Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental conditions in Britain today, with one in six adults recorded to suffer from the disorder (1). Many people dealing with anxious feelings regularly also experience a panic attack from time to time or even panic disorder.
Panic is essentially fear, and it is felt when the part of our brain that perceives danger fires off triggers to try to protect ourselves, known as the 'fight or flight' mode. This natural reaction is great if there is a real reason to be afraid, like a large animal about to attack and devour you for lunch. But not so great when the only thing you fear is yourself – you have nowhere to run!
One of the things I have noticed with the clients who come to see me about how to deal with panic attacks is that they typically follow a certain route – they feel some type of discomfort, become increasingly sensitive to it, don't understand it, become fearful of it and continue to focus on it. They then lose themselves in a cascade of negative thoughts, unaware that they are feeding the one thing they wish to stop – the fear.
Trapping yourself in an unpleasant mental frame is an exhausting cycle. You may have had some overwhelming feelings of anxiety in the past or are going through them on a daily basis – so here's how you can help yourself gain control of your anxiety, de-stress and learn how to deal with your panic disorder in order to learn how to avoid what is a physically and emotionally disturbing experience for you.
How to control your anxiety as soon as it strikes
1. Find and focus on the energy centre of your body
This is known as the Dantian in qigong, or energy centre in the lower belly, about four inches below the naval. Martial arts practitioners focus on this area in order to easily direct power where it is needed. When centring attention here, people claim that they physically feel stress and anxiety dissolve and leave the body.
2. Ratio breathing might be for you
Ratio breathing means a short breath in and a long breath out. Whenever we breathe in this manner, we signal to our body that we are willing to relax. Fast breathing, which stems from panic, excites the nervous system, whilst slow breathing switches off the fight or flight reaction.
A troubling symptom of panic disorder is the feeling that you can't breathe, but it is your rapid breathing that is causing you to feel like this. Try to slow down the breath and gradually you will gain control of your anxiety and feel fearless.
3. Quit worrying and rationalise
One of the quickest natural ways for you to control your anxious feelings is to ask yourself seriously, what is the worst thing that can happen? Panic attacks do not kill. Rational emotive behaviour therapy, the original cognitive behavioural therapy developed by Dr Albert Ellis, teaches us that when we question the noise in our head it usually quietens, leaving us with the ability to manage our thinking process better (2).
4. Speak to yourself with a self-compassion and reframe your panic
Replace, "I just can't stand it" with something useful like, "Right now I feel a little discomfort, that's ok, it will pass, it is just my amazing energy taking care of me." If you are feeling uneasy it makes sense to soothe yourself and if you are able to say something positive about your panic disorder, you are teaching yourself that you need not be fearful of it. Change the way you think and you will change the way you feel.
5. Have a laugh and think of something funny
Laughter doesn't just make you feel better mentally, physical changes take place too. The intake of oxygen stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain (3). It also boosts blood circulation, aiding muscle relaxation. Laughter is a natural antidote to anxiety and panic attacks and will help you feel less stressed in no time.
Common anxiety triggers for anxiety and panic
Your overall aim is to free yourself and go from the narrow internal focus to restorative calm. Aside from this, look for your triggers. You may have experienced your first panic attack whilst trapped on a train, for example. Being stuck like this had never bothered you before, so you are frustrated and confused by this reaction. But maybe you went out the night before and drank a little too much... These are all factors that can increase the worry feelings inside and push into spiralling out of control.
So think if there could be any external influencers aggravating your panic. Although it is unusual that they alone could provoke a full-blown attack, if you are suffering raised levels of ‘background’ anxiety, you could be more sensitive to them.
Some common triggers are dehydration, caffeine, inadequate sleep and fluorescent lighting amongst other things. Recognising one will help you to understand what is happening, which will help you to feel less fear and ultimately, allow you to feel more in control of your anxiety, stresses and fear.
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1. Mental Health: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-most-common-mental-health-problems
2. Psychology: https://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive-therapy.html
3. Science Daily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170601124121.htm