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Anxiety Survival Guide: Fight Panic Attacks like Dementors

Dementors fly toward Hogwarts.

If you don’t know what Dementors are, you aren’t cut out to be a reader of this blog.

We are about to get very geeky.

I’m re-reading “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” where Dementors are introduced to the series. I find it comforting to re-read, or partially re-read Harry Potters before bed when I’m between books. More on that little compulsion later.

Dementors Personify Depression and Anxiety

Refresher: Dementors are dark, cloaked, demon-like creatures that “Drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them.”

In real life, J.K. Rowling, in an interview with The Times, says she created them as a personification of depression. “It was entirely conscious. And entirely from my own experience. It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling.”

In Harry’s case specifically, Dementors affect him more than others. They bring back the sound of his mother dying, they make him go cold… pass out.

They are the one-two punch of anxiety and depression, so often tied together.

And for Harry, like so many real people (muggles… I said it), his biggest fear is the Dementors, his own capability to be afraid, to panic, to get depressed.

Sound familiar?

Dementors Breeding means Fog

When there’s fog, Dementors are breeding, according to the Minister of Magic.

Professor Lupin helpfully points out that this means Harry is more afraid of fear than of his mortal enemy, Lord Voldemort. Walking around all anxious and depressed is a deep form of bravery. I love that. So…

How to Defeat Dementors / Panic Attacks in Two Steps

1. Learn to Sense a Demetor / Paic Attack Coming

You know a Dementor is nearby because everything gets cold. And it feels like all the air gets sucked out of the room.

For a lot of people, panic attacks start with cold hands (caused by blood flowing towards your vital organs in a fight-or-flight manner… or Dementors) and a shortness of breath. So pay attention the next time you are having one. You can do this, I promise. It’s a little like floating above yourself in a dream. You’ll learn what to look for.

2. Conjure a Patronus Charm 

According the Harry Potter Lexicon a Patronus is a silvery phantom shape, usually that of an animal (June, obvs.), which is the embodiment of the positive thoughts of the caster. You conjure it by thinking of your happiest memory.

Then your phantom June chases the Dementors away.

But this doesn’t just happen, in the books, or in real life (you know what I mean). You have to train your brain. In the books, Harry gets the mental crap kicked out of him by practicing. You should too.

For me, this means meditating on happy thoughts a few times a week; nothing fancy, just sitting down, quietly and running through lists of people I love, things I’m thankful for, or I pet June for 5 minutes.

That practice helps me stay in the moment when I start to get jittery. I realize just what it is I’m doing: “You are just standing in line at the airport, stupid!” And how absurd it is to think I’m  slowly drowning in the cool, air-conditioned, breezes of gate B-14.

Sometimes I laugh out loud at myself, like a lunatic, or a very brave wizard.

Expecto Patronum.


Image via Flickr user Acid Zebra.

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