I teach this simple panic attack drill not just to clients suffering from full blown panic attacks, but to anyone experiencing strong emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger or sadness. It is very useful for combating avoidance, a trick to have up our sleeve as we gently encourage ourselves to confront situations we have been avoiding in the past. It’s made up of 4 simple steps:
Step 1. Relax.
By taking slow, deep, complete breaths. Calm yourself by remembering that you are only having a panic attack and that nothing more serious is happening to you. No struggle, no clenching of muscles, no trying to erase or forget memories or catastrophic thoughts which are coming up. Simply accept them as ordinary and keep going onto Step 2.
Step 2. Stop Negative Thinking.
Stop negative thinking by shouting the word “STOP!!!” really loud inside your head. This interrupts the emergency message that your brain is sending to your adrenal glands. Often people having a panic attack get into an endless loop repeating the same catastrophic thoughts over and over in their head and so interrupting this endless loop gives you the opportunity to replace the scary message with a calming one. (Step 3)
Step 3. Use Coping Statements.
A coping statement is a positive statement that is at least as strong as the catastrophic statement that you have been scaring yourself with. Replace the negative thought with a positive one. Choose a statement that addresses the negative thought such as “I’m only having a panic attack, I know how to cope and it will be over in three minutes if I relax” or simply “I am fine”.
Step 4. Accept Your Feelings.
Very important as minimising the experience usually serves to perpetuate it. Relax, let the body go loose as much as possible, then go toward, instead of withdrawing from, the feared symptoms and experiences. With time, the arousal and the intensity of the symptoms will diminish because the secretion of chemical messengers of stress decrease. Most panic attacks are caused by the emotion of fear or some variation of fear. Identify the emotion you are feeling and find the reason that you feel it.
Once we have had one panic attack, we tend to avoid situations where we fear we will have another one. It’s important to nip this in the bud as soon as possible as it can start to limit your life. So…
- Make a list of situations which you want to stop avoiding(e.g. large busy supermarkets)
- Specify your initial goal (e.g. I’m going to go into a small local shop at a quiet time of day)
- Specify the steps you’ve decided on in order to achieve your goal
- Visualise the situation before going into it
- Allow the anxiety to build as much as you can tolerate and then start using the emergency drill to reduce your fear.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
See also: Coping with Overwhelming Emotions after Trauma, Resilience after Trauma, Survive and Thrive!
Book a counselling session today!