Anxiety, worry, fear, and catastrophic thinking are all common symptoms for individuals with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD). Anxiety and panic attacks can be manifested through shallow and rapid breathing, crying, a racing heart, feelings of physical numbness in the hands or face, stomachaches, sudden headaches, and other symptoms. Some individuals think that they may be having a heart attack when they experience what feels like pain in their chest coupled with an inability to breathe normally. Anxiety can be truly terrifying for many people.
Other people become very quiet or are completely silent when they are panicked. People who are experiencing anxiety may shut down and might even dissociate—a way for individuals to emotionally protect themselves during emergencies (such as natural disasters or accidents) or during those moments when emotions and thoughts may become completely overwhelming. If you love someone with anxiety, you may find that it may be difficult to communicate with someone when they are having a panic attack. Your family member or friend may not be able to speak or follow directions for several minutes when anxiety is at its highest.
Sometimes people think that they need medications to help reduce their anxiety but the good news is that our emotions and emotional reactions don’t last forever. You may find that even intense anxiety may peak and then begin to diminish within a relatively short time span—often 10-15 minutes. A lot of people find comfort in knowing that anxiety may look and feel very different an hour from when their symptoms are at their worst. If we can be mindfully patient and compassionate with our anxiety, it will become more manageable.
Focusing on and reciting short statements can help us to survive extreme anxiety. See if you can say these short phrases as slowly as possible as a way to also help regulate your breathing. If you rush through these statements, they will not be helpful during a panic attack.
• Wise Mind. (You may know this one from dialectical behavior therapy—or DBT.)
• I am safe.
• I will survive this panic attack.
• I can love myself through this.
• I am not my anxiety.
• I can let go of fear.
• Everyone worries.
• I am helping myself.
• Just this moment.
• It’s okay to not be okay.
You may have another word, phrase, or even a short prayer that helps you to survive extreme anxiety. Please use whatever strategy works best for you or bookmark this page so that you can find these ideas quickly when you need them.
Once the panic attack is over, you’ll want to be exceptionally kind to yourself and find a way for you to validate your pain. For instance, you could tell yourself, “I’m doing the best that I can on a tough day.” Or you might remind yourself that, “I’m learning different ways to cope with my anxiety.”
Sometimes people feel embarrassed or ashamed of their very normal emotional reactions—especially if they were given the message during childhood that it wasn’t safe or acceptable to express emotions. Believing that we “should” feel or react a particular way can keep us stuck in unwanted emotions much longer.
If you are finding that fear and worry is interfering with your relationships or if anxiety is keeping you from reaching your goals, I encourage you to work with a mental health professional who understands what it’s like to live with anxiety. A trained therapist can often teach you how to manage your anxiety within a short amount of time—all without addictive and potentially dangerous medications like benzodiazepines.
Below I’ve listed some of my favorite books that I like to recommend about treating anxiety:
What helps you the most when it comes to successfully coping with anxiety?