Written by Lucy Peters
Roughly four million American adults experience panic attacks, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. While therapy, medication, a good diet and plenty of exercise are commonly prescribed for panic disorders, meditation is often overlooked. But it shouldn’t be. Filtering one’s thoughts can prevent, or stop, panic attacks just as effectively as any other technique. Although there are a few ways to meditate the panic away, mindfulness is especially effective for panic disorders that are enabled by contemporary culture.
This type of meditation emphasizes the non-judgmental awareness of one’s thoughts as they arise. It also directs your awareness to the present rather than the future. Since panic attacks are generally caused by an overwhelming fear of a hypothetical future, mindfulness can be incredibly beneficial in such situations. When the feeling of panic strikes, people who have learned mindfulness techniques can investigate the panic, decide that it’s not worth being stressed about, take deep breaths to relieve the physical discomfort that accompanies a panic attack, and focus on their breathing to release negative thoughts and ground themselves in the moment. Mindfulness masters like Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn can literally visualize the negative thoughts coming and going away, thus freeing themselves of suffering. Once this practice has been repeated and mastered, they will have control over the panic disorder, rather than the panic disorder controlling them.
The Cultural Cause
While there are countless causes for panic disorders, many experts agree that social media can exacerbate the anxiety symptoms that lead to panic attacks. This means that the cultural component of panic may be larger than in previous generations. People who use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat may be susceptible to feelings of inadequacy, dissatisfaction and paranoia: inadequacy because they compare their lives to those of the more affluent social media users; dissatisfaction because social media highlights events that they wish they could have been a part of; and paranoia because social media is a sensationalized version of the news. Since children devote a larger portion of their lives to social media than adults (2 hours 55 minutes a day for Gen Z versus 2 hours for Gen X, according to Global Web Index), they are more at risk of these social-media inspired cognitive distortions. To curb these feelings before they conspire for an all-out attack, both children and adult social media users should engage in mindfulness. In fact, meditation sessions can be a family affair. Parents can introduce mindfulness techniques to their children: members of a generation that is, according to the APA Stress in America survey, 12 percent more likely to report poor mental health than the generation that came before.
Living A Panic-Free Life
Once meditation has been incorporated into an individual’s self-care routine, there is no limit to what he or she can accomplish. Think of mindfulness as a superpower that is activated whenever its host is feeling mentally unwell. Meditation doesn’t only work on panic attacks, but on anxiety, depression, addiction and everyday stress and sadness. This person is then able to thwart negative thoughts of any kind with rationalization, deep breathing, and moment-by-moment awareness.
Although panic disorders are most often associated with adults, they can be experience by anyone, especially if they are entrenched in social media. While social media is not the sole cause of generational anxiety, it’s definitely an enabler. Luckily, mindfulness exists as a counterbalance.
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