Coexisting With Agoraphobia, Anxiety and Panic Attacks Part 5: “The Toolbox”

Here I am again with the text from my 5th Youtube.com video entitled “The Toolbox.”  Again, I hope some of this information is of help to some of you. I can be reached via email at: eaisaksen@gmail.com if you need clarification on anything… Be well!

Youtube Video 5….”The TOOL BOX”

In this, my 5th video, I’d like to talk about what I call the “toolbox.” For me my toolbox is my list of “go to” things to do when I am especially stressed or anxious. I thought I’d like to share some of these things with you. Some of this may be redundant from previous videos, but we can never hear these kinds of things enough!

It seems to me that we all have “something” in this life. We all have our crosses to bear and mountains to climb. It is helpful, if not wise, to have at our disposal a collection of things (tools) that can help us cope in difficult and stressful situations. Sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error to find out what actually works for us. Then again at times one thing will work and the next time it may not, which is why it is a good idea to have a large assortment of aids to pick from. Over the years I have built a fairly large collection of helpful tools and have written them down, because in the times when I am the most anxious I often can’t even remember what my tools are let alone to use them. Some of the things that may help me when I am very stressed or anxious are:

  1. Breathing Exercises: I have found that using some simple breathing exercises can slow my body (heart rate) and mind (racing /catastrophic thoughts) down. I find that I can think better and often the anxiety will subside after only a 5 or 10 minute session. The simplest exercise that I learned is to just breathe in and out to a count of 4. Do this evenly for as long as it takes to get you into a better place. It works very well if you are hyperventilating. There are many more elaborate exercises that you can find on the internet that might work for you. I have recently started doing something called “alternate nostril breathing” that helps me enormously to get a rested night’s sleep for example. I also have an app for my ipad called “Breathing Zone” that at times works wonders. Search around on the internet and see if any of the exercises work for you.
  2. Positive Self -Talk: I have noticed that mostly what I believe to be true IS. If I tell myself something is horrible or a disaster it certainly turns out to be, at least in my eyes. People with anxiety often need /want to be comforted and reassured by others that they will be ok. When we are scared and panicky we often desperately think we NEED someone else to tell us that everything will have a good outcome and that we will survive the current perceived trauma. The truth is, it seems to me, that it is what WE tell ourselves that really matters. Our belief about a certain situation is what affects us. When we learn to calm ourselves down we have a tool that will always be available to us! Along the same lines, if we tell ourselves that we cannot ever be a whole person if we can’t drive to or go into the grocery store (for example) then that will be our reality. If, on the other hand, we decide to not buy into what society seems to tell us is “normal” and focus on what we CAN do on any given day our whole perspective about who we are can change. It is my belief that who we are as people (our inner life) is much more important than what we do or how far we can travel (outer life). And…if it be true that inner life is at least as important (if not more important) than outer life, you can be a whole person without ever leaving your bed or recliner! So, try on different perspectives and see how talking lovingly and supportively to yourself can make a difference in how you feel and view your world.
  3. Put Your Anxiety in The Background: I can hear you all now….lol That seems like an impossibility, and at times it is. What I am suggesting is that each and every day not be totally focused on your anxiety level and how you did /did not get somewhere. I am suggesting that one learn to co-exist with “it.” I am suggesting that there is life outside of it, if you only give it a chance to develop. For decades I got up, put the key in the car and focused only on if I could even get around the block that day. If I couldn’t I felt like a failure and the disappointment coupled with the exhaustion of the energy spent (anxiety can be exhausting) left me with not much interest in the rest of my day. I started just getting up and focusing on what I really WANTED to do. If that included going out fine, and if it didn’t that was fine too. As a result I ended up developing my creativity (as I mentioned before,most agoraphobics are very intelligent and creative) and found myself developing a home-based business and writing and doing all kinds of FUN things. My focal point was NOT on anxiety…it was on building my life to be the best it could be with what I had to work with.
  4. ACCEPTANCE: Acceptance might be the most important tool in my toolbox! It was a word I learned years ago from Dr. Claire Weakes who was a specialist in agoraphobia. She continually suggested that acceptance was the key to dealing with this condition. Instead of getting up every day hoping and praying that the anxiety is GONE, or perhaps more to the point, fearing that is not, if you just ACCEPT what is that day and not try to swim upstream so-to-speak, life can be much more peaceful. Acceptance is not the same as “giving in.” Acceptance just means that you are willing to roll with WHATEVER comes up that day or with however you feel. Promise yourself you will do you best each day to accomplish what you can and be the best person you can and let the rest just fall where it may!
  5. DISTRACTIONS: Distracting yourself from the anxiety that is going on in the present moment can be most helpful. Sometimes I can get lost in my work, especially if I am involved in a creative project. I try to find something that requires a lot of concentration and see if I can redirect my attention and energy there. I love electronic gadgets so if I have something that needs figuring out in order to use one of them I often will do that at those times. Of course there are times when anxiety is just so high it is hard to concentrate on much of anything. In those moments just trying to walk it off or do some form of exercise might help.

A FUNNY story that I have about distraction centers around an attempt to visit a mall. I got there ok and was about ¼ of the way in when I started to panic. A good friend was with me who noticed my face and decided to distract me. She was a funny character who usually could make me laugh. On this occasion she grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and turned me around and headed me to the door. As we walked she stopped at EACH store window and made me look in and told me if I didn’t STOP it she was going to drag me into the store and put in a job application. I laughed so hard I ALMOST forgot I was so panicky. I DID get back to the car and did survive.
The key about tools is to keep trying all that you have until you get to something that helps. That is why it is so important to have a wide variety to work with.

  1. MEDITATION/ RELAXATION: I can’t emphasize the importance of practicing some kind of meditation or relaxation technique enough. Learning to bring our bodies and minds down to a low level of excitation is so very important. Meditation has become very popular these days and it is widely known that many infamous people and leaders make it a point to do some form of meditative practice for at least 20-30 minutes each day. Many people claim that they simply cannot sit still and shut down their minds no matter how hard they try. Meditation, however, can take many forms. You can look into traditional methods and various yoga practices, but simply “being” with nature or listening to soothing, soul-touching music can be meditative. Holding your pet close and just cuddling for a while can have similar results. Keep trying different things to see what works for you.

**Sometimes while meditating if I try to focus on and draw forward my “inner Ellen”…the one that is loving and peaceful that I remember from my days in college for example….I relax. I am in touch with the true authentic “me”…the one that is suffocated and stifled by the anxiety. Anxiety truly suffocates creativity and our real loving being….try to get in touch with yours by visualizing and calling forth the person you once remembered yourself to be w/o all the anxiety. Visualization can be very powerful….truly KNOW and BELIEVE that person is still in there, because he/she truly is.

  1. HUMOR… A little humor goes a long way, especially if you can laugh at yourself. I remember a time when I was having a panic attack while trying to put my parrot back in his cage. Instead of heading for his cage once I tried putting him in the garbage can and another time I tried to stuff him into the microwave! It always gives me a good belly laugh these days!!
  1. DIET…I’ll keep this simple….Eating high protein foodss can help your blood sugar stay stable …..also avoid caffeine and sugar as they are stimulants and stimulants are usually the last thing we need.
  1. I keep a cane close by so when I am too anxious I can use it to balance me when my legs feel like jelly or when I feel a little light headed (going to mail box etc…especially)
  2. At times /periods of severe anxiety I keep items I may need close by…esp at night. Next to bed might have food, cool rag, water, valium, phone and phone numbers, porta potty or bucket. It can be comforting to know we can take care of ourselves should we feel immobilized by anxiety.
  3. I use headphones to distract myself in certain situations such as cutting the lawn or even talking to people if very nervous. Music or audiobooks can distract us wonderfully at times when we need to get the focus off of our anxiety. If you are not too anxious to read, try reading inspirational books. It can take our mind off of the place we are in.

12  Think creatively….use computer or some other resource to get focus off the anxiety.

  1. Plan ahead…make dinners ahead if possible so you don’t feel under pressure to perform….Don’t RUSH…allow ample time for all things etc…
  1. Take Baby steps in all things you want to accomplish, especially new things…..Try not to care what people think about what /how we are doing things.
  1. Call a friend or counselor. This is a tool I use OFTEN and am blessed to have a couple of good friends who really “get me”…..It is a great release and a way to get a new and better perspective in many situations.

16.. The last tool that I am going to mention here is something called the “ ABCD Principle”… This is a tool/method that can be EXTREMELY helpful in dealing with our negative or catastrophic thinking process. We create so much misery for ourselves with negative thinking and anticipating the worst in most all situations. With this method we challenge those thoughts. I have used it hundreds of times with wonderful results.

Basically, in the ABCD method you are writing down your negative thoughts and trying to counter them with more realistic thoughts.

The “A” stands for the “activating event” that has triggered your anxiety. i.e. Going into the grocery store caused me to become very anxious and panicky.

The “B” stands for the belief about the triggering event (i.e. “I will get so anxious I will go crazy if I go into the store” or People will see how anxious I am and think I am weird or crazy.

The “C” stands for consequence of the triggering event… i.e. I don’t go to the grocery store?

The “D” stands for “Dispute” the event…. i.e. What other way could I see this? Is that thinking really in line with reality? Have I ever gone crazy going into the grocery store? You might also add these disputes:

People may see me a little wobbly or hurried but many people in that store probably don’t feel well either and I don’t view them negatively.

Or

What OTHER people think is of NO importance to me. I need to live my life as I see fit. Everyone has weaknesses and quirks and it is no big deal.

Or

I know I am not crazy. I have never gone crazy. These are just feelings and will pass…they always DO!

It is VERY helpful to make up index cards (or a pad) with 3 lines drawn vertically down the front with each of the 4 sections labeled ABCor D…..as an activating event happens to you throughout the day write it down and dispute it over and over again…..in time your brain will see the situation differently!

I hope this set of tools has been helpful to you. I know they help me enormously…. “Til next time, this is Ellen saying “Namastel.”

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