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Transforming Panic Into Peace: 3 Steps to Relieve Anxiety

Meditating

“No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.” ~Buddha

Growing up, I was one of those people much more concerned about what you thought of me than what I thought of me.

With my focus being on how I was being perceived by those around me, it left me feeling extremely unsettled.

I was desperate to be liked and accepted.

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind” was a nice idea for the fortunate, but certainly not for me.

I was convinced that Dr. Seuss was living in fantasyland!

This social anxiety spread to my work life, too. I wondered why I was never truly happy or successful. I wondered why I didn’t enjoy the rich relationships that so many around me seemed to enjoy.

Then I discovered Zen.

I read that Zen means awareness, and being with what is, as it is.

What I loved most about Zen is its utter simplicity in recognizing what is really true. Not what is partially or sometimes true, but what’s always true.

It didn’t compromise.

I liked that. I wanted that ability to recognize what was always true. That sounded like real emotional freedom to me.

Zen kept telling me truth was simple, so simple that it was often overlooked by the mind that loved to judge, condemn, compare, and resist.

Zen meant to be in alignment with reality as it actually unfolded, not as I wished it would unfold.

Simple indeed!

I saw how my mind loved to complicate things. I saw how my mind resisted so much of what was actually happening.

And I was miserable and stressed out.

I failed to see the inseparable connection between panic and peace—and how resisting one would never reveal the other.

However, as I began to incorporate what I was learning, I found that when I met the anxiety symptoms without running from or avoiding them, my experience began to change, too.

They no longer had control of me.

I had new life.

And I wanted more of it.

Here are the 3 things that dramatically reduced or eliminated the anxiety and panic I had been experiencing. Consider implementing the following and see if it brings you more peace.

1. Meet your panic and anxiety head on.

Zen is essentially about who we’re being in relation to something or someone, and this includes needless anxiety. It also includes this very moment. In fact, especially this very moment, as it shows up, and not as I wish it would show up.

Inherent in anxiety and panic attacks is the belief that it shouldn’t be happening. But this is never true.

No amount of wishing a particular moment to be different than it is can ever change that moment. Many actually think it’s a good strategy, but it rarely ever works out.

Upon closer examination, I saw that whenever I ran from anything, that thing chased me. This included thoughts and feelings.

I found that whenever I faced and embraced anything, it eventually dissolved and left my experience. I was encouraged because I knew I was onto something significant.

I walked around with a new mantra: “What I run from must chase me.”

It served as a great reminder and often snapped me back into being in alignment with what was actually occurring.

Whatever I met head on lost its power, every time. Resistance would often magically drop away. And it was palpable.

I learned that I can either live with the laws that govern me (and all of life) or I can resist them and suffer.

Seeing that I couldn’t escape the consequences of how I met anything, I began to face what was facing me. And that insight, I found, was the difference between living a life of peace versus a living a life of stress.

I began to consciously choose peace.

In fact, any challenging situation (or emotion) that arose wanted to be met by my loving attention.

Stress manifested only if I avoided the negative thoughts and feelings.

If I shined the light of gentle awareness on what wasn’t at peace within me, it had to come out of hiding and release me—because I met it.

2. Allow it to be as it is.

Notice how your mind in its infinite wisdom will tell you that any particular thought, feeling, or experience should or could be different than it presently is.

Is it ever true? Can it ever be true? As much as the mind will try to use logic and reason, it’s never true.

Things are often different than they were, but they are never different than they are!

This may seem counterintuitive, but the reality is we must first accept our present lot if we wish to experience something different in the next moment. We can’t expect to resist our current situation and simultaneously be at peace.

It won’t happen.

The essence of Zen is about being with whatever arises without offering any resistance whatsoever. It’s about being neutral emotionally so that we are in a position to respond appropriately.

Alternatively, resistance is the energy that gives life to what we don’t want.

If we simply allow our symptoms of anxiety to be as they are, we find that they don’t hang around long enough to torture us.

By taking the backward step (as they say in Zen) into this present moment, we discover that peace never left us in the first place.

It just seemed that way.

Allow your anxiety to be as it is, as you look to overcome it.

3. Be compassionate with yourself.

Sure, you’ve heard it before. Be nice to yourself! Get off your back! Stop blaming yourself! The key to effective transformation—turning panic into peace—is to stop beating yourself up and to make yourself the most important person in your life.

Wouldn’t you treat someone who really needed support with kindness and compassion?

Why are you any different?

Perhaps the greatest quality of spirit that the Buddha spoke most about was compassion, not only towards oneself, but to others as well. Compassion is the great neutralizer that has a way of dissolving old wounds, as well as new ones.

The truth is you’re not to blame for your anxiety, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for it.

You aren’t “crazy” or “weak”—and you’re no less worthy a human being for experiencing it, either. Your mind may tell you different, and even sound very convincing, but is it really true?

No, it isn’t. Not even a little bit.

Work with yourself, not against yourself, if you truly desire to transform your panic into peace. It’s all in how you relate to your current condition. Self-condemnation only gets you more of what you don’t want.

The truth is, you are much more than any thought or feeling that arises. Within you is the power to transform your panic into peace.

As the Buddha said, “Be a light unto yourself.”

Transcending anything never involves rejection, but it always involves acceptance.

Photo by Suicine

Avatar of Alex Keats

About Alex Keats

Alex Keats suffered from extreme anxiety for over five years and now helps people overcome it in all its forms.  He is the author of "Born To Be Happy" and “The Dance of Imperfection.”  To learn why you stay anxious, and to find out what mistakes to avoid, visit www.cure-anxiety-now.com.

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  • http://upliftedliving.com/ Meg Sylvia

    Ahh, thank you Alex! I searched through countless websites looking for the “magic pill” that would save me from my anxiety when I was going through the worst of it. I eventually realized the same thing that you did; the answer is really so simple!

    Anxiety stems out of trying to control what we don’t want to accept as the truth. It comes from deep set fears of being rejected, or losing someone or something we love. By accepting the moment for what it is and relaxing into the anxiety, accepting it as simply a passing feeling rather than a truth, it does WONDERS in finding the peace on the other side! Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Jay

    Alex, thanks for your insightful article. Your words have arrived at just the time I need them.
    cheers. Jay

  • http://yourlifebetter.net/ Darrell

    Hi Alex, This is a fantastic article. I dealt with anxiety for years and never considered it a Zen approach although I think it is this exact approach that helped me to change my thinking and overcome the anxiety.

    You are so insightful when you write “I learned that I can either live with the laws that govern me (and all of life) or I can resist them and suffer.” Man is that ever a statement to wrap your head around and really think about. Resisting what our true motivators are in an effort to fit into someone else’s mold is the definition of an anxiety causing event.

    Really great. Thanks so much for the pick-me-up.

    DC

  • lv2terp

    Fantastic post!!!! Thank you for sharing this awesome message with wonderful insight/advice to lead to a more peaceful life! Beautiful! :)

  • Julia

    Thank you so much for this article. I’ve been looking for ways to just “make my panic attacks go away” but keep being led back to breathing meditation and Zen approaches as a way to transform my response to anxiety. I know it won’t happen overnight, but becoming willing to accept rather than to fight will probably open the door.

  • Sean

    Thank you so much Alex for this wonderful post! Personally I’ve struggled with uncontrollable anxiety on a daily basis and have decided that enough is enough. By the end of the day I’m so completely drained by it physically and mentally. As you said “We can’t expect to resist our current situation and simultaneously be at peace.” There’s been far to much resistance on my part and I’m ready to find peace. Thanks again for the much needed wonderful words.

  • Alex Keats

    Jay,
    Thank you for your note, much appreciated. I’m glad the article resonated!
    Peace,
    Alex

  • http://www.siviking.com/ Ragnar

    Good points! I would have never thought about compassion towards myself… I found that when I got used to feeling anxious, it took the sting out of it and made it less distracting. And as a result of that I became comfortable doing things that used to induce near-panic. But when I stopped seeking opportunities to challenge myself, I actually felt anxious again when doing things I had been comfortable with.

  • Alex Keats

    Darrell,

    Thank you for the kind words and I totally agree with you. Fitting into someone else’s mold rarely ever works, does it? Sometimes it takes us a while to see this….and that’s perfectly fine, don’t you think?

    If we were meant to see it sooner, we would.

    It’s obvious you’re aware that when the mold “Darrell” was made, it was quickly destroyed, never to be made in the exact way again!

    Peace,

    Alex

  • Alex Keats

    Thank you!

    Alex

  • Alex Keats

    Oh, that’s great news to hear you’ve had enough! And yes, it IS draining, isn’t it? Illusion sure does have the power to sap your energy, doesn’t it? Truth is, you are perfect as you are. That’s a fact.

    Thank you for your post and I have no doubt you’ll soon find the peace that is always present.

    Peace,
    Alex

  • Alex Keats

    Meg,

    I’m with you. Whenever we argue with reality (or what is), we suffer.

    Every time.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Alex

  • Alex Keats

    Julia,

    You’re definitely onto something here. You are so right; it’s your orientation towards the anxiety that makes all the difference!

    Resist it, call it bad, or wishing it would go away only keeps it in your experience.
    This seeing is HUGE. This seeing opens the door, as you say.

    Thanks for sharing, Julia.

    Alex

  • Alex Keats

    Ragnar,

    Yes! Compassion melts negative states. How cool is that?

    Peace to you Ragnar,
    Alex

  • Brittany

    Thank you, you’re wonderful :)

  • Alex Keats

    Aw shucks, Brittany….thanks.

    Alex

  • Robbie Klever

    The only true way to find inner peace is through the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ….He is the One who died for all mankind, rose from the dead,& is alive today & forevermore. Search the Holy Scriptures (the BIBLE) to discover true inner peace & also what God says about you, not those negative thoughts– those thoughts come from satan. A few places to start:
    if you are anxious/fearful, check out Psalms 34 verse 4; 1John 4: 18; 2 Timothy 1:7;

    1 Peter 5:7. If you feel unloved, check out Romans 8: 38-39; Ephesians 2:4; 1 John 4:10
    Read the entire book of the Gospel according to John to discover how much God (JESUS)
    loves YOU!! By the way–Buddha is dead!

  • Raunaq

    Thanks for the lovely article. I have been guilty of living a life to please others. That is what my dad tought me when I was a little kid. He meant it in a way to look after others needs and I took it as a way of trying to please others so they accept me. Now afetr years of struggle I understand the importance of self compassion. Filled with love, now I am in a bettter position to offer compassion to others.
    I can only give what I posses. How true is that.

  • Alex Keats

    Raunaq,

    Thanks for sharing that. I appreciate it. Your Dad sounds like a good man. And it sounds like the struggle dropped away once you saw what was really true; we can only truly give what we already possess.

    Our experience tells us so.

    What a great reminder!

    Peace,
    Alex

  • Lisa

    I really loved this article, Often when im alone in my own company I start to over think things and one thoughts leads to another, then I beat myself up for thinking such things. Truth is if I allowed myself to think what ever it is then let it go it wouldn’t turn to anxiety. Also in times of need I need to be soft and gentle to myself as I am with my friends. I don’t know much about zen but after reading this I want to learn more. Thanks so much for the inspiring article :)

  • lena

    Thanks for that beautiful and helpful sharing of your insights!Aja

  • Alex Keats

    Lisa,

    Maybe you enjoyed this article because it reminded you of what you already know? Based on your post, it sure seems that way!

    If I could sum up Zen in one sentence it would be this: Allowing what is to be as it is. There is something within that already allows (and deeply accepts) what is, without condition or regard to circumstance.

    And it’s not your mind. In fact, the mind can’t see this.

    Thanks for your words. Much appreciated.
    Alex

  • Alex Keats

    Lena,
    You are VERY welcome!
    Alex

  • growthguided

    This is amazing man

    Thank you for this great post!

    Feel free to contact me if you would like to spread your message on GrowthGuided

  • Alex Keats

    Thank you…..

    Alex

  • Katie Roller

    Sometimes I feel that I place so much emphasis (through worry) on a situation that I forget how little the situation means to me in reality. It’s almost as if I am seeking the worry through any circumstance I can. Why is this – why am I seemingly addicted to anxiety?

    I really love your simple explanation on how to overcome anxiety, because I truly believe the best solutions to improve our daily lives are the simplest. I agree that a person can think themselves out of many psychological ruts if they give themselves the power to. And the more you practice, the more naturally it comes.

  • Alex Keats

    Katie,

    You’re right. When we’re anxious, it tends to fill up our consciousness and we see life through a lens of doubt and worry. But here’s the thing: Are you consciously deciding to be anxious, or does anxiety just arise? Once you see that it’s happening of its own accord (and that “you” are doing it and therefore aren’t the author) it usually doesn’t hang around much longer! The more we think we’re choosing to be anxious, the longer anxiety sticks around. Being aware of the anxiety without being identified with it is the key to transcending it.

    Run from it and it chases you. Allow it and it must eventually dissolve.

    In regard to thinking yourself out of psychological ruts, well, I’d have to say that this strategy isn’t so great. Granted, most think it is, but when we look a little deeper, we discover that the thinking mind is almost always comparing, resisting, avoiding, judging and condemning, right? Where is the peace in that? What problem do you have if there is no thinking involved? What’s wrong with right now unless you think about it? What past (or future) is there unless you think about it? So you see, thinking IS the only problem you have.

    Before thought, you are. Before anxiety (which needs thought and a belief in a future) you are present now. The mind lives in time, YOU don’t. There is no future; there is only now. This isn’t philosophy; this is Reality. When the mind gets anxious, simply notice it and say, “Thanks for sharing, but what you’re asserting just isn’t true.” Just let it be there and watch what happens to your experience. Notice and allow. Try that instead of thinking yourself out of ruts.

    Peace Katie.

    Alex

    PS. Remember, the mind isn’t the enemy!

  • BlizzagaLantean

    For me, it’s the thoughts that come along with the anxiety that I have a hard time with.

  • Alex Keats

    It’s one thing to have feelings of anxiety and another to have anxious feelings AND anxious thoughts. You’re not alone. Most have a hard time with anxious thoughts, so don’t beat yourself up. Be aware that you must believe the thoughts in order to suffer from them. Be aware that there must be resistance TO the thoughts in order to suffer from them. And lastly, be aware that you must be identifying WITH the thoughts if you’re suffering from them.

    If you’re identifying with the thoughts, it must mean that you think you’re choosing the thoughts. But let me ask you: If you’re choosing your thoughts, why on earth would you ever choose anxious thoughts? Why would you ever choose to think in negative, limiting ways? If you choose your thoughts, wouldn’t you always choose happy, uplifting thoughts? Of course you would. Now what you’ve just read may make your head spin, and that’s perfectly understandable.

    But the truth is, all this is happening by itself, without your intent. SEE this. We’ve been taught since birth that we are the ones doing the thinking – and that we actually choose our thoughts (anxious thoughts and happy thoughts alike). The next time an anxious thought arises, ask yourself, “Did I just decide to have that thought, or did it just arise spontaneously?” You’ll find it’s the latter, so don’t take ownership of it! Make sense? I’m not suggesting to disassociate; I’m just saying YOU didn’t do it.

    Just let the thoughts come and go. Let them BE there. The more you allow them to arise and be IN your experience, the less you’re tormented – and the sooner they’ll leave. It works every time and you can confirm this in your own direct experience. So don’t believe a word you read here. Find out for yourself. In the end, they’re just passing through, like clouds in the vast, open sky. You ARE that sky. Be patient with yourself, it doesn’t happen overnight. I wish you all the best. Thanks for sharing.

    Warmly,
    Alex

  • Natalie

    Inspiring and thought provoking – thank you, sincerely.

    Mindfulness and daily meditation has allowed me to ‘be’, although like any other skill, takes practice.

    I’ve had GAD for 7 years. My world has become so small. It has felt easier to be consumed with my anxiety because the daily fight is both terrifying and exhausting. My physical symptoms that have become part n parcel of my anxious existence are my greatest evils. I want to live again, rather than just exist.

    p.s. do you have twitter?!

    Warmest, Natalie

  • Alex Keats

    Natalie,

    Thanks for the comments and sorry to hear you’ve been experiencing gad all this time. That’s no fun at all and I’d be surprised if you said you lived in a large world.

    Although I don’t really mediate anymore, it can definitely be very beneficial, calming the mind and nervous system. Mediating once a day for twenty minutes can only help – as long as you stick with it. We usually look to mediate to create a state of peace and calm (as a brief respite from our stressful lives), but rarely do we ever look and see if peace and calm isn’t already present.

    Most assume that the peace and calm they seek isn’t present, when it is. If we question our assumption that it isn’t, we give ourselves the opportunity to see that indeed, it is. Beyond the clutter of the anxious mind is a peace that never leaves – it just seems that way. Not only is this peace that you are beyond the clutter and content of the mind, it is simultaneously in the midst of the clutter and content.

    In my view, if there’s any practice at all, it’s to look and see if peace isn’t already here, especially before you go look to create it through meditation. Don’t get me wrong, meditation is very useful and I’m a big proponent of it. All I’m suggesting is you might want to challenge the notion that peace needs to be artificially manufactured in your experience. Challenge the assumption that it’s not always here. It may not FEEL as if it’s present, but finding out what is true almost always involves going beyond appearances.

    What you pay attention to can only grow. So the question becomes are you paying attention to the changing thoughts and feelings that arise, or are you paying attention to the peace and silence they arise from? The answer will mostly determine your experience. Start to notice the silence between each anxious thought that arises, the silence between each sound you hear and each word you speak.

    Notice that absolutely everything arises from silence and falls back into silence. This silence is peace. Rest in this ever-present reality, not the ever changing content of the mind. What you meet with non-judgment and acceptance can only eventually dissolve. It’s when we numb out to the vicious cycle of anxiety (and resist it) that it tends to stick around. You know this already and I’m glad you gave me the opportunity to remind you.

    Unfortunately, I’m not a social media guy at the moment, but perhaps I will be some day…

    Peace,

    Alex

  • BlizzagaLantean

    I really appreciate your reply! I already knew a lot of this, but sometimes it’s good to be told again, because you can get totally lost in such thoughts, you know?

    Especially if your anxiety turns to mistakes you’ve made in the past and you start worrying how that can affect your future.

  • xye

    thank you so much for sharing your story and for this article. it helped me a lot. and made me realize that im in control and that i just need to get hold of my fears. im getting better now and i believe that i will continue to be better as time goes by. it also helped a lot knowing that im not the only person going through this. i will always be thankful and please continue to be a blessing to everybody.

  • Alex Keats

    I am happy to hear you are getting better. You got that right….you are NOT alone. Watch the fears without resisting them or wishing them away. This is how you best control them. Good luck to you.

    Alex