When you find yourself sinking in anxiety and panic, you need help RIGHT NOW.
Hey Friend, I get it!
Here are 13 ways you can cope with panic and anxiety in the moment. Like a life-preserver tossed to you when you’re drowning in deep water, these ideas can be just the thing to bring you to the surface and safely to shore again.
I’ve made a printable cheat sheet of these ideas to have on hand in case of emergency. Grab it below!
Also check out the BONUS video and FREE resources below to help you live life more abundantly.
Are you an anxiety warrior – sometimes fighting for your life against the anxiety and panic that land on you? Sometimes you come out on top using mindfulness skills and abilities you’ve learned and practiced. Sometimes you’re just too tired and can’t fight anymore. You just can’t seem to get in front of the physical and emotional symptoms that you feel. They’re coming too fast to keep up and you find yourself swallowed up in the anxiety and panic.
That was me last night.
At 5:30 in the morning yesterday my daughter threw up and started what became a day of stomach flu sickness at our house. Ugh.
If you’ve read my articles here on catastrophic thinking you know that the throw up flu is my biggest trigger for panic and anxiety. It stems from times in my past being alone while having the stomach flu and having to be hospitalized for dehydration as well as postpartum anxiety that later become associated with nausea during panic attacks. I’ve got some pretty entrenched neuropathways around throwing up, anxiety, and panic attacks.
But I’ve learned some mindful practices that have helped me get ahead of the panic and anxiety, to master my thoughts and emotions before they spiral into despair. I’ve even learned how to not get all wrapped up emotionally even when my body is shaking, my heart is racing, and I feel nauseated during anxiety and panic.
BUT sometimes I’m too tired to fight.
I’m too spent to be able to get in front of it and I’m stuck in full blown anxiety and panic attack feeling like there’s no way out.
That’s where I was last night.
After a full day of caring for my sick daughter: cleaning out her throw-up bowl, holding her hair back during the heaving, and warming hot packs for the cramps and aching, I was exhausted emotionally. The entire day I really was fine – which was a huge improvement from years past when I would have been frozen with panic. But, as the night started coming on I began shaking, my heart seized and a heaviness like an elephant sitting on my chest wouldn’t go away. I started feeling nauseated and my ears were ringing.
My body went into full blown panic mode and for the first time that day my emotions and thoughts went right with it like the tide of a tsunami.
I couldn’t hold back the relentless waves of irrational thoughts of sickness and dying and despair and overwhelm and doom.
What do you do, my friend, when you’ve lost the battle? And you need relief so desperately you want to scream and tantrum and run to find anyone that can help you?
In that moment, like a trusted friend and confidant, the Spirit whispered one last rally cry to my heart:
There isn’t anyone else that can help you, but you can help yourself.
The sobering but empowering truth is that there isn’t anyone or anything outside yourself that can bring relief to you from your own thoughts and fears but you. But there are things you can do to find relief, even when the battle feels lost and you’re suffering through an attack.
Here are some ideas that really help me cope with irrational anxiety and panic attacks. I hope some of these ideas can help you too if you find yourself where I was.
The problem is that when you’re being swallowed up in anxiety and panic it’s hard to remember these ideas. I’ve created a printable cheat sheet you can have on hand in case of emergency. Print it up and keep a copy in your purse or by your bed. You can grab it below.
Reach out and connect with other trusted friends and family that can listen to your fears, ground you again in truth, and help you know you’re not alone. I did this last night. My husband was out of town so I felt especially alone, but we talked on the phone and it was a relief to just let the fears spill out and to not hold them in. Somehow saying them out loud helped me see how irrational they were and to reconnect with truth. I also reached out to my good friend Lisa who gave me a list of things that help her with hopes something might help me. Some of those things are on this list: thanks Lisa!
Prayer. God is the ultimate trusted loved-one who can calm our troubled heart and give us courage in the storm. Go to him in prayer. Ask for his help. Invite his calming grace. I remember years ago when the panic was so paralyzing and debilitating that all I could do was say the name of Jesus Christ – I couldn’t even form the words of prayer I was so frozen with fear – but just that name, that holy name, was enough to sustain me through the worst times.
Get out and MOVE. Go for a brisk walk, climb a flight of stairs, or do some yoga sequences. Here and here and here are some yoga options you can try. While you’re moving pay close attention to how your body feels as it’s exerting. What do your muscles feel like? Listen to the rhythm of your breathing. While walking, what do you see, hear, and feel outside? Allow yourself to be distracted from your fears by the beauty of the sunset, the burning in your legs up that flight of stairs, or the concentration it takes to hold that yoga pose.
Go on a mental 5 Senses Treasure Hunt: What can you see? Smell? Hear? Taste? Feel? This takes you out of your brain and into your body quickly and you can do it anywhere. It can simply be a mental game of noticing your senses in your surroundings, or you can actually create opportunities for new sensations to distract you and bring you some joy. It looks like this:
5 – Search for and tell yourself five things you can see. Look all around you and notice the sky, the rocks on the ground, the color of the buildings near you.
4 – Touch four different things or describe to yourself 4 things that you feel on your skin or inside your body. You could hold an ice cube in your hand, pet a cat or dog, or play with playdough.
3 – Listen carefully and explain 3 things you can hear.
2 – Find 2 things you can smell just in your surroundings or create opportunities to smell 2 things such as a cut up grapefruit or toothpaste.
1 – What is one thing you can taste? Lick a lollipop, chew some gum, or eat a favorite treat.
Other ways to treat your senses: put on some yummy-smelling lotion, listen to music, or sit in a hot tub and focus on how the jets feel pulsing on your muscles.
Try the 5 Second Rule as explained by Mel Robbins. She expertly describes how to change your mindset to overcome anxiety and panic. She describes worry as a habit we default to when not paying attention. Anxiety happens when worry spirals out of control and physical symptoms of fear start showing up in our bodies: racing heart, dry mouth, upset stomach. The idea is to count down 5-4-3-2-1 when you start feeling anxious. By counting down you interrupt the mental pathways by shifting to your logical brain long enough to then reframe how you are viewing the circumstance. An anchor thought will help you perceive the physical symptoms you’re feeling as excitement rather than fear. Here and here and here are a few places you can learn from her.
Flex and relax muscle groups in turn. Start with your toes and feet: flex, curl them tight, then relax, feeling the release of the tension. Then flex the muscles in your legs, feeling tight and strong, then let them relax, noticing the let down. Do this with your core muscles, shoulders, arms, hands, face. Each time you relax your muscles experience how it feels as your muscles transition from tight to calm. This is a great guided audio to take you through this process.
Change your environment: change your clothes, change the lighting, diffuse an essential oil, turn on calming music. One of my favorite ways to change my environment when I’m feeling anxious is to tidy up. I go into cleaning mode and it helps distract me and brings a calming order to my surroundings.
Breathe in for 3 seconds. Hold for 3 seconds. Then breathe out for 3 seconds. Repeat many times. You can do this simple exercise anywhere and anytime. Don’t let the simplicity of this fool you into thinking, “yeah, yeah, breathe.” This simple breathing exercise stimulates your vagus nerve “which can reduce stress, anxiety, anger, and inflammation by activating the relaxation response of your parasympathetic nervous system.” It’s your lever for lowering your stress responses associated with fight-or-flight. 1
Distract & Nurture
Distract and nurture yourself however you need. Do something you love that you always wish you had more time to do. Instead of wasting the time in worry, take the time to do something you love. For example, we are in the middle of building a home. When I talked to my husband last night he told me, “You’ve worked hard all day. Now do something that makes you happy, like looking at the house plans and dreaming about it.” He was right on. That did feel like something I could pry my mind off of panic for and find diversion and peace in. I once knew a friend who found diversion from anxiety in photography, stepping outside to photograph the flowers, leaves, or anything else that caught his eye. Maybe it’s a good book, an engaging movie, or painting. One of my favorite ways to nurture myself is a hot salt bath and a good book.
Find something to laugh about: watch funny videos of babies laughing (here’s a great one) or funny animal videos on your phone, or from youtube (these are two of my favorite here and here). Even better yet, watch those videos with your family or a friend and laugh together. Laughter is such great medicine!
Write how you’re feeling in a journal. Get all the irrational fears out, complain about the miserable symptoms you’re experiencing. Once it’s all in front of you you can evaluate it with a logical mind and with compassion. You can assure yourself that you’re NOT going to die even though it feels like you will. Then you can show yourself love and compassion by telling yourself that it’s OK, you’re going to be all right, and you’re going to make it through. Remind yourself how strong, courageous, and good you are. That you are working through something hard and even though you’re struggling, it doesn’t mean you’ll always struggle. You’ll come out on top and you’re making progress.
Pick up colored pencils, crayons, or markers and distract yourself with the mesmerizing rhythm of coloring. There are lots of adult coloring books to be found at bookstores, craft stores, or online. You can also find free ones you can print off here or here. Coloring can help reduce your stress, anxiety, and help you feel more calm. 2
If all else fails, put yourself to sleep. Years ago when my panic was really intense, I learned to just fall asleep as a coping mechanism. I remember evenings when our young family was gathered around with my husband reading aloud to us. I could feel the anxiety start creeping in because I was tired and it was the end of a stressful day. Before the panic could rise I just put myself to sleep there in my chair or with my head against my husband’s shoulder. After a little nap my brain was reset and the spiral into despair stopped. I then could join my family again with joy. My family often laughed and joked about how tired mom was. They didn’t realize I was using my super power.
Hey Friend, if you feel like you’re being pulled out with the tide of anxiety and panic, be at peace and know you have tools right here at your fingertips that can help rescue you in your moment of emergency.
Bookmark this page or copy the link to bring you back here in a hurry the next time you feel overwhelming panic and anxiety swallowing you up. You’re going to be OK. We always are after an attack. And the better we get at using these coping mechanisms the more confident we’ll feel.
We don’t have to fear. We’re prepared.
Remember, copy this link and keep it in an easily accessible place on your phone and print up the cheat sheet in case of emergency below.
Grab your FREE printable Help for Panic & Anxiety cheat sheet here!
I created this cheat sheet as a quick reference for you when you’re stuck in anxiety and panic. Print it up and keep a copy in your purse, by your bed, or on your fridge to help you in an emergency. You’ve got this! It’s all going to be OK and this little cheat sheet will help you through.
This Help for Panic & Anxiety cheat sheet is my gift to you when you subscribe to receive inspirational notes from me in your inbox (don’t worry! I’ll only send great stuff and never send spam!). When you sign up you’ll have access to my private Gifts for You Collection here at my website where I keep this cheat sheet and a whole lot of other awesome resources to help you live life more abundantly.
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Hey Friend, are you ready to make some needed changes? Start with the Abundance Toolkit.
The ABUNDANCE TOOLKIT can help you make the changes you want to live life more abundantly.
It’s my FREE gift to you. Just grab it here.
Yes! Please send the Abundance Toolkit to me.
The Abundant Toolkit is my gift to you when you sign up to receive inspirational notes from me in your inbox (don’t worry! I’ll only send great stuff and never send spam!). When you sign up you’ll have access to my private Gifts for You Collection here at my website where I keep the Abundance Toolkit and a whole lot of other awesome resources to help you live life more abundantly.
What’s in the Abundance Toolkit?
13 page printable workbook.
3 tools to help you identify and apply principles of abundance in your life right now.
Questions to help you determine where you’re out of balance with abundance.
Specific and personal actions you can take to live life more abundantly starting today.