I've written before about my own experiences with panic attacks, about thought traps that mistake emotions for reality, dealing with setbacks, and letting go of the negative.
All of those articles include helpful tips for dealing with anxiety, but here's the most valuable of all: Avoiding the thing that triggers your anxiety is the best way to keep it hanging over your head and controlling you. And the longer you avoid the scary thing, the bigger and scarier it gets.
From the book, "Overcoming Panic, Anxiety and Phobias:"
"When you experience anxiety or panic, you may adopt a variety of strategies in order to avert disaster. You may attempt to avoid the situation; you may focus extensively on it; or you may try to distract yourself. We call these maneuvers 'security moves.' Although they make you feel temporarily safe, you need to let go of these security moves as you learn to face the situations you fear.
Some of these security moves can be very subtle, so much a part of your reaction that you're not even aware you're making them. But when you use one of these strategies and the danger you had predicted doesn't occur, you have the feeling, often without being aware of having it, that your security move saved you. This encourages you to practice the same strategy again. Unfortunately, it does not free you from fear.
The role of avoidance -- a type of security move -- is complex. It is responsible for perpetuating your fear of certain places because the longer you avoid a place, the more likely it is that you will begin to believe that avoidance is what's keeping your fears under control. So the longer you avoid a place, the harder it becomes to go there again.
By avoiding specific places you are attempting to avoid the frightening sensations and thoughts you predict you will experience. By trying to eliminate the sensations of anxiety or panic at all costs, your fear of having these feelings ultimately intensifies."
For me, the strongest tool against panic attacks has been not to avoid the things that trigger them! If I have to sit in the middle seat at a concert, so be it. If I have to ride in a packed elevator, oh well.
The strategy of facing the scary thing served me well and helped me overcome the worst of my anxiety. Of course, I also have the tools of relaxation, breathing, calming myself, and other tools that help me face the anxiety if it does rise up. (For severe anxiety, I recommend the book above for more helpful tools.)
I have a client who has avoided public speaking for more than 20 years. Because of this, he has developed no skills, no tools for dealing with his anxiety, and no experience. He is literally starting from scratch, having to learn the basics of public speaking while also facing his fear. But he's doing it!
He's taken the first step to facing his anxiety, by setting himself up to be in a position to speak in front of a group. This might be his biggest fear, but he knows he can't get over it without doing it, without developing tools and strategies to then practice in a speaking situation.
It takes a lot of courage, and willingness to put yourself in an uncomfortable and scary situation -- to say the least.
But people do it. And so can you.