Mindfulness and Panic: Ask Your Anxiety

Panic. Heart racing. Palms sweating. Breathing rapid and shallow. Mouth dry. Knees knocking.

Whether it’s a pop quiz, a job interview, a spider, an impromptu speech, a crowded elevator, a dirty restroom, the view from a cliff, a shot at the clinic, a flight across the ocean, a first kiss, or a trip to a crowded shopping center, we all have something that fills us with panic. In severe cases, we can develop anxiety disorders in which panic attacks occur at seemingly random moments.

Whether you have a case of the pre-speech jitters or a full-blown panic attack, the physical symptoms are easily recognized. However, what we need to see clearly are the thoughts going through our mind whenever we feel anxious.

No matter what triggers your personal panic parade– complete with lively emotions, colorful thoughts, and sizzling sensations–there is one key element that gets the party started.

No, it’s not just stress. It isn’t your personality type. It’s not solely your past memories or the way your mother raised you or your particular physical challenges.

It is simply this: you are lacking in self-esteem.

Okay, now did you automatically start with the “But I am perfectly confident! I am totally competent! I feel just fine about myself!” rebuttal? Ah, good. Watch that.

We just hate it when someone suggests we might not have rock-solid self-esteem, and yet we are pros when it comes to bashing ourselves. Aren’t we funny?

We’d rather believe that our anxiety is due to biological factors so we can take a pill to deal with it. But masking panic is not the same as managing panic. If you want to transcend your anxiety, you’ve got to get to the bottom of it.

The truth is that we only panic about things we don’t feel confident handling.

If we don’t handle a particular situation well, we dread the next time we must face it. We doubt that we will ever handle it skillfully even if we have done so in the past. We worry about it–and then worry about worrying! Fearful avoidance becomes our new way of responding.

Before we know it, we’re stuck in panic purgatory.

Insert mindfulness here. Don’t ask for anxiety–ask your anxiety. Focus on the first thought you have when that panic starts bubbling up and gently ask, “Why? Watch…then ask again. Play through several “why” cycles—and learn.

Panic is simply misguided attention. We must learn to watch the ROOT (some element requiring greater self- esteem) instead of the RESULT (all-night panic party) of our anxiety.

Ask your anxiety and listen carefully. Use mindfulness to help you redirect your attention, and you will learn to disconnect that panic button for good.

Maya Talisman Frost