Your heart pounds in your chest. You can’t catch your breath. Your legs are shaking. Although it may feel as if you’re having a heart attack, these symptoms are associated with panic attacks.
Your body is turning on the stress response. But here’s the good news: you can help your body to activate its relaxation response by employing certain techniques.
I suffered from severe panic attacks for years and learned to prevent them and stop them from escalating with these 7 steps.
1. Thinking Clearly
Rational thinking is key to slowing down a panic attack. The symptoms of anxiety are really your body’s fight or flight complex kicking in to fight danger, but this cascade of physical events only begins with your acknowledgment that something is bad. What is real to the mind becomes real in the body. You can use all your powers of rational persuasion to convince yourself that you are safe so your body’s primal danger system won’t be as easily triggered.
2. Taking Slow Belly Breaths
While you’re converting cautionary thoughts to calm ones, take super slow breaths from your belly. Try inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for six seconds. When most people feel panic, they will hold their breath or will try to inhale from their chest.This usually results in hyperventilation, so luxuriate in the longer exhales and fuller inhales.
3. Use Imagination to Focus and Distract
You’re already good at using your imagination because you’re picturing scary scenarios to bring on a panic attack. Instead, conjure wonderful images. Picture yourself feeling good or being with someone you love. Picture times when you felt relaxed and peaceful. Try encouraging these sensory sensations by coupling them with comforting sounds or gestures. Anything that “takes you away” will do, because if the activity makes you concentrate hard enough, you’ll distract yourself from the panic.
4. Embrace Good Posture
When you start to feel yourself starting to panic, stand or sit up straight. Why does this work? Because when you straighten your spine and lift your chest, you will feel your own power. With the erect posture you will free up space to breathe more easily from your belly. Feel courageous and tell yourself to have patience and wait for the slow breathing to quiet your body.
5. Get Moving
There’s a considerable amount of research supporting how exercise relieves anxiety. Any movement will do. Try to make it something you enjoy so you can do it regularly. If you are on an airplane, rotate your wrists and ankles, and roll your head.
6. Eat ‘Calming Foods’ and Reduce Your Toxic Load
Panic and anxiety are often traced to underlying inflammation resulting from eating a lot of sugar and processed foods filled with chemicals. Remove foods that may be contributing to anxiety and make sure to chow down on healthier foods, particularly green vegetables and healthy fats, like olive oil, avocados and nuts.
7. Use Nature’s Medicine Chest
Spice racks and herbal gardens contain powerful “medicine” for reducing anxiety. B vitamins, magnesium, probiotics and fish oils have all been shown to help alleviate stress. Try working with a medical practitioner who can help you get into balance.
Sandra Scheinbaum, Ph.D., IFMCP, CHC, BCB, RYT is the author of Stop Panic Attacks in 10 Easy Steps and How to Give Clients Those Skills. As a clinical psychologist specializing in mind-body medicine and positive psychology, she helped hundreds of clients ease their panic and anxiety. She is certified in functional medicine, the director of Feed Your Mind Wellness, adjunct faculty at the University of Western States, and Founder of the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, Inc.
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