Updated: Mar 17, 2020
by Marie Hartzel, LPC, LCADC, ACS
Riding the Wave of Anxiety
Typically, anxiety doesn’t last very long. If you tell yourself that it will pass, you often will be okay. If you try too hard to stop an anxiety attack, however, it will only grow. According to Carl Jung, “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” So using this strategy when you find yourself experiencing an anxiety or panic attack can be helpful.
We have been conditioned to try to get rid of any discomfort--fight it and forget it. Doing this, however, can cause anxiety or discomfort to increase. Try to imagine the anxiety as a wave washing back and forth. Some waves may be larger than others, and some may crash to shore sooner than others. You can't stop the waves or make them go by faster. Instead, try to control your response, let the wave be, trying to control it will most likely have it last longer. During an anxiety or panic attack, your body releases adrenaline. An increase in adrenaline can cause symptoms similar to those of a heart attack, such as heart palpitations, increased heartbeat, and chest pain. Adrenaline also can cause your brain to believe that you are in danger. The messages coming from the thalamus (thinking part, sends signals to release of adrenaline and stress hormones) and or from the amygdala (emotional part, causing the anxiety responses) or more likely from both. You can find yourself in a fight or flight mode. So when you find yourself here, try to ride it out, like riding out a wave. Incorporating the other tools from your toolbox also helpful in riding the wave. For example, breathing techniques, positive self-talk or progressive muscle relaxation. Remind yourself that panic and/or anxiety attacks are temporary. According to the Surgeon General, a panic attack generally lasts between 10 to 15 minutes, and sometimes as long as 30 minutes. Instead, accept that anxiety is present, remind yourself it is temporary and use your coping skills to handle it. Anxiety or panic attacks can create fear--the fear that you are no longer in control. Therefore, it is important to seek help if you find yourself experiencing them frequently.
Using the coping strategies in your toolbox, anxiety can be managed. Check-in here regularly, as additional strategies will be posted. Remember that coping strategies need to be practiced in order to work. Don’t give up and keep trying. Hopefully, you will find a coping strategy that works for you.