They want to hold you with their grubby paws and keep you rooted to the same spot.
When anxiety and panic are consuming you, it’s deciding to take a small step in a different direction that will produce a different result.
Small steps are all it takes.
It’s the small steps that will take you in a different direction and make all the difference for you.
These small steps will break the pattern of anxiety and panic, so they no longer have a hold on you.
The next time anxiety and panic are trying to grip you, give these 17 small but powerful steps a try. They could produce a very different result for you.
#1: Point your body where you want your mind to go
When you get anxious and panicky, you naturally want to stay in the same spot. By doing that, you’re allowing all the worrying thoughts to consume you. Get up. Go do something. Anything but stay in the same spot. When you change your physical state, you change your mental state.
#2: Close off the ‘what if…’
What if… what? Don’t jump from one what if scenario to the next. Finish off the what if… Rational thinking will tell you things rarely ever get as bad as your worrying thoughts will have you believe.
#3: Become present
The past has gone. The future hasn’t happened yet. The only thing that is real is this moment, right now. Let this profound appreciation melt your trouble away.
#4: Go for a walk, jog, run or drive
This is a reminder of point #1 because it’s the most effective. Go see what nature can offer you. Breathe in the air. Go for a drive, even if you have nowhere in particular to be. Anything but stay rooted to the same spot.
#5: Go people watch
Get out of the house and go to a cafe or some other public place. Just sit and observe. Take in your surroundings and get out of your head.
#6: Put your headphones on
Silence is a breeding ground for worrying thoughts. Listen to some music – any music. Let it influence your mood.
#7: Get away from negativity
Is someone (a toxic person) increasing your anxiety and panic? Get away from them. Distance yourself from them until you feel you’re in a better mental place to deal with them (if you have to).
When you internalise your anxiety and panic, it makes it ten times worse than it actually is. Talk about how you’re feeling. Speak to a friend or family member. If you need someone impartial, speak to a counsellor.
#9: Watch some comedy
You might not feel like laughing, but that’s the point. You’ve got to make an effort to change your state of mind if you want a different state of mind. Put your favourite funny film or comedian on, and let the laughter in.
#10: Get angry
Anger is an emotion that will supersede anxiety and panic. Get angry. Tell the internal bully you’re no longer willing to put up with the BS.
#11: Get grateful
Like anger, gratitude is an emotion that supersedes anxiety and panic. When you’re grateful for what you have, rather than worrying about what you haven’t got, that is a powerful state of mind.
#12: Let go
Immediately embrace the fact that you don’t have 100% control. Let go of that need to control. Set it free.
Keep It Simple, Stupid. Anxiety has a habit of overcomplicating everything. Have you taken a second to really appreciate what you’re getting anxious and panicky about? Is it worth it?
#14: Lower your expectations
You’re a perfectionist. You want things to be perfect. Yet, they never will be. Let go of the perfectionism and accept that what you do and who you are is good enough.
#15: Stay away from Dr Google
Doctors come in all shapes and sizes, good and bad. There is no worse doctor than Dr Google. He has the worst case scenario and diagnosis for any anxiety-related symptom you can type. Stay away from his surgery.
#16: Don’t care as much
Sounds a little cold, but being highly anxious and panicky means you’re caring too much about something. Try not caring as much.
#17: Remember who you are
You’ve got through 100% of your problems. It’s why you’re here. Don’t let anxiety or panic convince you that you’re weak. You’re not. You’re strong. Stronger than you give yourself credit for. Remember that the next time anxiety and panic tries to mess with you.
What does BALANCE mean to you? How do you know when you’ve achieved it, and what’s the end goal? These are all important questions, and to help answer them I’ve put together the Rebalance Scale.
SCALE 7: Panic
Panic – my best friend for many years! Obviously, I’m being sarcastic – there is nothing about panic that would ever make me class it as a friend. As a high-anxiety sufferer, I have no doubt you’ll know all about it. You’ll know that it sits at the top of the scale because it represents the most extreme form of anxiety and causes an array of unwanted symptoms, typically including sweating, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, shaking, numbness, tingling, chest pain and discomfort, loss of breath, a smothering or choking sensation, a dry mouth, a churning stomach, chills and hot flushes … and any other symptom the mind can muster.
At the height of my high anxiety, panic attacks were a daily occurrence. Some were caused by obvious triggers, such as going to the supermarket. (The supermarket was a particular struggle for me, and always induced panic.) At other times, a panic attack would creep up on me without warning. I could be doing something as trivial as watching TV, when all of sudden I’d start to feel disorientated and uncomfortable. Because nothing obvious was causing these feelings, I’d panic because I didn’t know what was going on.
It didn’t matter how many times I experienced panic attacks and got through them, each time I was convinced there was something more sinister going on. I really believed I was ill and had a serious medical condition. It was incredibly frustrating. I’d plead with the doctor: ‘Please diagnose me with something – anything – so I can stop this torment and move on.’ But, as in so many other cases of panic, that diagnosis never came.
Examples of panic
You regularly experience sharp bursts of panic created by anxious thoughts. These thoughts sometimes escalate into panic attacks, which can last for varying periods of time.
You’re able to recognise why you feel panicky (for example, being in a place that makes you feel uncomfortable), but you’re not always sure.
Panic can be sporadic and unpredictable, sometimes creeping up on you when you least expect it. For example, while driving you start to feel a smothering sensation, which causes a panic attack.
Symptoms of panic (most likely chest pain) cause you to fear for your life and seek emergency medical assistance.
You regularly feel the urge to get away from a situation and retreat to your ‘safe place’.
You avoid certain situations and places where you have previously panicked, such as a supermarket or restaurant.
When you experience panic you sometimes feel like you are an observer, detached from your environment, looking on with a sense of unreality.
Panic sometimes makes you feel like you’re ‘going mad’, and the thought of losing control scares you.
SCALE 6: High anxiety
High anxiety is best explained using the analogy of a swimming duck. Everything above water (on the outside) might appear calm, but underneath the water (on the inside) you’re frantically paddling, trying to hold things together. I spent most of the fifteen years I suffered living like this. I’d be sitting on my sofa watching TV, yet feel like I was at war on the frontline. From opening my eyes in the morning to going to bed at night, high anxiety ruled my life, and all my decisions were based around it.
Examples of high anxiety
You avoid crowded places such as supermarkets, because they make you feel light-headed, dizzy, disorientated, or as if you might faint.
You don’t like to be left alone and have developed a dependency on somebody close to you (a partner, friend or family member).
You like to be in control of everything in your life.
You pay attention to your health and exaggerate symptoms: you think a headache might be a brain tumour, and chest pain could mean you’re going to have a heart attack.
You’re often ill and prone to illness, suffering from aches, pains, headaches and numbness in certain areas of your body, including the chest, neck and back.
You’re picky about what you eat and drink because you’re conscious about how different foods make you feel.
You regularly suffer from digestion issues, including indigestion and stomach cramps.
You search symptoms on the internet and visit the doctor seeking reassurance.
You sometimes feel fearful for no reason, overwhelmed and unable to cope.
You suffer from sleep deprivation and struggle to fall asleep at night due to not being able to switch off the thoughts racing through your mind.
You have nightmares, and often wake up in the middle of the night (sometimes with chills).
You feel physically and emotionally drained.
You have a ‘safe place’ – typically your home – and have a radius within which you’re willing to travel, feeling uncomfortable when you’re too far away. Whenever you feel highly anxious, you seek relief by returning to your safe place.
You fear the outside world and prefer to stay at home. This might lead to becoming housebound (agoraphobic).
You are sometimes plagued by feelings of dread.
You feel on edge and uncomfortable in a social environment.
You turn down social opportunities and are absent at significant events (such as weddings), which affects your friendships and relationships.
You’re highly self-conscious and sometimes paranoid about what other people think of you.
You experience obsessive thoughts and have set routines. For example, you won’t leave your house or go on a trip without taking a certain drink or an object you depend on (such as a mobile phone), or you may have to check several times that your front door is locked when you leave your house.
SCALE 5: Above-normal anxiety
These symptoms are similar to those of high anxiety, but are less pervasive. You’re able to operate and cope in everyday life without anxiety dominating your decisions, but it still plays its part, manifesting itself through mild forms of anxiety-related disorders.
Examples of above-normal anxiety
You’re snappy, short-tempered and easily aggravated.
You sometimes vent your frustration and anger on the people closest to you, including your partner and children.
You take the stress of your job home with you.
Small things you never paid attention to previously and could dismiss now bother you. For example, if somebody is critical of you, it will affect your mood.
Thoughts play on your mind and you focus on problems, rather than good things in your life. You may worry a lot about the future and everything on your to-do list.
You’re indecisive, and don’t like to commit to something and risk that it might go wrong.
You drink a little more alcohol than usual, and use it to help you relax.
You find it difficult to concentrate and remember things.
You consciously make the decision to avoid crowded places, such as supermarkets and shopping centres, or visit them at their quietest periods.
You’re easily alarmed or frightened.
You find yourself turning down social opportunities more frequently, and view them as an inconvenience rather than a positive experience, preferring to stay at home.
Your sleep pattern is affected by worry, and you often find it hard to fall asleep.
SCALE 4: BALANCE
Sitting comfortably within normal levels of anxiety and energy, BALANCE is the optimal place to be. You’re living an active and healthy lifestyle without anxiety and depression dictating your decisions and actions. Anxiety isn’t present in your immediate thoughts, and it only presents itself when genuinely needed. Until then, it sits quietly as your life companion, keeping you away from danger and helping you make sensible decisions (doing its job properly). You don’t feel tired or drained, and have enough mental and physical energy to cope with life’s usual daily challenges.
It’s likely you’ll be able to recall a time you felt like this, but if it’s been a while, let me remind you what it feels like.
What BALANCE feels like
You look forward to going out with friends, rather than counting down the days in dread.
You can do the simple things in life (like going to the shop for some milk) without thinking about them.
Going out for a nice meal with your partner doesn’t create endless ‘what if…?’ thoughts that generate gut-wrenching apprehension and worry.
An ‘off day’ is exactly that, and whenever you experience one you accept that everybody has them and move on to the next day. It doesn’t mean your world is about to cave in: it was just a bad day, and tomorrow is another day.
You can go to a friend’s wedding without feeling ill or having to make excuses for being absent.
A family holiday means enjoyment, relaxation and a well-deserved break.
You’re confident and feel good about yourself.
Butterflies in your stomach mean happiness, surprise and excitement – not panic.
Obsessive and overwhelming thoughts are replaced by healthy focus and ambition.
Small things stay small, and don’t snowball into big unwieldy troubles. Problems can be broken down and dealt with.
Being stuck in traffic doesn’t create uncontrollable rage and panic.
Your outlook on life is objective and you’re open-minded. Your immediate view isn’t negative.
You feel content and grateful for everything you have.
You fall asleep easily when your head hits the pillow, and you wake up feeling energised and refreshed.
The future is bright, and there’s plenty to look forward to.
Most importantly, BALANCE means FREEDOM. No hang-ups, no emotional ties, no psychological baggage – just you, living how you want to live.
SCALE 3: Below-normal energy
Because anxiety goes hand in hand with depression, it’s present at both ends of the scale. It will zap your positivity and happiness, and work with depression to lower your energy. The lower your energy, the greater your depression. Scale 3 represents lower than normal energy, which could be the early signs of a deeper depression.
Examples of below-normal energy
You feel lethargic and more tired than usual.
You don’t feel as happy as the people around you.
You’re unmotivated, uninspired, and lack drive and passion.
You’re cynical, and when you talk about people you pick fault with them.
You don’t feel content, and think about how unsatisfied you are with your life.
You regularly think about how you’re feeling – in a negative way.
You don’t feel good about yourself, and have little interest in activities and socialising.
You often blame yourself for things out of your control, and feel guilty, even if things aren’t your fault.
You have less time for romance, and regularly have low libido/little interest in sex.
Happiness doesn’t come as easily to you as it did previously.
You prefer not to think about the future.
SCALE 2: Low energy
Scale 2 represents a deeper anxiety-induced depression and a lower level of unhappiness; you experience the same symptoms as with below-normal energy, but to a greater extent.
Examples of low energy
You struggle to get out of bed in the morning, and lack the motivation and energy to do even the most trivial daily task.
You don’t want to face the world, and feel detached from it.
You would rather stay at home with the curtains drawn than face the prospect of going out to meet people.
You feel restless, agitated and impatient.
You can’t be bothered to shower or wash, and your personal hygiene suffers.
You have a poor appetite, which means you regularly skip meals – or you may binge on unhealthy foods.
Life feels as though it’s slowing down.
You’re easily tearful and often cry.
You have low self-esteem and confidence, and when you look in the mirror you don’t feel good about yourself.
You find it hard to get rid of a feeling of despair.
You regularly ask yourself, ‘What’s the point?’
You spend long periods resting or sleeping.
You read SCALE 4 (BALANCE) and thought being happy and free was impossible and unachievable.
SCALE 1: Sleep
At the very bottom of the scale, sleep represents extreme depression, just as panic represents an extreme form of anxiety. I went through long periods of both. When I was deeply depressed, all I wanted to do was sleep all day. It felt as though my body was shutting down (like when you reboot your computer), and sleep was my only escape from the clutches of anxiety. On average, I would sleep sixteen hours a day – twice as long as the average adult needs. In the few hours I was awake, anxiety had a way of sucking any remaining bit of life out of me. My energy became non-existent, and I felt mentally and physically exhausted every waking second of every day. It made breaking the anxiety and depression cycle very difficult, because all I wanted to do was (you guessed it) sleep more.
At the other extreme, sleep deprivation (caused by high anxiety) was the worst symptom I experienced. I know exactly what it feels like to be a zombie on The Walking Dead. Three days of not sleeping properly, red-eyed with dribble running down my chin, unable to talk, was as bad as it got for me. This is a typical example of the continuous rigmarole I went through on a nightly basis:
As soon as my head hit the pillow I have racing thoughts about all the bills that need to be paid this month and the work I have left to do. I’m exhausted, but it doesn’t matter how tired I am, I just can’t fall asleep.
I lie there with my eyes wide open, just staring at the ceiling, until I’m so frustrated I decide to get up. I make myself a drink. I know going back to bed will be a waste of time so I lie down on the couch and put the television on. It keeps me company so I don’t feel so alone.
My eyes are heavy. I look at the clock. It’s the early hours of the morning and I start to panic – I’m desperate to sleep because I know I’m going to feel like a zombie at work the next day.
Eventually, panic subsides, and through pure exhaustion I fall asleep at around 4am. After a few hours I wake up on the couch, feeling like I haven’t slept at all. I immediately start to feel anxious, and I’m already worrying about how I’m going to get through the day.
I dread going to bed because I know it’s all going to happen again.
Eventually, with time and practice, I sorted my sleep out. If I hadn’t done this, I had no chance of overcoming anxiety and depression. That’s why I can’t stress enough how important it is to get it right. A strong pattern of sleep combined with the ability to relax is essential for achieving BALANCE.