The day is going along fine. Then things begin to speed up. We tend to shorten the depth of our breathing as the pace of life accelerates. We are not giving the body the levels of oxygenation it needs nor are we exhaling fully all the toxins the body is trying to release. We feel unsettled. The body begins to feel uncomfortable. Finally, a stimulus from the environment unsettles us even more. We go from shortening the breath to holding the breath. Before we know it, we’re in a full-on anxiety or panic attack. We feel the body tighten and perhaps even begin to shake. Nausea often develops. The mind begins to race with thoughts of ‘what’s happening?’ and worse. The body, through the nervous system, believes it is under a threat and so stimulates the sympathetic nervous system.
Does this sound familiar? It sure does to me. I just described what my panic attacks used to feel like. I used to feel like the entire world was spinning out of control and me with it when I developed anxiety. I learned how to calm myself down – without pharmaceuticals – by using my attention and applying a little conscious breathing.
Here are the five easy ways to stop an anxiety or panic attack:
1) Pause whatever you are doing.
2) Let your breath OUT and breathe slow, deep, even inhales and exhales. As you lengthen and even out the breath, your parasympathetic nervous system will come on line and you will naturally relax. This tells your body that you are ‘safe’.
3) Look around you.
4) Connect to your five senses:
- a) Find 5 things you can see – look.
- b) Find 4 things you can touch and touch them.
- c) Find 3 things you can hear – listen.
- d) Find 2 things you can smell – and take their scent in.
- e) Find 1 thing you can taste – notice its character.
5) Keep breathing slow, deep, even breaths.
These are ways that you can bring yourself right out of a panic attack. You have the power to consciously help your reactions to the world around you at your fingertips. That power resides in where you put your attention and how you decide to breathe.
With practice, you can also become aware of how it feels when you have reacted to your environment by shortening your breath. You will be able to use these five easy tools to head off an anxiety or panic attack before they get their grip on you.