I Had Panic Attacks For 20 Years. Here's How I Overcame Them
I suffered from daily anxiety and panic attacks almost every day for over 20 years. I tried EVERYTHING to soothe myself and make them go away. But it wasn’t until I shifted my awareness to my body in anxious moments that I began to find real peace and relief. It completely changed and healed my life, and now I am dedicated to coaching women around finding that same freedom.
By bringing awareness from the brain to the body during moments of panic or anxiety attacks, we can serve to diffuse them in an empowered, and lasting way.
Focusing on our bodies during an anxiety attack not only helps us to gently shift away from downward spiral thinking, but it also sends a strong message to our brains that it's safe to relax. By relaxing the body, we relax the brain.
Going through an anxiety attack is like experiencing fight-flight-freeze with no outward danger or stimuli. Our brains get confused, and as soon as we sense even the slightest brush of panic, we latch onto it and start to get overwhelmed. By re-directing our focus to the body, we can re-wire our brains around our stress response and hop off the train of wild mind thinking.
These steps are simple, intuitive, proactive, and have served to transform my life and the lives of my clients. My wish is that they bring you the same freedom.
The best breathing technique for calming panic or anxiety is inhaling slowly through the nose for 4, holding for 8, and exhaling through the mouth for 12. This specific exercise is much more active than just “taking deep breaths.” It also helps to lower and deepen the breath, which can tend to be very fast and shallow when we are anxious. Our body follows our breath. If we breathe in a way that is steady, our body will recognize those signals and begin to calm down.
2. Get a glass of water, and a wet washcloth or paper towel.
Panic and anxiety and tend to overheat the body. The glass of water will help to hydrate and cool the body internally, and the wet washcloth or paper towel will provide the same help externally. Use the wet cloth on the back of your neck and wrists. This is basically the mini equivalent of taking a cold shower.
3. Name what you're feeling.
This step is crucial for hopping off the train of monkey mind thinking, which can only serve to pull us more deeply into the downward spiral of panic. Name what you're thinking rather than identifying with it. Wow, I feel so anxious. I feel so scared. I feel that I have so much resistance to this, etc. Do this silently or out loud. This simple step is incredibly powerful: it not only removes us from identification with our thinking, but also prevents us from losing ourselves in the panic.
4. Go into the body and give it some love.
Where does the panic or anxiety “live” in your body? Get quiet, and while breathing and naming what you feel, do a body scan and pinpoint the area (or areas) where you feel tense, hot, or prickly. Then send it some love and kindness. You might whisper to it, tell that part of yourself that you see it, you love it, and you are listening and willing to help, whatever it might be. It is normal to feel scared during these steps; let the fear be there, name it, honor it.
5. Treat yourself exquisitely.
How would you comfort little you, or your own child if they were scared? You wouldn’t freak out around them, right? You would be calm and grounded in the face of your their fears. Do the same with yourself when you feel anxious. Take a hot bath, take a nap, wrap yourself in a soft blanket, make a cup of tea, get cozy. Do whatever you need to do to honor the wisdom of your body, and treat yourself compassionately and kindly.