The onset of a panic attack can be a scary, frightening ordeal. Those who suffer in this way testify to its debilitating effects. So it is difficult to believe that when we experience panic attacks we are actually being looked after by our internal systems. It happens this way. We are built in such a way that, if there is a perception of danger, our body automatically primes us for action. We go into “fight or flight” mode and a massive shot of adrenaline is injected into our system, which speeds up our heart rate and breathing, and we feel clammy, tingly and dry-mouthed. Whilst this is a natural process, without awareness of what’s happening these symptoms can create a feeling of panic which, in turn, accentuates original feelings of stress and before we know it a full blown panic cycle is created.
What do we do?
We can recover in 2 stages
In Stage 1 we need to reverse the panic attack by doing the following:
Firstly, you need to change the signals your brain is receiving. Start by slowing your breathing. If you are hyperventilating – breathing so fast you feel you cannot breathe at all – put your hand over your mouth. “When you hyperventilate, your blood fills with oxygen, and becomes acidic, causing the tingly, panicky feeling” , says chartered psychologist and panic-attack specialist Felix Economakis. “Putting your hand over your mouth brings carbon dioxide back into your blood again and slows your breathing.”
Next, do a yoga breathing count. Breathe in for a count of five, expanding your belly. Hold the breath for 15 seconds then breathe out for 10, pulling your belly button towards your spine. Repeat five or six times until your breathing is normal.
In stage 2 we need to move from our panicked self into the more grounded observing self.
We can do this by firstly examining any aspect of our dress -our clothes for example. Begin to describe them to yourself in forensic detail – style, color and kind. This takes our mind off the panic attack and begins to strengthen the observing self.
Next we fully bring ourselves into the present safe moment by repeating the following
Right now I am feeling _________________
(insert name of the current emotions, usually fear)
And I am sensing In my body ____________________
(describe your current bodily sensations – e.g. sweating, nausea, fast heartbeat)
Because I am having a panic attack
At the same time. I am looking around where I am right now in _______________
(the actual current year)
(name or describe the place where you are)
And I can see ______________________
(describe some of the things that you see right now, in this place)
And so I know that I am not in danger right now
(adapted from Babette Rothschild’s ‘Flash-back Halting Protocol’)
Experiencing both realities simultaneously by stating “I’m feeling panicky here and I’m not in any actual danger now” will often reduce the panic very quickly. It’s very important that we say the ‘and’ as both realities count.
Once the panic is lessened or gone, take a walk, if possible, in green surrounding. One study conducted by Japanese researchers has found that walking in green areas is particularly useful for those suffering acute stress.
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