Stop panic attacks!
Experiencing a panic attack is not pleasant and in many cases, leads to a fear of getting another attack, which, in itself, makes the chance of one occurring even more likely. Distressing as a panic attack is, it is important to know that they are not life threatening and that there are steps you can take to stop panic attacks and completely eradicate them from your life. This article looks at both an “emergency drill” which you can use when you feel that a panic attack may be imminent and also more general ways to lower your anxiety levels so that you are less likely to start to feel panicky.
The emergency drill to stop panic attacks
It’s important to practice the following drill a few times when you are feeling calm so that if you do start to feel panicky, you can put it into effect straight away. It will stop the emergency message from being sent to your adrenal glands.
Slow down and deepen your breathing – this will start to reverse the adrenalin flow. As much as you can, try to relax all the tense muscles in your body – a short burst of exercise is great for this.
2. Stop negative thinking!
Say the word “STOP!” loudly and firmly inside your head. This will interrupt all those catastrophic thoughts.
3. Replace the negative thoughts with positive ones
You might tell yourself “I’m only having a panic attack, I know how to cope and it will be over very quickly if I relax” or, “My fear is making my heart pound harder, my heart is fine” or just “I am safe, everything is fine.” Different people find different messages useful so do work out in advance what will be best for you.
4. Accept your feelings
Once you start to feel a little calmer, work out what emotions you are feeling. Your strongest emotion is probably going to be fear which is a positive emotion designed to protect you from harm. You might possibly feel some embarrassment that others may have noticed although actually it’s most likely no-one noticed a thing. Do acknowledge those feelings, be kind to yourself and try to keep an appropriate perspective.
Key facts about anxiety and panic attacks
- Anxiety is a normal and even an essential part of our makeup as it helps us prepare for danger. The goal, therefore, is to learn to manage anxiety, not eliminate it.
- Panic attacks are simply the body’s “fight-flight-freeze” response kicking in, the body getting ready to defend itself (even when there is no real danger.)
- Panic attacks are harmless, although they can feel extremely uncomfortable and frightening. They are always brief even though it might feel to you as though they last forever. This is because they take up huge amounts of energy and so quickly run out of gas! (This explains why you might find yourself feeling exhausted afterwards.)
- Even though you may feel the whole world is able to see what’s happening to you, panic attacks are private experiences. Other people usually cannot tell that you are having a panic attack.
Some useful tools to stop panic attacks
- Stress-busting Technique One: 7 / 11 Breathing
Have you ever noticed how you breathe when you feel relaxed? The next time you are relaxed, take a moment to notice how your body feels. Or think about how you breathe when you first wake up in the morning or just before you fall asleep. Breathing exercises can help you relax, because they make your body feel like it does when you are already relaxed. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax. Breathing exercises are a good way to relax, reduce tension, and relieve stress.
With one hand on the chest and the other on the tummy, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm (not the chest) inflates with enough air to create a stretch in the lungs. You might imagine a balloon in your abdominal area which inflates as you breathe in and deflates fully as you breathe out. Then breathe slowly out. The secret is to make each “out” breath last longer than each “in” breath so breathe in for a count of 7 and then out for a count of 11 (or in for 3 and out for 5). This has the effect of stimulating the body’s natural relaxation mechanism. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. You can do it anywhere – in bed, on a bus, waiting for an interview, even whilst walking gently
- Progressive Relaxation
This is taken from martial arts training and uses the scientific principle that a muscle that is first tensed and then relaxed will be more relaxed than it was at the outset. Simply close your eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group of your body for two to three seconds each. You might start with the feet and toes, then move up to the knees, thighs, abdomen, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw, and eyes — all while maintaining deep, slow breaths. You can practice this wherever and whenever it works best: at home or at work.
- Body Scan
We tend to live so much in our heads these days, we forget that we have a body at all! We fail to notice when we are thirsty or tired and so drive our long suffering bodies into a state of exhaustion. The body scan develops your ability to intentionally move your attention around and focus deeply on different regions of your body, allowing you to experience how each part feels –not trying to change anything, just checking out what’s going on. You might start with your toes and gradually move up your body to the top of your head or vice versa. Sitting or lying comfortably, in your mind’s eye just turn your attention to each part of your body in turn, all your toes, balls of feet, ankles, heels, lower leg, knees and so on. If you find your thoughts straying, as they always do, just gently bring them back to the area of the body where you wish to focus. Spend a few minutes doing this – are there any areas of tension developing which might turn into a nasty headache later on? Do you need to get up for your desk and walk around and stretch everything? And a body scan can be a great way to get yourself off to sleep.
- Face your fears
The most important step in managing anxiety and panic is to start, very gently and in your own time, face what you fear, including going into situations, places or activities which you have come to associate with panic attacks. This might involve you experiencing some unpleasant body sensations associated with panic attacks such as racing heart and dizziness. It can help to start to rate your anxiety feelings from 0 (no anxiety at all) to 10 (extreme anxiety) as you experience different situations.
It’s important to identify all the situations or places you dread and then arrange them in a hierarchy from least scary to most scary and to start by going into situations that are the very least scary. Once you have conquered that, it will give you the confidence to tackle the next one on your list. As you notice your progress, take some time to give yourself some credit: reward yourself!
Do keep practicing though as managing anxiety is a bit like exercise – you need to “keep in shape” and practice your skills regularly. Make them a habit!
For more information on Panic Attacks, go to my Panic Attacks Counselling Cork page.
For more information on Anxiety, go to my Anxiety Counselling Cork page.
Need some more advice and support?
If you would like some support and some more information on how to stop panic attacks , call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!