Methods to alleviate panic and anxiety.
People often assume that deep breathing is good for anxiety, but focusing on slow breathing is easier. Slow breathing is one of the best techniques for panic and anxiety attacks. It helps slow your heart rate, and naturally calms all your body’s fight/flight/freeze response — which is what produces that distressing feeling of panic.
When we’re anxious and panicking, we subconsciously start to breathe rapidly and shallowly i.e. the phenomenon known as ‘hyperventilation’. Hyperventilation leads to:
- Shortness of breath
- Lump in the throat
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
All of the above are upsetting to experience.
It’s easier said than done when you’re in a heightened state of panic, but there are techniques you can practise to help alleviate the intense feeling of anxiety wrapping itself around you.
Breathing is important. When you’re struggling, try these:
Natural breathing exercise:
- Gently and slowly inhale a normal amount of air through your nose, filling only your lower lungs.
- Exhale easily.
- Continue this gentle breathing pattern with a relaxed attitude, concentrating on filling only the lower lungs.
Calming breathing exercise:
- Take a long, slow breath in through your nose.
- Hold your breath to the count of “three”.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, while you relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach.
- Sit comfortably.
- Take a long, deep breath and exhale it slowly while saying the word “relax” silently.
- Close your eyes.
- Let yourself take ten natural, easy breaths. Count down with each exhale, starting with “ten.”
- This time, while you are breathing comfortably, notice any tensions, perhaps in your jaw or forehead or stomach. Imagine those tensions loosening.
- When you reach “one,” open your eyes again.
Practice one or all of these techniques at least ten times a day for several weeks. Use them when you feel yourself getting tense. This will help you to become familiar and comfortable with them. Use them when you begin to feel anxious. When you need a tool to help you calm down during panic, you will be more familiar and comfortable with the process.
“It’s okay to be scared. Being scared means you’re about to do something really, really brave.”
– Mandy Hale
Practice them and keep these two things in mind:
- Breathing is often dictated by our current thoughts, so work on changing your negative thoughts during anxiety. Distractions help. Try: Looking around you and find: five things you can see; four things you can touch; three things you can hear; two things you can smell; one thing you can taste.
- These skills work to the degree you are willing to concentrate on them. Put most of your effort into not thinking about anything else — not your worried thoughts, not what you will do after you finish the breathing skill, not how well you seem to be at this skill. Concentrate on breathing and positive distractions.
The breathing exercises help to:
- Decrease your oxygen consumption (hyperventilation)
- Slow your breathing
- Slow your heart rate
- Decrease your muscle tension
- Grow sense of ease in body and calmness in mind
There’s a technique called EFT Tapping — Emotional Freedom Technique Tapping. Some people think it’s a little silly at first — it can be an odd thing to do, especially in public, but it does help. Similar to acupuncture, EFT focuses on the meridian points — or energy hot spots — to restore balance in your body’s energy. It’s believed that restoring this energy balance can relieve anxiety symptoms. Here’s how it’s done.
Prior to tapping, you need to establish a phrase that explains the concern you’re trying to address. It must focus on two main goals:
- Acknowledging the issues/concerns
- Accepting yourself despite the problem
The common setup phrase is: “Even though I have this [fear or problem], I deeply and completely accept myself.”
You can alter this phrase so that it fits your problem, but it must not address someone else’s. For example, you can’t say, “Even though my friend is sick, I deeply and completely accept myself.” You have to focus on how the problem makes you feel in order to relieve the distress it causes. It’s better to address this situation by saying, “Even though I’m sad my friend is sick, I deeply and completely accept myself.”
The EFT tapping sequence is the methodic tapping on the ends of nine meridian points. There are 12 major meridians that mirror each side of the body and correspond to an internal organ. EFT mainly focuses on these nine:
- Karate chop: small intestine meridian
- Top of head: governing vessel
- Eyebrow: bladder meridian
- Side of the eye: gallbladder meridian
- Under the eye: stomach meridian
- Under the nose: governing vessel
- Chin: central vessel
- Beginning of the collarbone: kidney meridian
- Under the arm: spleen meridian
Begin by tapping the karate chop point while simultaneously reciting your setup phrase three times. Then, tap each following point seven times, moving down the body in this ascending order:
- Side of the eye
- Under the eye
- Under the nose
- Beginning of the collarbone
- Under the arm
“You have a treasure within you that is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.”
– Eckhart Tolle
While you’re tapping, recite your phrase like: “Even though I’m feeling claustrophobic, I deeply and completely accept myself.” Again, I know it seems silly. But it’s an acceptance of how you feel, while giving yourself a reminder that you’re worthy. You don’t need to say it out loud. Check out some YouTube videos by searching “EFT Tapping”.
Here are some tried and tested methods that can help to alleviate anxiety and panic. Some are obvious, some are less so. If you’re having difficulty with panic and anxiety, try to implement this list into your life:
1. Avoid caffeine
Caffeine is a well-known anxiety inducer. When you’re feeling anxious or anticipating those feelings, always make a conscious decision to stop drinking caffeine. This goes for caffeinated soft drinks too.
2. Avoid alcohol
Feelings of anxiety can be so overwhelming that you might feel the urge to have a “wee dram” to help you relax. Although this may work in the short term, alcohol changes the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, making your symptoms worse. In fact, you may feel more anxious after the alcohol wears off. Is there anything worse than hangover anxiety?
3. Write it out
One of the worst aspects of anxiety is not knowing why you feel nervous in the first place. You could be lying on a tropical island with your toes in the water and still feel worried for, what feels like, absolutely no reason. That’s when writing can help. It can be an effective way to explore how you feel, especially if talking out loud feels impossible. Studies show that keeping a journal is actually a healthy way to deal with negative feelings and can help reduce stress.
4. Use fragrance
Lavender is well known for its calming properties. Keep one handy when you feel anxiety striking.
5. Talk to someone who gets it
Don’t be afraid to talk it out. Sometimes it’s just nice to vent to someone who knows how it feels to be in those shoes. You’ll be surprised at how many people around you can relate to anxiety and panic.
6. Find a mantra
Repeat this popular mantra when you’re feeling anxious: “This feeling is only temporary.”
7. Walk it off
Sometimes, when you’re experiencing anxiety, it’s due to a buildup of adrenaline. Exercise — even if it’s just a walk — can help use up that extra adrenaline. Walking outside in the fresh air can also improve your well-being.
8. Drink water
Not drinking enough water can make your anxiety symptoms worse. Dehydration can actually cause heart palpitations. This can lead to feelings of panic, which may trigger an anxiety attack.
“Depression is also smaller than you. Always, it is smaller than you, even when it feels vast. It operates within you, you do not operate within it. It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky but — if that is the metaphor — you are the sky. You were there before it. And the cloud can’t exist without the sky, but the sky can exist without the cloud.” — Matt Haig
Remember you’re not alone.
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