Panic attacks are sudden, and they feel overwhelming. They seem so real and so dramatic. As I mentioned in the previous post, whenever I have a panic attack, I feel the urgent need to fix the situation instantly. It feels like my world will fall apart if I do not have instant relief from my anxiety. I noticed that there would be certain situations, like going to work or taking a test, where I would always have a stomachache or a sudden shortening in my breath. In those moments, I felt like I did not have control, and I did anything to get rid of the insecurity.
One time, I went to a counseling session. The counselor gave me some practical techniques to help me when I am feeling anxious. In addition to deep breathing and exercise, normalizing anxiety makes it appear less threatening. She told me to talk myself down, giving me advice about what to say: “You have a panic attack every time you go to work. You have never died from it before, and you will not die from it today. No one has ever died from a panic attack.” I had never realized that panic attacks don’t kill, even though they appear to try to steal my life.
The next time I was leaving for work, my same stomachache kicked in, right on cue. I put my hands on my stomach and told myself out loud, “You are only having a panic attack. There is nothing wrong with your stomach. You have a panic attack every day before you go to work. You are going to have a good day at work, and nothing bad is going to happen to you.” Instantly the panic attack stopped. I took the time to calm down and normalize my anxiety, and the anxiety stopped.
Normalizing anxiety does not mean accepting defeat. You do not have to walk under the shadow of anxiety. This exercise simply involves telling yourself that anxiety has stricken before, and it has never hurt you. Normalizing anxiety is taking away the power that anxiety has over you. By telling yourself that anxiety is normal, not scary, your anxiety will become less threatening.