If you have ever had a panic attack, you know how frightening it can be. You sweat, and your heart races. You might not be dying — but it feels that way at the moment. What can you do when these moments arise? You need effective strategies you can use anytime, anywhere. Here’s how to quiet your mind with eight tips for when panic strikes.
Deep breathing is a technique that anyone can use. It’s free, and you can employ it whenever and wherever you wish.
There are scores of methods. Find one that works for you. Start by engaging your belly. Many people keep their air in their chest, which saps your energy and doesn’t give you the full benefits of your breath. Instead, put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest as you sit upright. Feel your stomach rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale.
You can also use 4, 7, 8 breathing to relax. In this method, you inhale for a 4-count, hold your breath for seven, then exhale for an 8-count. It’s similar to 2-to-1 breathing in yoga with a long pause, and it should engage your parasympathetic nervous system — the part that tells you to rest and digest.
Mild exercise is a surefire way to quell panic. Doing so makes evolutionary sense. When you have an anxiety attack, your body releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol to propel your muscles into action. However, modern “attackers” seldom resemble hungry lions.
Your body hasn’t caught on to the fact that all the cortisol in the world won’t solve problems like too many bills with too little month for paying them. You might not be able to hit a sudden financial windfall, but you can burn those hormones off the way nature intended. Taking a walk around the block can also prevent you from saying something you don’t really mean in the heat of the moment.
Your first panic attack is scary and deserves emergency care — you want to ensure an underlying health condition doesn’t lurk behind those heart palpitations. However, learning about your disorder can help quell your fears once you have a diagnosis.
Learn to recognize the symptoms of a panic attack. Sometimes, mindfully observing what is happening in the present moment is enough to gradually restore calm. Imagine yourself as a neutral scientist, taking notes on your physiological responses like increased heart rate and sweating.
You can also learn a lot about yourself through observing your psychological response to stress. If you have a past trauma history, you might not even recognize the sights, smells or sounds that trigger a flashback and the accompanying panic. However, your body recalls the memory.
Psychologists have identified four trauma responses to stress — fight, flight, freeze and fawn. You probably recognize fight-or-flight. Freezing creates the stereotypical deer-in-headlights pattern. You stop and watch to see what will happen next or play “dead.” It could explain the overwhelming emotions that make it impossible for depressed people to move from bed.
Fawning refers to immediately moving to please the source of the threat. It often occurs in response to childhood trauma where you tried to prevent abuse by doing everything you could to please the offending parent.
Once you observe how you typically react, you can evaluate the effectiveness of your innate response. If it isn’t appropriate to the situation, think of how you can behave differently.
When you panic, your eyes scan your visual field, seeking impending threats. Finding a focal point on which to center your vision can help calm your physiological responses.
Fixate on an object approximately 20 feet away. It helps to make it something pleasant and natural, like your aquarium or a houseplant. Keep your attention on that spot until your heart rate begins to subside.
Nature has the power to heal and quiet your mind. Even gazing at pictures of outdoor scenery can relax you and make you more productive. Imagine what immersing yourself in the forest can do.
If you can’t take off on an impromptu camping trip, go for a walk in the park. Even stepping outside to stroll around the block and look at the trees will soothe you.
It might sound contradictory, but you can relax your muscles by tensing them. Often, you unconsciously hold stress in various body parts, like your hips, lower back and shoulders.
All you need to do is tighten every muscle in your body as hard as you can while you inhale. As you slowly exhale, release all that tension. You can also perform a body scan to identify problem areas and use this method to spot-treat them.
Panic often strikes not because of current events but rather due to the racing thoughts of future fears in your mind. This technique can bring you back to the present moment.
Begin by naming five things you can see, followed by four you can touch. Continue with three you can hear, two things you can smell and one you can taste.
Modern life can be chaotic and stressful, leading to panic attacks. Learn how to quiet your mind with these eight tips.