Some anxiety is good. It’s true! A little bit of anxiety helps to keep us safe and out of trouble (our brains are biologically wired to protect us) and keeps us engaged and performing at a higher level.
Unfortunately, though, there are millions of people suffering with way too much anxiety.
They can spend time predicting the worst, avoiding conflict, being wracked by nervousness, chronic muscle tension, among other symptoms. It’s as though their “idle” is set too high and they are frequently plagued by self-doubt, fear, and panic.
If you are one of the millions of Americans struggling with anxiety, the good news is that you can get control of your symptoms with a simple 4-step panic plan—the same one I’ve taught to hundreds of my own patients.
Dr. Amen’s 4-Step Panic Plan
Step 1: Breathe.
Often when people begin to experience anxiety, their breathing becomes shallow, rapid and erratic. Since the brain is the most metabolically active organ in your body, any state that lowers oxygen will trigger more fear and panic. By taking slow, deep breaths you’ll boost oxygen to your brain and start to regain control over how you feel.
One way to practice deep breathing is by learning how to breathe from your diaphragm—the area of the body that tends to get “clenched” when we’re anxious.
To practice breathing from your diaphragm, try this:
- Lie on your back and place a small book on your belly.
- As you slowly inhale through your nose, make the book go up. Hold your breath at the top of your inhalation for 2 seconds.
- When you exhale, make the book go down and then hold your breath for 2 seconds before inhaling again.
- Repeat 10 times and notice how relaxed you feel.
Step 2: Don’t Leave.
Unless the situation is life-threatening, do not leave, run away from, or ignore whatever is causing you the anxiety. You must face the fear or concern directly, or it will always have control over you and increase your anxiety.
You may need to talk to a trained psychotherapist about your anxiety and fears, especially if you’ve been exposed to trauma of any kind. There are some very good therapeutic methods for helping people overcome anxiety symptoms brought on by traumatic or life-threatening experiences. One method I often recommend is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) which helps to remove the emotional charges of traumatic memories.
Step 3: Write Down Your Thoughts.
Often in panicked situations our thoughts are distorted and need to be challenged. Pay attention to the automatic negative thoughts (or ANTs, as I like to call them) in your mind and write them down to see if they make sense. If your thoughts are distorted, talk back to and challenge them by writing down a more realistic version of the same thought.
Step 4: Supplement.
If you’ve practiced steps 1-3, but are still suffering from too much anxiety, you may need supplements or medication to help you feel calmer. Remember that this is the last step—to be used if the first three aren’t effective. While people with severe anxiety often require medication, others may do well with supplements such as ones that contain magnesium, GABA, ashwagandha and some of the B vitamins, especially B6. Of course, you’ll want to discuss medication or adding supplements with your physician before taking them.
If you follow these simple steps, you CAN regain control over your panic and anxiety.