Last week, one of my best friends had a panic attack.
She was not on the verge of a nervous breakdown, going through a massive transition, or coping with a devastating loss ... so how could she be suffering from panic attacks?
Turns out panic attacks are not only associated with one traumatic event, but can be caused by chronic stress, genetics, and changes in brain chemistry. They come on suddenly and may include symptoms of impending doom, clammy palms, dizziness, nausea, chest pains, and headaches. Essentially, the sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive and sends your body and mind into an intense state of fight or flight.
As our friends rallied in support, people started sharing their personal stories of dealing with panic attacks and chronic anxiety. Sharing our experiences not only illuminated some awesome tools but helped us create a stronger sense of community and belonging. Here are some of the most successful tips and tools that we’ve used in order to keep the panic at bay, and manage it as it emerges.
1. Name five things…
As the panic and anxiety start to manifest, find your way to a seat and place your hands on your heart or thighs or to a place where you can place both hands on a counter. Take a deep inhale and exhale (as deep as possible). Name five things you can see. Say the names to yourself or outloud. Name five things you could reach out and touch. Name five things you can hear. The more things you are able to name that you can see, touch, hear, and maybe even smell, the more your focus starts to draw in to the present. The world begins to slow down and become less overwhelming and daunting.
2. Use a mantra.
Mantras are a sound, word, or phrase that help to create transformation and refocus the mind and its efforts. I create a mantra each week and set an intention to revisit it every day. You may find that a strategy like that works well for you, or maybe it would be better to set one each day. Whatever strategy you chose, write the mantra somewhere you can see it – your calendar, an index card, on a mirror or the fridge, anywhere that you will gaze multiple times throughout the day.
3. Assess your habits.
Is there a way to soften a part of your day that typically generates stress? For my friend, her heartrate elevates right as her young students pour through the doors to her classroom. Identifying those moments of routine stress can help you to devise strategies to implement at those specific moments. Instead of waiting for the panic to set in, you can send signals to your body that you are safe, in control, and settled.
4. Try acupuncture.
Acupuncture can be an extremely helpful anxiety and panic management tool. Acupuncture can help to remove stagnation and improve circulation, regulating the central nervous system, and addresses the root of the panic sensation (as opposed to medicine that manages panic over long periods of time).
5. Get on the mat.
Even if you establish a five minute daily practice, you have carved out time that is focused on self-care and wellbeing. You have provided yourself a time to connect movement with breath. You have the opportunity to take an assessment of the physical and emotional body in order to make healthy and safe choices throughout the day. A daily scan will help you to understand and track changes over time, and notice the impact of stress on the physical and emotional body.
These are only a few of many tools that have been shown to be successful in reducing the frequency, duration, and impact of panic attacks. What tools have you used – and which ones have been effective for you?
Wishing you health, wellbeing, and joy!