If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack you will know how terrifying they can be. Your heart races and feels like it might burst though your chest, you may feel dizzy and your breaths become shallow. Time stands still as your body gets taken over by a rush of unwanted symptoms that can feel a little like a heart attack.
At the moment in my practice, panic attacks are the number one complaint that I help people with - and after the year we’ve had, it’s no wonder. COVID has contributed to feelings of anxiety in many people.
Panic attacks can happen whenever our ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response is triggered, when our unconscious perceives a potential danger. Our body is flooded with the stress hormone adrenaline and the physical reaction we experience is intense and often paralysing.
Here are three things you can do to reduce the severity of a panic attack:
Focus your attention on your breath. Breathe in for the count of 7, and then out for 11. Our exhales decrease blood pressure and slow the heart rate, activating our parasympathetic nervous system. This is why a longer exhale is more effective at lowering a heightened emotional state. Do this for a few minutes and notice the calming effect it has on your body and your mind.
CHECK YOUR POSTURE
To quickly shift from an anxious to a positive state, first check your posture. Imagine a string pulling your head upwards and relax your shoulders downwards. Lift your chin and turn your face towards the sky. Smile broadly - even though you may not feel like it - and outstretch your arms. Stay like this for 30 seconds and you will find your thoughts and emotions immediately begin to calm.
WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
The words ‘panic attack’ reinforce the message to your unconscious mind that you are in danger. If instead you say to yourself “I’m just having a moment” or “I’m having a little wobble” it makes that message to your unconscious much less severe - it implies that what you are experiencing is something that will pass. It will also stop you labelling yourself as an ‘anxious person’.
So banish the words panic attack from your vocabulary now, and notice how easy it is to take back control.