Your palms are sweating, your heart is racing, it’s hard to catch your breath and you’re scared for your life … but you’re not in danger, you’re in traffic. Or … maybe you’re on a plane and the captain just announced that you are in for some minor turbulence. Or perhaps you’re about to give a big work presentation to a perspective client. Sound familiar? For some people, these high-pressure situations simply rattle nerves. But for others, these situations cause a fear that is so immense, it can become debilitating and sometimes feel life-threatening.
For 40 million U.S. adults this kind of fear exists in their everyday reality. Simple things like long drives, public speaking, flying or social situations result in panic so severe that it can sometimes be misinterpreted as a heart attack. But it’s not a heart attack and the people experiencing these symptoms are not going crazy. They may suffer with an anxiety disorder — which is now the most common mental illness in the United States.
I lived with an anxiety disorder for almost 10 years. I allowed my fear to dictate my actions. I closed myself off from my friends, my family and my life. The mere mention of a road trip sent chills down my spine and the simple act of commuting to work gave me near daily panic attacks. When I realized I was no longer living — just simply existing — I turned to alternative attempts to alleviate the anxiety and panic attacks. I found my peace through yoga.
I learned to utilize yogic practices and philosophies to enhance my coping skills and have found these ideas especially helpful during anxious bouts (which we all have!). Here are some things I have found to be especially helpful:
* Be In The Moment: Most people tend to worry about things and events that have yet to happen. If you find yourself anxious about an upcoming flight or meeting, try to bring focus back to the present moment. Focusing on the present helps keeps future worries from plaguing you.
* Make Friends… With Yourself: It’s easy to get caught in a vicious cycle of self doubt, but if you spend more time beating yourself down than lifting yourself up, you’ll find it hard to alleviate anxious feelings. During tough times, treat yourself as you would a friend or sibling going through tough times — with kindness and compassion.
* Take Time To Look Inside: Start a journal or keep a notepad close and take time to write about your anxious episodes and panic attacks. See if there are patterns or triggers to your anxiety. Notice if there are specific things that cause you panic attacks. See if you can find the root cause of your anxious feelings.
* Breathe Easy: This is one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself! If you feel anxiety start to creep up, take time to focus on your breathing. Keep it slow and steady and concentrate on inhaling through your nose and all the way into your belly. Breathing slowly and calmly will keep you in control and relaxed.
If you think you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, it’s always best to consult with a physician.
Bonnie Schmidt is a certified yoga instructor with a background in stress and anxiety relief. By utilizing yoga postures, philosophies and breathing methods she has been able to successfully diminish the effects of anxiety in her own life and has since developed classes that focus entirely on using yoga to alleviate stress and anxiety. She also gives workshops on this topic where people are taught how to incorporate a stress-relieving practice into their personal lives and how to better understand the root causes of their stress and anxiety. She launched a Web site, Anxiety to Zen (www.anxietytozen.com), that is dedicated to educating and empowering people with anxiety disorders and sharing tips and advice for anxiety sufferers.