April 7

how to stop a panic attack

No More Panic

4 Ways of Preventing and Defusing Panic Attacks

When the Coronavirus first appeared in this country and I realised the scale of it I had a very strong anxiety attack and felt vulnerable. My parents live in New Zealand, and my brother in Germany and I realised I would have to way of getting to them if anything were to happen to them. I was also very worried about my partner's family, who has members who are at risk.

Luckily, because of my experience as a hypnotherapist, I recognised what was going on and decided to calm myself down using some of the techniques that I teach my clients. So, I'd like to share with you first of all what I know about panic and how to diffuse it.

What is panic?

Here's what's happening when you feel very high anxiety levels. When you are feeling under threat, whether the threat is real or imagined, physical or emotional, what happens is that the alarm system of the brain, which is the amygdala, switches on. When the alarm is on, your sympathetic nervous system is switched on and you get ready to fight against the enemy or run away from it. In order to do that, cortisol and adrenaline are pumped into the body to get you ready. A by-product of this is that you may experience symptoms of hyperventilation.


Hyperventilation happens when we breathe too fast and we the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide that we are inhaling is not optimal.  And so we start experiencing things like shortness of breath, sweating, heart palpitations, or our legs may tremble. We may even feel like we are losing feeling in our arms and legs, as all the blood rushes to the heart to get us ready to fight or flee.

The other thing that happens is that inhibitory signals are sent by the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex, which is where rational thinking happens, which means that we get a little bit more stupid, as in, we cannot really think rationally.


So if you have ever had the experience of panicking while someone is trying to convince you that everything is okay, you may have found it hard to believe them. This is because it's virtually impossible for you to think rationally until you have calmed down

When you have calmed down, at the physiological level it is the parasympathetic nervous system which is turned on.


The sympathetic nervous system cannot be on at the same time as the parasympathetic. It's like a double switch. So It is only when you are calm that you can think rationally because your prefrontal cortex is now working normally again. It follows that the most important thing you need to do when panicking is to calm your body.

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2 Easy Ways to Defuse and Prevent a Panic Attack

A.

AEROBIC EXERCISE

Unless you suffer from asthma or cannot engage in exercise for health reasons, aerobic exercise will do the trick. 

Run up and down the stairs 10 times, or do star jumps counting up to 20.

You can also run on the spot or dance or engage in any physical activity that makes your heart rate go up.

Do this for at least 5 minutes or until you are nearly exhausted.

B.

DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING

If you cannot engage in exercise or in addition to it you can breathe with your diaphragm. Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose.

Breathe in for the count of 7, watch your belly move out, pause, breathe out for the count of 11 or more.

Make sure that the out-breath is longer than the in breath in. Do this for at least 5 minutes.

If you have a cold, you can breathe through a straw instead or use a paper bag over your nose and mouth.

Why does aerobic exercise work? If you think about it, back in the day when we were faced with a real threat of a wild animal we would either fight it or run away from it. In any case, we would been engaging in aerobic exercise. When we either successfully killed the animal or hid from it we would relax.

That would be the signal to the the brain the threat was over. When, however, the threat is a virus that, by its very nature cannot be beaten up or defeated by running away, the signal that the threat is over needs to be given to your amygdala in an artificial way by purposefully engaging in aerobic exercise .

Diaphragmatic breathing switches off on the parasympathetic nervous system. Therefore the sympathetic nervous system gets switched off and the amygdala is off. In order to do this you need to take breaths from the belly.

When we are panicking we are not engaging our belly at all. Instead we are likely to breathe shallow fast breaths from the chest.

If you are not sure you are doing it right, you can put your hand on the belly and make sure that when you breathe in, the belly is moving out as if you were inflating a balloon.

how to stop a panic attack

No More Panic

4 Ways of Preventing and Defusing Panic Attacks


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