The Ultimate Anxiety and Panic Toolkit

I have a client who reached out to me recently because they were dealing with some severe panic and anxiety in the family. While I am not a psychologist, I have, in my history experienced severe anxiety and panic – to the point where I would run to the hospital on foot thinking I was going to die. It was probably one of the worst times in my life. Now, I have my panic and anxiety attacks down to about three to five seconds each and hardly ever experience them.

Because of that client’s desperate need for help, I started typing an Anxiety Toolkit for her family member. I could not BELIEVE how much I was typing just from the top of my head without having to reference any material. I had so much knowledge from my own personal experience. I am confident there is at least one thing in it for anyone with anxiety to attempt to work on starting right now. I am not a psychologist but this was just too good not to share.

AND NO, before you ask, I personally do not agree with Mel Robbins 5-Second Method. It might work for you so do not discount it; however, for people with who experience acute anxiety or panic, the 5‑second method is an extreme over-simplification of a seemingly complex issue. Perhaps this method would work better for someone experiencing minimal situational anxiety.

Here is the Ultimate Anxiety and Panic Toolkit. Some of the content is a little older, but still produces amazing results.

Stuff to Read And Work Through

  • This book is full of really awesome activities. Some of them are kind of cheesy and some examples are extreme but the core content can be absolutely life-changing when it is practiced. I am not kidding when I say I practice the cognitive distortions activities (which are not cheesy) nearly every single day and have faithfully for exactly 20 years this year! They help you get your thoughts in line with what is true and real: Ten Days to Self Esteem (It’s a workbook)
  • LEARN ABOUT ANXIETY: You have to understand how anxiety works in order to understand what is happening in your mind and body. Without this, you end up “guessing” the whole time. Anxiety perpetuates itself because we are afraid of experiencing it again
    • Here is something that is an INTRODUCTION
  • LEARN ABOUT YOUR ANXIETY: So many people push the anxiety away from them – meaning they brace with fear trying to get rid of or push the anxiety away. IT DOES NOT WORK!!! The only way to deal with anxiety is to get to know it. What I mean is that if you apply the principle behind the phrase “Keep your friends close but you enemies closer” it will make more sense. We keep our enemy anxiety close because once we get to know it we can work with it rather than against it. This means knowing your anxiety triggers, knowing what tactics work to calm it down, and giving your anxiety a voice. I’ll give you a personal example:
    • Every time I try to run away from anxiety or I try to push it away or a brace for the onset of it, it gets worse. Instead, I say “Oh, I think I’m going to have an anxiety attack. I can feel it coming on because my shoulders are raised up by my ears, I’m clenching my fists, I’m even feeling tingly in my cheeks and hands.” And then I say, “Hmm… okay. I know what to do to let this pass. Anxiety, what do you need right now? Tell me what you need?”
    • The anxiety I experience is like my best friend that holds me accountable – “Oh! Christopher, you are overstimulated, you need a break.”, “Oh! Christopher, you are taking on too many things. It’s time to slow down.”, “Christopher, you are avoiding something. It’s time to look at it and deal with it.”, “Christopher, you are trying to be perfect again. You will lose this battle.”
      • By understanding these things I could address them and they were less scary.
    • Know your triggers, death, sickness and illness were all major triggers for me. Even sometimes eating new food when I was already in a stressed-out state could trigger anxiety. It sounds absurd in some ways, but most people with anxiety chalk it up to just feeling scared but they don’t get to know it like a friend.
      • The main point, STOP PUSHING ANXIETY AWAY. Listen to it. It’s there for a reason but mostly it’s lying to us because we haven’t dealt with something or are afraid of something that isn’t happening yet.
    • Therefore, journal, ask yourself questions about what you love and hate, what you need, what you are afraid of, what you are grateful for. Here are some questions you can ask yourself

Stuff to Create And Make

  • Have a physical “Anxiety First Aid Kit”. A shoebox filled with things that get you out of your head and back into your physical body. Getting into the physical body (breathing especially) is imperative. You can fill the kit with things that get you out of your mind and into your body. Mine was filled with some of the below:
    • A few mint tea bags that I could smell or make into tea
    • A CD of Mozart
    • A crochet hook and some yarn (I still use this if I need to)
    • Tactile things like rocks with different kinds of surfaces (it’s called a worry stone for a reason)
    • Dark chocolate (this is less about the HT model and more about ensuring that can get back into my body (also it lasts a long time so I didn’t worry about expiration dates)
    • Pencils, so I could break them in two or scribble furiously
    • Three cue cards
      • One was instructions on what to do first (very simple instructions, 3 to 5 steps and a few simple words for each step) to keep it simple. Example:
        • 1) Get in your body. Now!
        • 2) Breath. Four Square. Exhale lots!
        • 3) Remove stimulus
      • One was activities that I could do that got me back in my body (usually stuff that is contained in the kit because sometimes anxiety is so debilitating that
        • Go for a run. Now!
        • Listen to relaxing music and crochet
        • Feel each surface of your rocks
      • One had phone numbers of five people that knew what to do in the event I couldn’t get my anxiety attack under control with a note:
        • “Call one of these people, they won’t judge you because they know.”

Actions To Do

  • Cardiovascular exercise of any kind is a MUST for anyone with anxiety
    • Run, bike, swim, walk fast or walk up hills, etc.
    • Even moving your arms back and forth sitting in a chair as if you were running… enough to work up a sweat can help
  • Food. Oh my gosh, the list is endless. Sugar, caffeine or any stimulant should be cut out immediately until the attacks are under control. Maybe forever (for me, coffee is a massive anxiety-producing trigger – the caffeine stimulates me so much that I will be anxious for about a day and a half. I have literally had two cups of coffee in about twenty years. Not kidding.) Eat lots of plants! Even depressants like drinking can trigger anxiety the next day.
  • Sleep. Period. Sleep must be good. Anxiety is always higher when sleep is lower.
  • Remove the stimulus. For example, for me the end of a long week, thinking about my health, sitting in a restaurant, eating new food and talking about work will most definitely trigger an anxiety attack. But I know this because I know my anxiety and I can still go out for dinner but sometimes I take a five-minute breathing break in the washroom if I need it.
  • Every single person who experiences anxiety or anxiety attacks MUST practice mindfulness meditation
    • Check out MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction). This is my favourite, in 8-weeks the world can look quite different after this FREE program.
  • Do Four square breathing, especially in an attack but you have to practice it when not in an attack for it to help and work best.
  • Do Progressive Muscle Relaxation is amazing especially in an attack but again you have to practice it when not in an attack for it to help and work.
  • GET A THERAPIST – this is a terrible journey to navigate on your own. It’s lonely and dark and scary so why wouldn’t you get an expert. For example, would you fix your $150K car if you had never seen the engine of a car before? No, that would be a stupid and expensive mistake. This is the same.
    • PS. Talk therapy is never what anyone thinks it is. It’s almost always better AND if you don’t connect with your therapist, find a different one. They are like trying on shoes… not everyone is going to be a nice fit.

Things to Consider

  • Sometimes drugs can help short term or long term. I needed them for a little while myself years ago. Medication for mental health to me is like getting a ladder when you are in a dark hole with no way out. BUT without a therapist, they only mask the problems so drugs must ALSO be combined with talk therapy.
  • HAVE HOPE and LEARN TO LAUGH ABOUT IT: Learn to laugh about it when not in an attack. Mostly anxiety is a trick of the mind. We think we are in danger when mostly never does any danger exist. AND have hope my attacks are about three to five seconds long now… seriously. And I maybe get them two or three times a month AND as soon as they are done I start to laugh… literally. I start to laugh because 90% of the time I realize I was just not breathing. Some days can still be a little tougher but NONE has ever been as bad as they were twenty years ago.
  • Find other tactics I haven’t listed. The list is endless!!

By the way, the longer it takes someone to start addressing it head-on, the longer they are in pain with this. There is NO reason to be in so much fear AND it does require some work and practice. Just like anything worth doing in life, practice is required!

I know this is a lot. Too much for one person struggling with anxiety to even consider starting the point of all of this… there is hope and it’s time to take at least one action.

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