by Malia Bradshaw for Tiny Buddha
“Trust that, when you are not holding yourself together so tightly, you will not fall apart. Trust that it is more important to fulfill your authentic desires than listen to your fears. Trust that your intuition is leading you somewhere. Trust that the flow of life contains you, is bigger than you, and will take care of you—if you let it.” ~Vironika Tugaleva
Anxiety has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. But a year ago marked my first full-blown panic attack.
As is common with first-time panic attacks, I had no idea what was happening to me, landing myself in the emergency room several times and visiting numerous doctors before a diagnosis of panic disorder was offered.
Anxiety can cause you to feel like you are dying. Rapid heartbeat, shaking, confusion, shortness of breath, a feeling of impending doom, and a sense of unreality are just a few of the horrifying symptoms of intense fear.
Continually worried about when the next attack would present itself, I lived in a state of constant anxiety.
I started avoiding all the places that could possibly trigger an attack, including grocery stores, social gatherings, and even my place of work. My life went from being filled with adventure to being very, very confined.
Anxiety was literally trapping me inside myself.
As my life spiraled out of control, I realized that I was doing anything and everything to avoid the fear. I was afraid of the fear. Instead of riding through the sensations, allowing them to be in my body, I was pushing and squirming against them.
I knew I had to find a way to ride the attacks through.
I started adopting mantras, words, or phrases that carry spiritual significance, to repeat to myself during intense moments of anxiety, and I found that my ability to handle the attacks grew. The mantras served as a vessel to carry me through the stormy waters.
Here are some of the mantras I found most effective in leading me through fear and anxiety.
1. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
This phrase, originally coined by author Susan Jeffers, was a beautiful lesson for me in allowing the sensations of fear to live in my body.
Whenever I would finally convince myself to venture out to the grocery store, I would immediately find my heart quickening, my throat tightening, and my vision getting blurry. As I walked down the aisles, all I wanted to do was bolt to the car and drive home to “safety.”
But I just kept repeating, feel the fear and do it anyway.
In other words, let fear be here. You can still do whatever it is you need to do with fear present.
This mantra can apply not only to panic attacks, but any situation where anxiety may limit us, like starting a new job or moving on from an unhealthy relationship or talking to a stranger. Our initial tendency is to avoid these situations where fear arises. It’s so much easier to not accept the new job because we’re scared.
But if we can learn to allow the sensations of fear to be what they are, we can do it anyway. We can do anything we desire, because we aren’t giving fear permission to stop us anymore.
2. Other people feel this too.
Often, I found myself feeling isolated and alone in my emotions and struggles. Here I was struggling to drive myself down the street without panicking, when the people around me seemed so at ease.
But after adopting this mantra, I started realizing that whatever it is fear makes us feel—whether it be sadness, jealousy, guilt, hopelessness, anger, distrust, unworthiness—other people feel this too. Even when I am in the midst of a panic attack, certain that I am going crazy or about to die, I tell myself thatother people feel this too. I am not alone.
This mantra also evoked compassion and empathy. Instead of focusing solely on my own struggles, I began shifting my attention to all the people who feel this pain, too. My thoughts then morphed fromWhy am I suffering? to May all beings be free from this suffering.
3. Commit to love.
Fear is a very powerful emotion, especially as it overtakes your body and mind at unrelenting speeds. But love is even more powerful than all the fear of the world combined.
When an attack threatened to push me over the edge, I reminded myself over and over to commit to love. I can’t love myself fully when I am focused on fear. I can’t love others fully when I am focused on fear.
Often, I was so preoccupied with my fear that I couldn’t hear what anyone around me was saying.
Committing to love meant being present when my loved ones spoke instead of silently planning my escape routes from the restaurant. It meant forgiving myself when I couldn’t drive as far that day instead of increasing my fear with worries of having a set back.
If I can come back to love, over and over, the fear just doesn’t have as much power. Yes, it is scary and yes, it seems so very real, but we’re not meant to live lives filled with fear. If we can commit to love, however often we might need to remind ourselves, fear doesn’t stand a chance.
4. This too shall pass.
This a phrase I’m sure we’ve all heard a million times. But it is one of the most powerful mantras I adopted for dealing with panic and anxiety.
Anxiety has a way of making us feel like it will last forever, especially during the intense moments of an attack. The fearful thoughts swirling around in my head—What if this lasts forever? I can’t handle this if it doesn’t end—only added fuel to the fire.
By reminding myself that this too shall pass, no matter how awful it may seem, I was able to allow more space for the fear to live.
This too shall pass, so I can handle it while it is here.
Even during the worst attacks of my life, when I absolutely thought I was a goner, the whisper of this too shall pass echoed in the background. Every attack ends. Anxiety may linger but it changes. It morphs from one second to the next, which means that we can handle each second as it comes because it will all be different in another.
Ultimately, a mantra is most powerful when it is a phrase that truly speaks to your heart. Maybe it comes from a book you happened to open, or a close friend’s advice, or a relaxing yoga class.
Anxiety is not easy to deal with, but we can take some of the power into our own hands by shifting our thoughts from fear to love and light. Many blessings.