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Weaken Panic Attacks, Anxiety Attacks, with Self-Compassion

Imagine weakening panic attacks and anxiety attacks simply by being nice to yourself, also known as practicing self-compassion. Both panic attacks and anxiety attacks are intense experiences of severe anxiety that effectively paralyze people, trapping them in severe physical, emotional, and cognitive discomfort. These whole-being strikes are disruptive to life and painful to experience. While often severe, meeting panic attacks and anxiety attacks with self-compassion weakens them and lessens their negative effects. 

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks are related. They both take over the physical body, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. They share symptoms. The difference is in their cause. Panic attacks are part of panic disorder and involve the fear of having more panic attacks. Anxiety attacks, on the other hand, are a reaction to extremely anxiety-provoking situations. When it comes to weakening either panic or anxiety attacks with self-compassion, the cause isn't important; therefore, I'll use the terms interchangeably as we go. 

How Does Self-Compassion Weaken Panic Attacks and Anxiety Attacks?

Simply put, self-compassion means being nice to yourself. This doesn't come naturally or easily for a lot of us, but it can be practiced and learned. Self-compassion is loving and liking ourselves just because we exist. It's knowing that we're not perfect and embracing ourselves anyway. Self-compassion is also looking for the positive within. It becomes a balance between accepting our flaws and foibles and identifying and honing our strengths. When we're self-compassionate, we forgive ourselves for our imperfections, understanding that they're part of being human. When this happens, we free ourselves from a fear of imperfection and release ourselves from worries about being judged negatively by others. 

When it comes to weakening panic attacks, self-compassion can liberate us from the all-encompassing trap we're imprisoned in during the episode. Feeling unconditional acceptance and positive thoughts about yourself during an anxiety attack disrupts anxious thoughts and emotions, which leads to changed behavior (especially the need to avoid situations and places) and improved physical sensations. 

During panic attacks, self-compassion puts space between you and your anxiety by:

  • Countering the self-defeating belief that there's something wrong with you, you're going crazy, you're weak, or you're a failure (self-compassion tells you the truth that this panic attack isn't a sign of your worth but is just an anxiety-related experience)
  • Minimizes the sense of shame and embarrassment that others can see you and are judging you (nor only can you not tell what others are thinking, self-compassion lets you stop imposing harsh judgments on yourself)
  • Helps settle agitated physical sensations (when you're being nice to yourself rather than cruel, your body's reaction to anxiety is muted)

While anxiety attacks and their effects on you are weakened when you're self-compassionate, it's a gradual process because, for many of us, self-compassion isn't a natural way of thinking. Start strengthening it with this exercise.

Cultivating Self-Compassion: An Exercise in Being Nice to Yourself

Thinking of your own panic attacks, reflect on the following questions and statements. Use a notebook, journal, or word processing program to develop your responses.

  • List the thoughts you have during a panic attack.
  • Describe the emotions you feel.
  • What do you do during and after an anxiety attack?
  • How many of these thoughts, emotions, and actions describe who you are as a person (rather than what you're experiencing during an anxiety attack or what caused it to happen)?
  • Look at all that you've written. They're experiences you have. You are not these things. Describe who you are
  • Start a running list of self-compassionate affirmations (short statements of positive thoughts about yourself such as, "I am worthy of my own respect."). Tape them in prominent places or keep them in your notebook and your notebook nearby. Read them repeatedly every day, and add more regularly.

Self-compassion is a powerful way to weaken anxiety and panic attacks because practicing it lessens anxiety's grip on you so you can step away from it and see yourself for the wonderful person you truly are. 

APA Reference
NCC, T. (2019, June 6). Weaken Panic Attacks, Anxiety Attacks, with Self-Compassion , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2019/6/weaken-panic-attacks-anxiety-attacks-with-self-compassion



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Lizanne Corbit
says:
June, 9 2019 at 3:56 pm
What a powerful read! I love this reminder: "Self-compassion is also looking for the positive within. It becomes a balance between accepting our flaws and foibles and identifying and honing our strengths." Positive within. How beautiful that is. Panic and anxiety attacks can also often trigger shame and negative self talk, so combatting it with self compassion makes beautiful sense.
June, 10 2019 at 1:47 pm
I love your concrete and useful feedback. Shame and negative self talk really are painful effects. Countering these is just as important as working on other components of anxiety and panic.

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