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When Panic Attacks - Part 2: Slightly-More-Complicated Anxiety Techniques

Updated: Dec 18, 2018


by Rebecca Thompson, LCSW


Have you tried and mastered the anxiety techniques in “When Panic Attacks – Part 1: Easy Anxiety Techniques”? Great. The techniques in this article are slightly more complicated and it may take more practice and experimentation to integrate them into your life. Nevertheless, learning and incorporating these ideas can help with not only short bursts of anxiety but with more persistent anxious feelings as well. You don’t need a therapist to fully implement these ideas, but a good therapist can help coach and guide your practice.


Mindfulness- “Mindfulness” is one of those therapy words that can mean several different things to different people in different contexts. In this context, I’m going to define it as an intense focus on the present moment. Oftentimes when we’re anxious, we feel mentally flooded with future worries and possibilities. Mindfulness can help us intensely focus on the current moment and feel more present. I sometimes compare an overwhelmingly anxious brain to a computer freezing while running too many programs. Mindfulness exercises are a way of giving that computer a reboot.


My favorite mindfulness technique is called 5/4/3/2/1. You can practice it by focusing on noticing 5 things around you that you can see, then 4 things you can hear, then 3 things you can touch or feel, then 2 things you can smell, and finally one thing you can taste. Some people like to practice mindfulness in other ways by focusing on things present in the moment- their breath, their body, intensely focusing on one of their 5 senses, etc.  Choose something that takes your whole mind’s focus. Mindfulness is like a mental muscle- you can use it without prep, but it’s stronger and easier to use if you give you give your mind frequent mindfulness workouts.


I usually recommend picking one exercise that appeals to you and practicing it at least a few times a week. Remember- almost any activity where you focus with your whole mind on the present can be a mindfulness activity. I’ll sometimes even practice in the car by noticing what my seat feels like, noticing the feeling of my hands on the steering wheel, noticing the sounds of the engine, etc.


Sort out what you do and don’t control in a situation- If you’ve ever attended a 12 step meeting, you’ve probably heard something commonly referred to as the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.” Often our anxious brains are trying to prepare us for and problem solve situations that in reality we have little to no control over- plane crashes, lovers leaving us, illness, etc. as though we had ultimate control over the outcomes. Sometimes it helps to counteract that by separating a problem into aspects we can and can’t control.


From there, we can focus intently on the aspects where we actually have some power. I may not be able to control if a plane crashes, but I can listen to a relaxation mp3 to help me manage my anxiety about flying. I ultimately can’t control if my partner leaves me, but I can focus on treating them in loving and respectful ways to minimize the chances of that happening. I can’t control if I eventually get ill, but I can do things to increase and maximize my health now.


Links for More Information

Mindful Acceptance: https://www.mindful.org/three-ways-acceptance-helps-work-difficult-emotions/


The Serenity Prayer is Not Just for AA: https://pro.psychcentral.com/the-serenity-prayer-its-not-just-for-aa/


Grounding Techniques: https://www.peirsac.org/peirsacui/er/educational_resources10.pdf

Guided Breathing Meditation: https://www.mindful.org/guided-breathing-meditation-cultivate-awareness/


Body Scan Meditation: https://www.mindful.org/beginners-body-scan-meditation/

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