Before you continue reading, let me first share with you a fact. Up to 35% of the population has ever experienced a panic or anxiety attack at some time in their lives. Panic attacks can happen to anyone!
If you have experienced anxiety or panic attacks before, or still experience it occasionally, or constantly in the fear of it happening again. Do not worry! I have experienced it before, and I am here to share 3 simple steps on how to calm down from a panic attack.
What is a panic attack? How do you feel exactly?
A typical panic or anxiety attack symptom is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks could happen without any early signal or warning and could happen in any setting.
When panic attacks occur, one might feel he is losing control, or the feeling of having a heart attack, some may even have the feeling of suffocation, numbness in limbs, and feeling fatigued.
The strongest sensation I had in my personal experience was that I felt a sense of detachment from my surroundings as if I were outside my body and in a separate space from others.
Now you may ask, what is the trigger? Why am I feeling this way?
Firstly, we need to understand that panic or anxiety is actually a natural human stress response. Imagine how you feel when you are subject to danger.
Let’s say you are hiking and you encounter a wild bear (that is not as cute as the one shown), you will most likely have a similar reaction as above.
You stand rooted to the ground, palms and feet start to sweat. You seem to be losing it. This is the natural reaction when you are in a stressful or frightening event.
Your nervous system is activated and the stress response – fight or flight response is triggered. The fight or flight response is the automatic physiological reaction that kept us – humans, surviving since ancient times. It prepares our bodies to either fight or flees when encountering danger.
This ability to feel panic or anxiety is actually a way designed to save us, to keep us alarmed in dangerous situations.
However, as the definition above mentions, panic attacks can happen when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Then why is this so?
From my personal experience and from peers around me, there are 3 scenarios that might lead to a panic attack:
- Physically exhausted before the attack, such as lack of sleep, overworking, or exercising.
- Mentally exhausted or stressed before the attack, including accumulation of negative emotions, and self-suppression. Eventually, one event triggers a panic attack to happen.
- After you experienced one panic attack, you are constantly in fear that it might happen again. You repeatedly trigger your nervous system and fall into the cycle of having panic attacks again and again.
It seems that most panic attacks are due to certain stress accumulated in either our body or mind. Both require long-term care, such as incorporating a healthy lifestyle, and appropriate relaxation methods when we need a break.
Today, I will share 3 of the quick go-to solutions when panic or anxiety attacks arrive.
1. Adjust Your Breathing Rhythms
When you are feeling anxious or in fear, your breath could be short and shallow. Shallow over-breathing can prolong feelings of anxiety.
What we can do is first adjust our physical state by adjusting our breathing, and taking deep breaths using the abdominal (or diaphragmatic) breathing method.
A quick guide to Abdominal Breathing:
Breathe in using the nose, and out using the mouth. The whole breathing cycle is within 15 seconds.
Breathe in 3 – 5 seconds (feel your belly pumping up).
Hold your breath for 1 second at the top.
Slowly exhale the air (belly shrinking) for another 3 to 5 seconds, and hold your breath for another second.
By adjusting your breath to a stable rhythm, you will feel much calmer.
The breathing exercise will also help you to regain your focus in less than 5 minutes.
2. Positive Affirmations
Repeatedly having positive self-talk inside including “Don’t be scared, just relax.” or “It’s okay.”
Tell yourself that it’s just your body having a stress reaction. It doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with me or my body.
When you are having positive affirmations, your mood will be more relaxed. As you are getting more relaxed, your brain will also stop sending danger signals and stress responses. You will feel calmer in the process.
Do practice positive self-talk on a daily basis as well, it will bring tremendous positive impacts on your well-being and help with relaxing.
3. Give Yourself Some Time
Yes, the last step is to just give yourself some time.
Give yourself some time after adjusting your breathing and positive affirmations.
Till here, you might realize that the way to calm down from a panic attack is to get yourself relaxed. Once you are getting calmer, your brain will stop sending the danger signal, and your panic attack will be stopped.
Vice versa, if you try to suppress, control, and keep on fighting the panic attack, it might prolong the panic attack. This is due to when you are fighting your thoughts, your brain is getting more stressed and further triggers the stress response.
Lastly, do take care of your emotional well-being in daily life.
Prevent burnout and emotional distress by incorporating appropriate relaxation methods in daily life. I have discussed a few deep relaxation methods here that you can use. You can also practice mindfulness meditation and journaling in daily life for your mental wellness.
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