There was a time when I would suffer multiple panic attacks a day. I would spend most of my time just trying to deal with overwhelming emotions swirling in my head. At first, I didn’t really understand what the panic attacks were – I just felt really out of control. The medication I initially took for them made me totally unable to function at work. They basically just made me super sleepy, and not care about much. Definitely a numbing feeling. Try writing, working with spreadsheets, or doing profit margin reports when you’re about to pass out. It’s better than massive anxiety, but it still meant that I couldn’t be as productive as I needed to be. I didn’t want to totally numb out and not experience anything… but it was at the point where it felt like I had two options – sleep and feel good or be awake and feel bad. Once I started exploring the panic attacks and why I have them, I learned some strategies to help me deal.
This might seem obvious, but it works better than any technique out there. When I first started to cope with panic attacks, I’ll admit it was hard for me to focus on breathing. My mind was racing so fast, I couldn’t focus on my breathing at all. I would try the following techniques to help slow down my breathing:
-Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4. Repeat this 4 times, and I’ve been deep breathing for over a minute! One of my favorite authors, Davidji, teaches this as a meditation technique, and it works great for calming the system.
-If I’m REALLY worked up, I’ll inhale for 4, and exhale for 8. My friend suggested this when I was in the middle of a panic attack and it was super helpful and kind. She explained that the longer exhale helps the body to release toxins. I can tell a difference in the effects of exhaling longer!
-Visualize a warm ball of light in my body: when you inhale, the ball gets brighter. When I exhale, the ball gets dimmer.
-Visualize the chakras. If you are familiar with the body’s chakra system, you can visualize healing light entering each of your chakras and opening them.
-Sit on the earth and inhale its power. I imagine green energy filling my body and soaking up all of the bad stuff, seeing it turn murky and cloudy. I exhale and imagine the dark energy dissolving into the air.
-Breathe in for as long as possible, exhale as long as possible.
Use Essential Oils
-Sprays are great! A quick spritz in the face helps ground me and bring me back to present. Lavender and other relaxing scents add to the effect. Although if you do it a lot for anxiety, people around you may notice 🙂
-Wear an oil necklace. I found a cool little locket on Etsy with a sponge pad in the middle. I always wear the necklace if I’m going to be in crowds, or a potentially stressful event. A sneaky little sniff helps chill me out and it is easy to change scents.
My panic attacks usually involve a lot of crying. Sometimes, crying just felt GOOD, like I was releasing something. I would start a timer on my phone – cry for 10 seconds while focusing on releasing my panic, then focus on slowing and regulating my breathing for 10 seconds. After a few cycles I usually feel a little better.
Use your Senses
Go through each of the five senses, and say out loud (or to yourself) what you are doing. For example – I see the painting on the wall; I smell the popcorn in the kitchen; I taste the gum in my mouth; I feel the texture of this desk; I hear the hum of the air conditioning.
I heard another version of this recently at a Paint Love volunteer training. We traced our hands, and while we were tracing each finger we focused on a different sense. I really enjoyed the tactile aspect of this, it helped ground me into the experience better.
Look for Rainbows and Hearts <3
Wherever you are, look for something in every color of the rainbow. I use this one a LOT. In fact, I used it a lot in labor with Mila 🙂 Search for something red, then orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, and white. It’s amazing how much color is around us that we don’t even notice. Same goes for hearts! Every single time I look for a heart I can find one. In a shadow, a spot in the wall, a pattern on a leaf or somewhere in nature. The Universe loves you!
Visualize a Waterfall
When the thoughts started crashing down around me, it would feel like I was stuck under a waterfall. At first, I wasn’t even able to identify that I was in the waterfall. Mindfulness meditation helped me become aware of my thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. Once I was able to recognize I was in a waterfall, I would intentionally visualize stepping outside of the waterfall, sitting on the shore, and watching the waterfall (my busy thoughts) from the shore – essentially becoming the ‘observer’ of my thoughts. I don’t judge my thoughts, or try to intellectualize them…. just observe them. This is a common meditation technique that I first learned on the Calm app, and really the basis for mindfulness medition.
There are other metaphors you can use, a wave in an ocean, a car in traffic, etc.
Repeat a Mantra
Repeat a calming phrase over and over again out loud, or in your head if necessary. My favorites were “I am in control”, “This feeling will pass”, “I am strong”. I’ve been doing mantras for years, and to be honest, I felt so dumb when I started them. I was in a place of severely low self esteem and it felt like I was lying to myself. In panic attacks, I like the mantra ‘I am breathing in, I am breathing out’ because it is true. I don’t get distracted thinking that I don’t believe it or it isn’t true.
Grab Something Cold
This is my favorite, and works EVERY TIME! When things get so tough I can’t even focus on one of the other strategies, I go to the freezer and grab a frozen tangerine. Why a tangerine? It is the perfect size to fit in your palm. Really anything frozen will do. This distracts the brain so that the panic disappears momentarily, and is replaced with the discomfort of the cold object. This usually helps my brain slow down long enough to focus on my breathing. I’ve used this one at a work setting too – people don’t really notice if you get a frozen waterbottle out of the freezer 🙂