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50 Tools for Panic and Anxiety -- page 6
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.

Initial cognitive training teaches the basic skills that help change irrational beliefs or inaccurate thinking.

Index to 50 Tools

Listen to 50 Tools


Initial Cognitive Training (cont.)

Suggestion 12: Listen to Audio Assistance

When people are first learning how to manage panic attacks they may have a great deal of difficulty putting the methods into practice. During a panic attack it is hard to remember what you need to do or how you are supposed to challenge the thinking.

Therefore, Excel At Life provides a Panic Assistance audio that coaches you through the panic. It addresses the primary types of thinking and reminds you to breathe and calm your body. The purpose of this audio is not relaxation but to help you through panic. Therefore, it is more firm than the relaxation audios so as to get your attention and to help you focus on challenging the irrational thinking.

However, don't rely on the panic assistance audio as your only method of managing panic and anxiety. Sometimes the audio can be very powerful for people and they come to depend upon it. However, it is best to learn the other methods presented here to develop true control over the panic and anxiety. Once you truly change your thinking and have confidence in your ability to calm your body, you will no longer need the panic assistance audio.

Suggestion 13: Recognize and Accept Your Value

Many of my clients with anxiety disorders tend to be highly critical of themselves. This isn't always the case, but if it is true for you it is necessary to address your self-concept. How you feel about yourself can affect your ability to control your anxiety and panic for several reasons:

1) Criticism is stressful. As I indicated previously, managing anxiety involves managing stress. Our lives are stressful enough without adding unnecessary stress. When you are overly critical of yourself you are creating unnecessary demands. Certainly, we do need to evaluate ourselves accurately in order to pursue change. But evaluation does not need to be demanding or harsh.

2) Negativity creates helplessness. Being overly critical of yourself is likely to create the belief “Nothing I do will matter.” Such a helpless belief also leads to hopelessness, the belief that nothing will ever change. As a result, negativity directed towards yourself is likely to prevent problem-solving which then reinforces the belief that nothing will get better.

3) Criticism interferes with balance. Self-criticism disrupts balance. The more negative you are towards yourself, the less likely you are to focus on the enjoyable aspects of life that can provide a balancing perspective. If your entire focus is on anxiety and negativity, you don't have the opportunity to participate fully in life.

For these reasons, if you are overly critical of yourself, you need to begin to change that thinking. One way of doing this is by creating daily affirmations. Focus on the positive aspects of yourself and your life no matter how small they may seem. The more you do so, you can begin to create a positive self-fulfilling prophecy in which you believe that your life can change and you have the power to do so. The Excel At Life app Self-Esteem Blackboard can aid in this process.

Suggestion 14: Give Yourself A Break

Closely related to the previous suggestion regarding self-criticism is the idea of developing self-compassion. Recognize that having an anxiety disorder was not a choice you made. It is not your fault. However, it does become your responsibility.

Too often, people with anxiety view themselves from the outside world. Unfortunately, many people with whom you come in contact don't understand what an anxiety disorder is and they may diminish it or they may view someone with anxiety as weak and unable to manage the everyday tasks of life. They may believe that what you experience is the same as normal anxiety that most people experience but that you can't handle it.

It certainly would be preferable if other people didn't have that view. However, you don't have control over others. You only have control over yourself. You can choose to not share this uneducated view that some other people have of anxiety disorders.

Recognize that what you experience is not a normal level of anxiety and that what you have to do to manage your anxiety is much more difficult than facing normal fears. Even if no one else you know understands this, it is important for you to understand it!

Focus on developing compassion for yourself. Often my clients will ask me “Isn't that just feeling sorry for myself?” No, it is not. By understanding the distinction between compassion and sympathy, you can be kind and understanding towards yourself but still take the responsibility to take care of yourself.

Learning compassion for yourself requires both education and developing a compassionate perspective. The more you understand your anxiety, the more it helps you cope with the anxiety because you are dealing with the reality of your anxiety, not the inaccurate beliefs of others.

Excel At Life provides a Compassion Meditation to help you learn the compassionate perspective. Through this meditation you can learn to give yourself the same compassion you give to others. However, the Compassion Meditation is a more advanced practice so it is best to practice the Loving Kindness Meditation first. Practicing these meditations daily can help develop the perspective of compassion towards yourself.

Suggestion 15: Use the Cognitive Diary

As described in the article How Do We Change Irrational Thinking? it is necessary to repeatedly challenge irrational thinking. Often people say to me “I know my thinking is wrong, but that doesn't change anything!” Just knowing that your thinking is irrational won't change it. You must make a deliberate and repetitive effort to change your thinking. You wouldn't expect to learn any other new skill without practice. Why expect learning to change your thinking to be different than any other skill acquisition?

A method that is commonly used to aid this process is using a cognitive diary. This is a very specific, structured method to help recognize and change thinking. Read Understanding and Using the Cognitive Diary for further information.

The cognitive diary is best used on a daily basis to address any type of problem that occurs. As stated previously, you need to examine your thinking in all areas, not just thinking related to anxiety. Not only does this help manage anxiety but it improves your life in other ways, too.

Most of Excel At Life's apps include some form of a cognitive diary to make it convenient to record events and challenge thinking. READ MORE: page 7

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Dr. Monica Frank

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