Using the A.W.A.R.E Technique!
There are many ways of coming at anxiety and panic attacks, but this simple technique, known as AWARE, is easy to remember and can be carried out anywhere...anytime!
AWARE is an acronym for the simple steps you need to follow when you're feeling an anxiety attack coming on. Above is a video explaining each step of the technique, but below is a slightly more detailed explanation of what to do and why it works.
A is for accept the anxiety. Feeling anxious is bad enough, but feeling anxious about feeling anxious is often what causes anxiety to bloom into a full-blown panic attack. It helps to know these facts:
- Panic attacks won't kill you! Although it can feel like they might, at times.
- What you are experiencing is just physical symptoms of the body getting ready to flee or fight a threat.
- Panic or anxiety attacks rarely last for more than a few minutes.
"Okay, so I'm feeling a little anxious, and that's okay." or
"So, I"m not as relaxed as I was a few minutes ago, or as calm as I will be in a few minutes, but that's okay. Its a short window of time and I'm cool to sit with this for a few minutes."
W is for watch the anxiety. Watching the anxiety is done in a few ways.
Firstly, by scaling the intensity of your anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being kicked back on a tropical island drinking Pina Coladas and 10 being as panicked as a female character in a slasher movie. The reason for the scaling is because of how your brain works. The brain is divided into the left and right side, each responsible for different functions. Left brain functions are more logical and linear such as working with and processing numbers. Right brain functions are more creative and organic such as creativity and emotions. Now, an interesting, little known fact for you...It is physically impossible to use both sides of the brain at exactly the same time. If you need evidence of this, cross your legs, right over left. Turn your right foot in clock-wise circles. Whilst continuing to do this, with your right hand draw the figure 6 in the air. You will notice that your foot reverses direction. This is because each action uses opposing sides of the brain.
Think of the two sides of your brain as a set of old-fashioned scales or a see-saw. When one side is up, the other is down. Always. Its a universal certainty. So when your emotion is high--logical thinking and processing of information is low. It therefore stands to reason that when logical thinking and processing information is high, emotion is low. Which means that contemplating and processing numbers to measure your emotion will stimulate and heighten the logical, thinking side of the brain...causing the right-side and its associated emotion to begin to lower.
Secondly, watching the anxiety is achieved by observing the physical sensations of it. Try to avoid labelling the emotion. For example, instead of saying to yourself "Oh God, I'm freaking out. I'm having a panic attack." Begin to observe where in your body things are changing. Things you might notice could include the quickening of your breath...the speeding up of your heartbeat, describe this. Is it like a fluttering in the chest? You may notice your mouth going dry...your palms beginning to moisten with perspiration...all those lovely bodily functions!
And Thirdly, we watch the anxiety while practicing controlled, 7/11 breathing. As you do, you'll notice it beginning to diminish. This kind of breaking is the modern day version of breathing in and out of a paper bag. By breathing in for 7 and out for 11, you're lowering the oxygen levels in your blood which can cause the brain to shut off the fight or flight mechanism immediately. As you do this breathing, continue to scale your emotion and monitor the symptoms.
A is for act as if everything is normal. The reason for this is that your brain is very much a two-way street. While it might trigger neurological events that influence your behaviour, your behaviour can also trigger neurological events. Therefore, if you continue to act normal, the brain can read this as a sign that it may have mis-calculated the potential threat in your environment and, once again, shut down the fight or flight response.
R is for repeat each step. This is is simple enough. Go back to the W, and watch the anxiety using all the steps outlined above. You'll probably notice that it has already noticeably decreased.
E is for expect the best. Now its time to align your expectation of the outcome with reality. And the reality is that panic attacks don't kill and rarely last for more than a few minutes. Remind yourself of this and reassure yourself that this will soon pass.
Some extra tips:
- If you suffer from regular anxiety and panic attacks, and drink coffee, cut it out immediately and entirely. All stimulants should be avoided.
- Take up regular exercise. When you worry and stress over things, your levels of stress hormones are high as is your base level of stress. This means that the time and distance it takes you to go from relaxed to stressed is much less than those who don't experience anxiety. Exercising lowers the stress hormone and your base stress level. You'll find that you'll become much more emotionally resilient...and chilled, man!
- Check your diet. Ensuring your diet is made up of healthy, balanced and nutritious eating habits, at least 80% of the time, is sometimes all it takes to debunk many emotional issues.
- If you do suffer from anxiety, don't hide it. Often times, the act of trying to hide that you're feeling anxious can be the main trigger. Admit to friends that you're feeling a little anxious and explain this technique to them. They can help you with it. A problem shared is a problem halved. This has been scientifically proven...but that's another blog post! But remember, just admitting to the feeling itself often reduces its effects.
- Write the AWARE acronym on the back of a business card and keep it in your pocket, wallet or purse. Somewhere you can reach for it if you need it.
- Finally, if you are in the midst of an anxiety attack, do some rapid physical exercise. Star-jumps, running on the spot, whatever works for you. Disappear into the toilet and jump on the spot if you have to. Sudden and vigorous exercise signals the brain that you are 'dealing with' whatever threat it perceives you to be at the mercy of and shuts down the fight or flight response immediately.
Please share this post. Don't assume that if none of your friends or family have mentioned issues with anxiety that they don't have them. Many people who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks do so quietly and secretly.