Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental conditions in Britain today. Many people who suffer from it also experience a panic attack from time to time, or even panic disorder.
Panic is essentially fear and it is felt when the reptilian part of our brain perceives danger and fires off triggers to try to protect ourselves, aka. 'fight or flight' mode. This natural reaction is great if there is a real reason to be afraid, such as a large animal about to attack and devour you for lunch! But not so great when the only thing you fear is yourself – you have nowhere to run!
One of the things I have noticed with the clients who come to see me about how to deal with panic attacks is that they typically follow a certain route – they feel some type of discomfort, become increasingly sensitive to it, don't understand it, become fearful of it and continue to focus on it. They then loose themselves in a cascade of negative thoughts, unaware that they are feeding the one thing they wish to stop – the fear.
Trapping yourself in an unpleasant mental frame is an exhausting cycle. If you are reading this article, I hazard a guess that you have had some degree of experience of this, and so I would like to share with you 5 tips to help gain control of your anxiety, destress and learn how to deal with your panic disorder in hoping avoid what is a physically and emotionally disturbing experience:
1. Find And Focus On The Energy Centre Of Your Body:
This is known as the Dantian in qigong, or energy centre in the lower belly, about four inches below the naval. Martial arts practitioners focus on this area in order to easily direct power where it is needed. When you centre your attention here you will destress and feel tension and anxiety leave your body.
2. Ratio Breathing:
Ratio breathing means a short breath in and a long breath out. Whenever we breathe in this manner, we signal to our body that we are willing to relax. Fast breathing, which stems from panic, excites the nervous system, whilst slow breathing switches the fight or flight reaction off.
A troubling symptom of panic disorder is the feeling that you can't breathe. Trust me you can! It is your rapid breathing that is causing you to feel like this, so slow the out breath down. Gradually you will gain control of your anxiety and be fearless.
3. Quit The Worrying:
Ask yourself seriously what is the worst thing that can happen? Panic attacks do not kill. Rational emotive behaviour therapy, the original cognitive behavioural therapy developed by Dr Albert Ellis, teaches us that when we question the noise in our head it usually quietens, leaving us with the ability to manage our thinking process better.
4. Speak To Yourself With A Dose Of Self-Compassion And Reframe Your Panic:
Replace, 'I just can't stand it' with something useful like, 'Right now I feel a little discomfort, that's ok, it will pass, it is just my amazing energy taking care of me!' If you are feeling uneasy it makes sense to soothe yourself and if you are able to say something positive about your panic disorder, you are teaching yourself that you need not be fearful of it. Change the way you think and you will change the way you feel!
5. Have A Laugh And Think Of Something Funny:
Laughter doesn't just make you feel better mentally, physical changes take place too. The intake of oxygen stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain. It also boosts blood circulation, aiding muscle relaxation. Laughter is a natural antidote and will help you destress in no time!
Your overall aim is to free yourself and go from the narrow internal focus to restorative calm. Aside from this, I also look for what I call 'aggravating agents'. One of my clients experienced his first panic attack whilst trapped on a train. Being stuck like this had never bothered him previously, so he was frustrated and confused by his reaction. When I asked him what he had been doing the evening before, it came up that he had been drinking and as a result had slept poorly.
Think if there could be any external influencers aggravating your panic. Although it is unusual that they alone could provoke a full blown attack, if you are suffering raised levels of ‘background’ anxiety, you could be more sensitive to them.
Some common ‘aggravating agents’ are: dehydration, caffeine, inadequate sleep and fluorescent lighting amongst other things. Recognising one will help you to understand what is happening, which will help you to feel less fear and ultimately, allow you to be be more in control of your anxiety and destress.
You can do it!
Read next: Chinese Medicine And The Anxiety Epidemic