Dealing with Anxiety in Moments of Panic

Dealing with Anxiety in Moments of Panic

Dr. James Hommowun

We’ve all experienced moments of anxiety – from the nagging question “did I leave the oven on?” to fears over whether we’ve studied enough to pass a test or concerns about how that contract negotiation is going to go. We know the changes we experience – sweaty palms, shallower breathing, feeling jittery or nervous, thoughts racing, feeling like our minds are “stuck in a rut” and just won’t let go of whatever it is we’re anxious about.

Many of us, through personal experience or good education, have found ways to deal with these symptoms, to recognize anxiety as it is coming on and consciously act to reduce its impact, through techniques like deep breathing, muscular relaxation, creative visualization, or many others.

But what about panic? Most of us have experienced panic as well. It’s like anxiety, but kick it up to eleven. It’s coming home at 9 p.m. and realizing your four-year-old child isn’t in the house. It’s getting the news that a family member has been in a violent car crash. It’s hearing that you have cancer. It’s that feeling like the floor – no, the world itself – has dropped out from under you, you’re in free fall with no idea when or if you’ll ever touch down and feel stable again. Surely this calls for more than just “taking a deep breath,” right?

Yes… and no. It’s important to realize that panic is a natural, normal, and effective phenomenon. It is our bodies and minds working together in a beautiful sympathy to mobilize all our available resources to survive a perceived life or death threat. It’s not much fun to experience, but it has a definite purpose, and it does it well. And when the threat is, say, escaping a rabid wolf, it gives you a much better chance of survival.

In our examples above, if you come home and your child is missing, it’s going to drive you to go out and holler at the top of your lungs and check all around the house for any place they may have wandered – and that’s precisely what you should do, at least at first. But a car accident? A cancer diagnosis?

Panic is not particularly well-suited to inspiring or enabling us to survive an already-passed crisis or a diffuse threat. In the case of the accident, we might speed all the way to the hospital, running every red light – but that doesn’t change what happened, it only increases our risk of not surviving ourselves. With a cancer diagnosis, we may have no idea what to do. So we let the panic come out sideways, living dangerously or irresponsibly, trying to escape or deny the reality.

What steps can you take when panic comes knocking?

1. Force yourself to pause

Yes, it is forcing – you’ll just want to react and won’t have time to stop or think; those things will only get in the way of doing something!. You need to determine if there is an action you can take that can potentially make a difference.
Looking for a missing child? Yes! Go do it. Racing to the hospital? Nope. Your brain won’t particularly care if the action is likely to work – you just need to do. But if you can recognize that an action won’t help – and may make the situation worse – you have taken the first step to manage panic. That first step is recognizing that the panic is only making things worse.

2. Identify actions that may help

You will be fighting your instinct this whole time. This is where taking a deep breath can help – and you can literally just take a deep breath (or three, or five), mentally counting down five to one with each. Some people find it is helpful to give themselves a pressure release valve – “I’m going to give myself 10 seconds just to be panicked, then I’m reining this in.”
Make yourself think of at least three different courses of action you could take and compare them all to each other. Decide which has the best likelihood of making a positive impact and do that one first. You may come back and do all three, and think of even more, but taking the time first to raise three options and then weigh among them re-engages the analytical, logical parts of your brain that panic shuts down. This helps move you out of panic and back into a more balanced state.

3. Act

You’re panicking in the first place because you perceive a serious threat – so you need to take an action to try to change the situation. That action may be active – looking for a missing child – or it may be passive – wait for more information about my diagnosis and study the literature to become better informed about what to expect and how to manage. It may be just to hit your knees and allow that the situation is out of your control and put your trust in a higher power.

As all-consuming as panic is at the moment, it is not sustainable. It will pass. But taking a moment to reassess and act consciously instead of reacting from your gut can help put you in a better place to continue managing and responding to developments after the panic has faded. And addressing it well once makes it that much easier to do again when the situation feels like it’s spiraling out of control all over again – as they often do. It’s normal to panic more than once over the same problem – but it’s also normal to get better and better at responding as each success builds on the last. Don’t give up hope, and don’t dwell on that feeling that “things will never be okay again.” It’s hard to endure panic – but harder still when it leads to despair. Remember to force yourself to pause, identify actions that may help, and act.

As always, thanks for reading; stay safe, stay connected, and feel free to comment down below!


For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges

How to Manage Anxiety with the COVID-19 Crisis

How to Manage Anxiety with the COVID-19 Crisis


Erika Krull

If there’s ever been a time to take good care of yourself, it is now. Your health is a top priority. It’s normal to feel stressed and anxious with the COVID-19 crisis ramping up.

Nobody knows when things will go back to normal or when we will feel safe again. Stay focused on today and forgive yourself. We are all in this together.

Name that emotion

With everything happening, you may feel kind of sick inside. If you’re having trouble naming what you’re feeling, some of these descriptions may fit.

Anticipatory grief

Feel sad every time you look at the calendar? You are feeling anticipatory grief. This sadness comes over you as you realize you’ll lose something soon. Schools are closed and sporting events are canceled around the world. You feel sorrow about things you can’t do anymore.

Survivor guilt

The news is full of scary stories and alarming images of sick and dying people. If you have not personally been affected by the virus yet, you might feel a little guilty.

Being bored and inconvenienced is nothing like fearing for your safety. You may be thankful for your health and safety, but it may not feel that comforting.

Empathy overload

Watching the news is tough these days. Hearing about overloaded ERs and worried doctors can feel emotionally heavy. It’s hard to watch people suffer when you can’t do anything about it.

The most important thing you can do looks a lot like doing nothing. This paradox is tough to accept.

How to manage your anxiety

Whatever you are feeling right now is OK.

Worried, scared, bored, entertained, frustrated, confused, safe, relieved, restless, sad, shaken, determined: these feelings and more are normal.

Anything that makes you feel uncomfortable is probably based on anxiety right now. Try some of these tips now to relieve symptoms of stress and worry.

Get exercise outside if you can

The great thing about exercise is that you can do it almost anywhere. If the weather is nice and you have space, go outside. It’s amazing for you if you can do it safely. A walk in the fresh air will do wonders for your heart.

Your natural endorphins will pump through your body and boost your mood. The increased oxygen will turn your brain on. If you’re stuck indoors, get outside, lift some weights, a yoga mat, an exercise ball, or whatever you can manage.

Move around until you are breathing hard and feeling sweaty. This helps your body learn how to relax and is a great distraction.

Put the news into perspective

Most of the news from yesterday is terrible. A lot of the news later on today will probably also be terrible. There are some positive stories of communities coming together and protecting people. Sadly, those stories are a little harder to find.

There’s no good way to sugarcoat the current situation. But you can stay informed without drinking from a fire hose.

Check the news much less frequently than you normally do. If social media helps you feel connected, unfollow or mute any person or organization sharing lots of COVID-19 updates. Keep your channels positive and uplifting.

Keep a positive outlook

Looking at the news can wreck even the most optimistic among us. It’s tough out there, and there’s no way to know when things will improve. Still, you are 100% in control of your attitude.

Things may look uncertain and dangerous, but you can still bring positivity to the day. The secret is to focus on the present moment.

You can make your children smile right now. You can appreciate what your spouse does at home for work. You can talk to an isolated friend or older family member. Make a difference this moment and you can keep a more positive outlook every day.

Get some sleep

This is tough. The entire COVID-19 crisis is a scary and strange situation. It doesn’t even feel like reality. So getting regular quality restful sleep can be a reach some nights. Do the best you can.

Keep your normal bed times. Your family’s work/school schedule will get wacky and you won’t remember what day it is.

Do comforting things before bed.

  • Turn off social media or the news way before going to bed.
  • Take a warm bath after supper.
  • Breathe in slowly for 4 counts and breathe out for 4, doing that several times.
  • Read that novel you didn’t finish on your last vacation.

And if you can’t sleep, don’t beat yourself up. There are millions of people with the same problem right now.

You will get tired and fall asleep. Take a nap if you can. Otherwise, pour the coffee, get your day going, and try again the next night.

Eat healthy food

Every snack in the house is around the corner from your makeshift office. Resist the temptation to eat your feelings away. Yes, you can have snacks and treats. But make sure you use those precious grocery runs to buy some healthy foods.

Eating a balanced diet will help your emotions stay balanced throughout the day. Also, try to stick to regular meals. No one will judge your chocolate snack at 9:30 in the morning, but make sure you aren’t skipping meals.

Stay social

Don’t let social distancing keep you from your loved ones. When you feel anxious, your support network is more important than ever.

Video chat: If your loved ones are tech-savvy, do a video chat. You can’t hug them through Skype, but it’s the next best thing these days.

Texting: A quick “how are you?” text is an easy way to reach out. Everyone’s a little on edge, so a quick personal message is much appreciated.

Phone call: An old-fashioned phone is quick, easy, and everybody you know has a phone. You can visit with anyone from your 5-year-old niece to your 90-year-old great aunt.

Write a letter: Go old-school and practice your cursive with a handwritten letter. Combine communication and a creative outlet all in one shot.

See the opportunity

You’re likely stuck at home for who-knows-how-long. Everything can feel a little overwhelming. Use this opportunity to look for fun and creative distractions right under your nose.

  • Look for little projects and home adventures you’ve never had time for.
  • Feel the satisfaction of cleaning out a disorganized bathroom cabinet.
  • Do the 1000 word puzzle you got for Christmas.
  • Find old family videos and re-watch them.
  • Become a master of Monopoly.
  • Pick up an old hobby you haven’t done in a long time.

Who knows, one of these activities may bring the joy you hadn’t expected to find.

How do you manage anxiety?

You have some tried-and-true ways of picking yourself up when things look down. Tell us, what do you do to pick up your spirits? How do you calm yourself when the world around you feels crazy?


For more tips on relationships, follow Family Bridges on social media @familybridges