We panic when the body’s alarm system triggers the ‘fight or flight’ mode. In this mode our bodies prepare for action and we feel anxious, alert and hyper vigilant. This is good if the threat is real (you don't want to stop and say hello to a tiger!). However, in the modern world this alarm is sometimes triggered by situations that aren't really dangerous (such as busy places) or by things that remind us of previous threats. It doesn't matter if the danger isn’t real, our bodies respond in the same way, and we can be left in this mode which causes us to hyperventilate. By learning to slow our breathing, using these five simple steps, we can switch our bodies back into ‘safe’ mode.
1) Place one hand on your chest and another on your abdomen (lower stomach).
2) Take a slow breath in through the nose, breathing down to your abdomen (for about 4 seconds)
3) Hold your breath 1 to 2 seconds
4) Exhale slowly through the mouth (for about 4 seconds)
5) Wait a few seconds before taking another breath
About 6-8 breathing cycles per minute is often helpful to decrease anxiety, but everyone is different so try to find your own comfortable rhythm. This can regulate the amount of oxygen you take in which, in turn, alleviates the tingling and dizziness associated with hyperventilating, slowing your heart rate and sending the message to your brain that you are safe.
Grounding can help to manage overwhelming feelings by bringing you back to the present moment. One easy way to ground yourself is the 5,4,3,2,1 method. Think about 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell or like the smell of and finally take 1 slow, deep breath.
Close your eyes and bring somewhere you feel safe to mind. This might be on a beach, in a garden or somewhere cosy and warm. If you can’t think of anywhere then you can just create somewhere in your mind. Focus on what you can see (maybe trees, mountains or the sea), chose colours and objects that are calming. Think about what you can hear (such as bird song or lapping waves), smell and touch. Engage all of your senses. You can take precious belongings and loved ones with you, but leave all your troubles behind. Focus on how calm and safe you feel. Over time, you can develop the safe place and it will come easier to you. You can use it at any time you need it to help you feel calm.
Coping Statements can help us tolerate distress in the moment, a bit like having your own coach they can help you through challenging situations. Different statements are helpful for different people. Some people find it helpful to write out useful statements on a small card and carry it around in their wallet. Some examples include:
The more you use these techniques the better you will become at calming your body. If you find that you are having frequent episodes of panic then there may be more complex, underlying triggers. In this case it may be useful to seek professional help to explore what is going on.