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How I Reduce Stress and Tackle Anxiety and Panic Attacks

I am interested in health, fitness and healthy eating. I live in the Netherlands.

Although everyone has to find their own process to deal with anxiety, some approaches to handling these disorders have been scientifically proven to help many.

Although everyone has to find their own process to deal with anxiety, some approaches to handling these disorders have been scientifically proven to help many.

I vividly remember how I parked the car near the office of the general practitioner on duty after a 15-minute drive. Honestly, I never thought I'd make it to the doctor. I stormed into the waiting room and asked to see the doctor at once; I thought I was having a heart attack.

After listening to my breathing and heartbeat and asking me some questions, he told me I was having a panic attack. He then sent me home with a prescription for Xanax, which is used to treat anxiety disorders.

I never realized that this quick diagnosis would be the start of a decade-long struggle. But over the years, I learned that anxiety, in one way or another, has been a companion to me for as long as I can remember.

Anxiety is the monster that resides within.

— Karon Waddell

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a physiological and psychological condition characterized by several components. It can interfere with your perception, memory, judgment, reasoning, emotion, behavior and body.

A combination of these components can make you restless, afraid, worried, or anxious. When experiencing an anxiety attack you will likely experience severe or intense fear, irritation, and/or discomfort.

I'll elaborate a bit more about the symptoms later on in this article. However, suffice to say, these feelings can be quite debilitating

Anxiety disorders are widespread, not just in the United States but all over the world. Children and adults of all ages can fall victim to it. But before I experienced it myself, I had never given them a second thought.

The good news is that anxiety is treatable and/or manageable.

But before I discuss the way I deal with it, I'll list several common symptoms. I hope it will make you realize—if you didn't already know—that anxiety attacks are no joke!

Symptoms of Anxiety and/or Panic Attacks

  • Wobbling or shaking of the body
  • The feeling of extreme fear
  • The fear of dying
  • Shortening of breath
  • Hyperventilating
  • Rapid pulse rate and heartbeat
  • Dizziness, which is often caused by rapid breathing
  • The mood of not being in reality
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A contraction in the stomach area
  • Hammering or pounding in the head
  • Reminiscing of bad memories and experiences
  • The sense of being watched or observed
  • The feeling of dying

You can experience anxiety in several degrees. It can range from mild to full-blown panic attacks. I'll give some examples of how it can feel suffering at each stage.

What Is the Difference Between Anxiety and a Panic Attack?

Mild Anxiety

This is a prevalent form of anxiety. Many people will experience them at some point in their lives. In addition to the symptoms above, you may want to withdraw from daily life or have difficulty thinking straight.

In this case, individuals with a mild anxiety attack might have a problem concentrating. They may also have conflicting thoughts or an inner voice that is coarse or loud.

Severe Anxiety

Someone who experiences severe anxiety is often impatient or nervous. Sometimes they pace around the house for hours on end. When you are at this stage, you may feel like your body is about to shut off. It can create a feeling of dying or losing consciousness.

Panic Attacks

When having a panic attack, you may feel like you are losing control in some way or another or that you are going crazy or might die. The physical and cognitive symptoms are frequently followed by a desire to run away or to escape. Panic attacks can suddenly appear for no apparent reason.

How I Manage (and Try to Prevent) My Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Over the years, I have tried many things to tackle my anxiety. Here is how each of these things worked for me.

I Saw a Psychologist

I went to a psychologist. This didn't help me one iota. In fact, the support I received was so bad that I eventually figured it might be a good idea to study the field myself. I went on to study Psychology and even succeeded in getting a degree in Clinical Psychology.

Unfortunately, being a mechanic doesn't safeguard your car from running into engine failure. The same goes for the mental health field. Being a clinical psychologist made me understand my mind and body better, but it didn't protect me against anxiety.

I Visited a Haptonomist

After bidding goodbye to my psychologist, I went on to visit a haptonomist. My haptonomist helped me a lot. Not many people know what haptonomy is so here's a simple definition.

A haptonomist tries to make people aware of their feelings and promotes body and self-awareness. Mine made me aware that my mind and body were not as well aligned as they should be.

For instance, I could talk for a whole session and give the superficial impression that I felt good about myself. But when the haptonomist touched me, for example, I tended to be very alert and reacted with a lot of tension in my body.

They also suggested I visit my doctor to discuss a going on an antidepressant.

I Take an Antidepressant

So I got a prescription for Paroxetine. Paroxetine is often used to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety disorders. I only use a low dose, but even so, it seems to help me. There have also been periods when I didn't use it at all, but then I seemed more vulnerable. Unfortunately, it is a well-known fact that getting off this type of medication can be (very) hard.

Anyway, talking (coaching and therapy) and medicine are often used to treat anxiety.

However, I must confess that, in my case, the therapy part never resonated with me.
That could have something to do with the fact that I already use my head too much for thinking and analyzing. As an economist, I had to do a lot of analyzing during working hours, so "thinking" is easier for me than "feeling".

That is why I immersed myself in alternative and often more spiritual practices. This led to a different approach, which I discuss below.

Yin yoga can help manage anxiety.

Yin yoga can help manage anxiety.

Yoga


First of all, I have been practicing yoga on and off for many years. At this moment, I take yin yoga classes.

With Yin Yoga you don't actively have to do anything to get into one of the many poses. It's not a matter of using muscle or strength to get into a spectacular posture. Instead, you slowly take on a posture and let gravity do its work. It works on the connective tissue in your body. So, by "doing nothing," something happens.

Yin Yoga classes focus on creating space in your connective tissue and joints. By maintaining a posture for a long time (and not moving as with more active forms of yoga) you reach the stiff connective tissue.

Your connective tissue plays an important role in how well you feel (literally and figuratively). As I write this down, I realize it might sound a bit woo-woo. But hey, it works for me.

Stress and tension don't have to be a problem at all, as long as there are enough rest and relaxation moments in return. Yin yoga provides that balance to me because the whole class is all about letting go and relaxing. My body and mind can recover and recharge, and Yin helps me to sleep better!

I feel that a beautiful thing about yin yoga classes is that during the postures you learn how to accept and feel compassion for yourself.

Your body is fine as it is now; your breathing is fine as it is now; you're fine as you are now. Letting go of striving for something and wanting to change something because it is not yet good (enough) can be very liberating.

Of course, you need yang energy now and then to achieve something, but in general, we have had enough of that—rather too much. And it's great to immerse yourself in the soft yin energy now and then.

Yin yoga and mindfulness are inextricably linked. The basic principles of mindfulness run like a thread through the yoga lessons.

You learn to bring your attention to the here and now and not connect with the feelings and thoughts that pass by. There is no judgment in these practices.

Now it's time to elaborate on mindfulness.

Mindfulness

I meditate and practice mindfulness every day. I used the meditation apps Calm and Headspace to help me get started. I also followed a mindfulness course. My health insurer even reimbursed it! How great is that?

Mindfulness is the willingness and ability to experience all events and experiences in a similar way—even if they are unpleasant. You must do this with kindness, curiosity, and discernment.

By improving this skill, I noticed that I can better observe what is going on in my body and mind.

My thoughts often wander. There is this stream of feelings and thoughts, worries, demands, and responsibilities. I often want things to be different from how they are right now. This is especially true when problems such as stress, pain, or illness confront me.

I notice that when I get stuck in obstructive patterns, it takes a lot of energy. I have found that mindfulness can help me face life's challenges. But that is not always easy.

Walking

Last but not least, I walk four times a week with a group of other people. Walking improves my mood, and I like walking with others too.

If you would like to read more about the benefits of walking, I recommend checking out Praise of Walking: The new science of how we walk and why it’s good for us by Shane O'Mara. Shane believes (based on research) that the process of walking itself aids our creativity, positively affects our mood, and improves our physical and mental health. 
I have nothing more to add to that.

I practice mindfulness on a daily basis.

I practice mindfulness on a daily basis.

Breathwork and Sobriety

Furthermore, I practice several breathing techniques, and I quit drinking alcohol. And 90% of the coffee I drink nowadays is caffeine-free!

The good thing is that you can prevent anxiety attacks by being prepared and aware of your mind and body. When I feel my anxiety level rising, I tell myself that I can handle it. I can count on techniques such as meditation, mindfulness and breathing techniques.

Conclusion

Using medication in combination with yoga, mindfulness, walking, and lifestyle changes have helped me a lot.

All in all, I feel happy and optimistic most of the time. Fear no longer determines my life. I know that I am more sensitive to anxiety than the average person, so caution is necessary.

I discovered that if I keep a good eye on myself and do not put too much hay on my fork, I usually feel good. And for the moments when I feel less good, I can go back to the techniques that have been proven to help me and many others.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 Raymond Philippe

Comments

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on September 13, 2020:

Thanks for commenting Drew. I hope you’ll find techniques that work for you.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on September 10, 2020:

Yes Devika, we seem to live in a stress-driven world.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 09, 2020:

In this time people aren't feeling too relaxed and your valuable points make one realize their mental health issues.

Drew Agravante from Philippines, Currently in Qatar on September 07, 2020:

Awesome article. Thanks for sharing those techniques. I'm gonna try a few later.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on September 07, 2020:

Thanks Liz. If somebody having the same experience finds some solace in it, I would be more than happy!

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on September 07, 2020:

Pamela, thanks for your thumbs up.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on September 07, 2020:

Flourish, thanks for your kind words. Take care!

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on September 07, 2020:

Thanks Eric! I am glad you enjoyed it.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 05, 2020:

I know people who at least report that they don’t experience anxiety at all and others who are completely debilitated by it. I’m glad that you were able to find a combination of personal strategies that work for you. I wish you health and happiness in the days ahead. Peace to you.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 05, 2020:

I am glad you have found some very good ways to deal with your anxiety. Anxiety is a problem for many people and panic attacks are common as well. I found this to be a very interesting article with some excellent information.

Liz Westwood from UK on September 05, 2020:

This is a very interesting and relevant article. Thanks for sharing your experiences to help others who experience similar symptoms.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 05, 2020:

Excellent journey and well written. I practice all of these regularly.