Dr. Gary G. Taylor

High anxiety and panic attacks are a mental health problem that effect a significant number of missionaries.  These problems are best resolved before full-time missionary service.  Choosing to serve a full-time mission is not likely to be a cure; but could easily aggravate this kind of problem.  This is also the kind of problem that may require, or at least will benefit, from professional help.  Along with seeing a professional, here are some practical things you can do that might help.

1. Learn to avoid excessive or unnecessary worry.  Of course, this is much easier said than done; but it is a goal well worth pursing.  One simple method of thought control is to follow an ADD strategy.  A, when you are aware of a thought that you don't want to have; B, make the decision to not go there in your mind.  Then C, make the effort to focus your thinking on something unrelated to the unwanted thought.  At first your mind will likely return quickly to the unwanted thought; but with continuous repetition, it will become easier to put your thinking in a more positive place.  This is obviously also easier if whatever you try to distract yourself with is compelling and captures your interest.   Conversations with others are particularly good in this regard.

2. With respect to goals and assignments, describe them to yourself as something you "want" to do; not something you “have to” or “need to”, do.  You will generally have more success reaching your goals if you emphasize how much you want to accomplish whatever it is; rather than by telling yourself how much you need to reach the goal. Certainly, anytime you need something to happen and it doesn’t; or even if it just looks like it might not happen, you will get anxious. As an example, wanting to be on time and taking all steps practical to be on time is something we all need to do.  However, if we believe we must be on time; we will be very anxious if something out of our control comes up that makes us late.  In a similar way, all of us want to stop the very uncomfortable symptoms of high anxiety.  But needing those feelings to stop will just make the symptoms worse.  When you are having panic symptoms, don’t try to talk yourself out of the feelings and sensations, or even minimize them. Just try hard not to focus on them.

3. When you first notice fear or panic, take several deep breaths and think calming thoughts. Practice deep breathing frequently over time in order to develop a “relaxation response”. Deep breathing, or also the old remedy of breathing into a paper bag, alone can curtail a building panic attack. It is most effective when coupled with thought control such as the simple ADD strategy mentioned above.

4. When you first notice panic feelings building, label this as a panic attack. Your brain is releasing stress chemicals which are causing you to feel the way you do; but there is no real danger. Then try very hard to move your thinking to something other than the negative reactions in your body. Get into a conversation with someone, walk around, or do anything that will help you focus on something outside of yourself.

5. Pray hard; but not for the feeling to go away. Rather pray for help in distracting and knowing what to do to get your mind off of the horrible feelings you are having.​  Focus in your prayer on being thankful and grateful for the many blessings you have; including the fact that the Lord will step in if you are truly in danger.  

September 11, 2016 - Ideas for Managing Fear and Panic