentally block us from moving down the road.

Lets look at some of the factors that stop us from moving forward in our recovery.

1.  Waiting for the "magic" to happen.  Either because we refuse to accept that we have an illness or refuse to accept that recovery requires real work and facing our emotions and fears...we wait for that "magic" to happen that will just take it all away.  Whether this is simply a spontaneous recovery, a "magic" pill or some other easy solution....the truth is, it does not exist.

2.  We are in our comfort zone.  Sounds silly doesn't it...but its true...we are used to the anxiety, panic and depression...its requires no risks.  It may be uncomfortable, but we have figured out it does not kill us and its safer to stay with what we know than to risk dealing with something else.

3.  We have become identified with our disorders.  We are "panic people" or "depressed people".  Its who we are and what we know.  To get better would mean we would have to redefine who and what we are...and maybe we would be no one without our disorders...just another person walking down the street.

4.  The walls.  Some of us are housebound and some of us are selfbound.  Holding on to our anxiety and panic, our anger, our resentments, our a protective wall against being vulnerable to hurt and pain.

5.  Recovery expectations.  If we get better, people will expect us to be able to do things we are not sure we can do, even though we are better.  What if the panic comes back, what if, even though I am better, I try to do something and it causes a setback.  Further more, I will expect more of myself and if I have a setback it will destroy me.

6.  The blame game.  As long as I can continue to "blame" others, chemical imbalances, my childhood, hormones...whatever...I do not have to push myself to get better because these are things I cannot change.  I can remain as I am because its not my "fault".

7.  No gain, no pain.  I might try to get better and fail.  Trying means having to face the panic, anxiety and depression feelings...that hurts too much.

8.  Someone else must "fix" me.  I am weak, I am sick, I am not able to help myself, so someone else will fix me, tell me what to do, take responsibility for me.

9.  Stubborn refusal.  I simply refuse to take responsibility for making my life better, I should not have to, its not my fault I am this way, people just need to accept me the way I am.

I hope you can look at yourself and see some of the "stop signs" you have placed on your recovery.  If not the ones I have discussed, possibly others.


Why Can't You Understand Me?  by Peg Streeter-PAC Network Coordinator

I think that without exception I have heard nearly everyone in our panic and anxiety support group say "no one who has not had this can understand". Though this is true, they cannot understand what it feels like, the fears, the anxiety of anticipating panic, the chronic worry about our health or about our very lives, this statement is true for many of life's afflictions. Certainly we cannot understand the depth of the pain and grief of losing a child have we not lost one. We cannot understand the dynamics of being told we have cancer if we have not yet faced that. Someone who has not had a child cannot understand the pain of childbirth. The list goes on an on. It is not a situation that is owned by people with panic and anxiety.

But, it’s not necessary to "understand" in order to "be understanding" and "supportive".  Certainly when we look at some of these other situations we can see this.  It is not necessary for us to have been through cancer in order to be loving, compassionate and supportive of a friend or loved one who is.  Is it necessary for us to have gone through a divorce in order to stand beside a friend that is?  I think most if not all of us will answer NO, its not.

But for some reason WE with panic and anxiety expect more of people. Perhaps its because its hard to explain what we feel, perhaps because when we try to explain it our words cannot truly convey the depth of the darkness we feel; they somehow fail us. Perhaps its because it even seems to US like something we should be able to just ignore and it will go away. Perhaps it’s because of the idea it’s considered a mental illness and shames us.

But here it is...we have a mental illness, an illness in our heads, whatever the cause, like one of our members put it...its certainly not in our toe. We have a RIGHT to expect support and understanding from our friends and loved ones, just as we would give them the same, and probably do, for their afflictions.

Part of the problem though is that along with our disorders, we also seem to have difficulty communicating our needs. Maybe part of this comes from our attempts to explain WHAT we are feeling instead of concentrating on WHAT we need. We often try to justify the need rather than simply asking for support. We come across as being ashamed of our weakness, almost as if we do not deserve support. We forget to take into context the limitations of our friends and loved ones.  Sometimes we expect them just to KNOW what we need.  Sometimes we expect too much and we ask for too little.

I am not blaming US because we do not get support, do not get me wrong. I am trying to explain that we are not always GOOD at asking for it. 

I cannot tell you how many times I have been suffering with anxiety, worry and even panic and yet when someone asked me how I was, I responded with an "I'm fine". I was ashamed to say "I am feeling a little panicked today," or "My anxieties are pretty high today". When I did finally get to the point where I could express what I was feeling, I left people without an explanation of how they could help, be it "Could you just sit here with me?" or "I really just need some alone time," or "Could you rub my neck and shoulders and help me get rid of some of this tension?" or "Could you help me with my breathing?” or "Would you just hold me a while?"

Even though a friend/loved one may have an attitude that we should just "buck up and deal with it", does not mean they are incapable of giving support if they know what we need, if we know what we want from them and are willing to accept what they are ABLE to give.

Here are some misconceptions that I have fought myself as well as heard others express:

1.  That our friends/loved ones have to understand what we are feeling in order to be supportive.

2.  We women have a great deal of difficulty understanding that our male friends/loved ones do not react to things as we do.  They often want something concrete to do for us, such as the back rub, or the holding.  Instead we do not communicate what we need and they are left feeling helpless and confused.

3.  We tend to accuse people of not understanding because they do not become experts on our disorders, the way we tend to do. And if they do learn about it, we often bristle at their suggestions for how we can help ourselves and even resent them, because, after all...they do not understand how we FEEL.

4.  We want support from our parents, we expect it, and yet we do not see that they may fear that we BLAME them for our problems. We also have difficulty understanding that they may BLAME themselves.  And its a given that sometimes there is blame involved, but it serves no purpose other than to recognize it. Knowing who or what to blame does not change the disorder. Often with our parents, if we cannot work through this blame situation with communication, we need to settle simply for what they are capable of giving, which is most likely to be advice we do not need, lol, and love we do need.

5.  We often seek to protect our children, not realizing that they are the most accepting of all our friends/loved ones. In doing this, we do them many disservices, we teach them that mental illness is something to be ashamed of, we teach them its okay to be dishonest, we leave them without the knowledge they may need to deal with their own anxieties, we cut them out of a part of our lives, we allow them to think that because we cannot do something its because we do not care rather than that we have a disorder (which would you rather have them think anyway), we make them feel they cannot be trusted with our disorder...and we underestimate what they often already have sensed.


7.  We tend to push people away with our negativeness. At times being around us can be like living with the devil.  Our loved ones feel like they must walk on egg shells in order not to either hurt us, irritate us, face our anger, or make our anxiety and panic worse. And face it, sometimes we allow them to think that.


8.  We do not always do the things we should do to help ourselves get better. We often tell people that our disease is no different from diabetes…and that is true, but imagine how you would feel if your loved one had diabetes, but continued to eat things they should not and refused to take their medicine.  I know how I would feel…like they did not care enough about themselves, me or our relationship to try to live a healthy life.

9.  We expect of others what we do not expect of ourselves. Others can be supportive, understanding and helpful...but in the long run, we will NOT recover until WE BECOME OUR BEST SUPPORT PERSON.

There are many more as well. We underestimate the ability of our co-workers and bosses to understand and be supportive. We assume we know the feelings of others or place feelings on them that are not there. We take away their right to choose whether or not to be supportive. The list goes on and on.

What is it we do want them to know then? What do we expect of our friends/loved ones? What do we NOT want of them? I can make a list for myself and maybe some of you can identify with it and even add to it.

1.  I want to be loved, accepted and respected for who I am and what I can do.

2.  I want to be treated like a whole person, because I AM A WHOLE PERSON. 

3.  I want real, sincere encouragement for the efforts I make.

4.  I want people to be proud they know me.

5.  I do NOT want others to NOT do things because I am not yet ready to do them.

6.  Sometimes I want someone to just listen and not try to solve my problems or offer advice. 

7.  I do not want to be "protected" from life, that does not help me, but I also do not want to feel pressured or guilted into trying things I am not ready for.

8.  Sometimes I need to hold someone's hand in order to take a baby step, when I need it I will ask.

9.  I need support for the method I choose to reach recovery.

10 Commandments to
Remember During a Panic or Anxiety Attack

1. It does not matter if you feel frightened, bewildered, unreal, unsteady. These feelings are nothing more than an exaggeration of the normal bodily reactions to stress.

2. Just because you have these sensations doesn’t mean you are very sick. These feelings are just unpleasant & frightening, not dangerous. Nothing worse will happen to you.

3. Let your feelings come. They’ve been in charge of you. You’ve been pumping them up & making them more acute. Stop pumping. Don’t run away from panic. When you feel the panic mount, take a deep breath & as you breathe out, let go. Keep trying. Stay there almost as íf you were floating in space. Don’t fight the feeling of panic. Accept it. You can do it.

4. Try to make yourself as comfortable as possible without escaping. If you’re on a street, lean against a post or stone wall. If you’re in the check-out line of the department store, find a quiet corner. If you’re in a shop, tell the salesperson you don’t feel well & need to sit for a while. Do not jump into your car & go home in fear.

5. Stop adding to your panic with frightening thoughts about what is happening & where it might lead. Don’t indulge in self-pity & think, “Why can’t I be like all the other normal people? Why do I have to go through all this?” Just accept what is happening to you. If you do this, what you fear most will not happen.

6. Think about what is really happening to your body at that moment. Do not think, “Something terrible is going to happen. I must get out.” Repeat to yourself, “I will not fall, faint, die or lose control.”

7. Now wait & give the fear time to pass. Do not run away. Others have found the strength. You will too. Notice that as you stop adding the frightening thoughts to your panic, the fear starts to fade away by itself.

8. This is your opportunity to practice. Think of is that way. Even if you feel isolated in space, one of these days you will not feel that way. Sometime soon you will be able to go through the panic & say “I did it.” Once you say this, you will have gone a long way toward conquering fear. Think about the progress you have already made. You are in control of the situation!

9. Try to distract yourself from what is going on inside you. Look at your surroundings. See the other people on the street, in the bus. They are with you, not against you.

10. When the panic subsides, let your body go loose, take a deep breath & go on with your day. Remember, each time you cope with a panic, you reduce your fear.
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