Breathing is one of the most important and helpful techniques you will have in order to help you control anxiety and panic. In situations when your breath begins to quicken, it's important to slow down your breathing. If you take in too much oxygen in your chest then you will start to hyperventilate and this can be one of the worst aspects of a panic attack.
It's important to slow down, focus your attention on your breath and breathe in (through your nose) pushing your tummy out so you are taking oxygen in through your diaphragm. When you breath out try to do so through your nose or pursed lips so you are controlling the air coming out whilst bringing your tummy back in again. It is also better to breathe out for longer so you are getting rid of excess oxygen.
We have created a diagram below, use the dots as a counter and follow this until you feel more relaxed. Try to relax your muscles at the same time so that you are relieving the tension in your body.
Distraction is a good way to keep your mind of panic attacks and anxiety. You have to be careful that it is used appropriately though. To cope with these challenging emotions, many panic sufferers turn to maladaptive behaviours. For example, to try and deal with these emotions, one may avoid certain situations or possibly try to mask these emotions through the use of alcohol or other means. The problem is that maladaptive ways of coping only temporarily make the emotions go away, increase anxiety, and can have long-term negative effects.
A simple activity that you can engage in will redirect your mind off your current emotions and help in turn regulate the physical symptoms your body is experiencing. Once your attention is shifted elsewhere, the other emotions will dissipate.
We have created another moving image below that may help. This is the "54321 Technique", taking these 5 steps might not be overnight magic but can significantly help reduce symptoms of anxiety, trauma triggers, and other unwanted emotions or thoughts. At the same time it is important to regulate your breathing, you can do the following: Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold the breath for 5 seconds, and breathe out for 5 seconds. Repeat until you find yourself feeling calmer and more relaxed.
What to do when in panic?
STAND YOUR GROUND - You don’t need to leave the room, go to the bathroom or call for help. You can cope by yourself, you are strong and brave and nothing bad is going to happen.
SLOW DOWN YOUR BREATHING - Take slow, regular breaths. Breathe in and out through your nose or in through your nose and out through your mouth whilst pursing your lips.
RELAX - Drop your shoulders and try not to tense up, also you can use a strategy that can help you to ease tension in your muscles called progressive muscle relaxation. It involves tensing specific muscles in your body for about 5 seconds and then relaxing them. Muscle relaxation can help you to lower the overall tension in your body which often makes your panic worse.
SAY TO YOURSELF (INTERNALLY OR OUT LOUD) - “Panic attacks are not dangerous. I know what to do to cope and I know it will not last forever”.
STOP AND LOOK AT YOUR THOUGHTS - Learn how to notice and challenge your unhelpful thoughts. Come up with more balanced, realistic thoughts.
FOCUS ON SOMETHING OR SOMEONE ELSE - Bring your attention to what is going around you. What and who can you see? What can you smell? What can you hear? What are others doing? Take 5 minutes to notice things around you. Use our moving image above to help!
Adopting some healthy lifestyle techniques are one of the most important things when coping with anxiety and panic. Please note the following that we have experienced and what we recommend:
Dehydration - this can lead to feeling extremely ill, you will feel tired and your thoughts will start to become negative. It is really important to keep hydrated. The Eatwell Guide says we should drink six to eight glasses of fluid a day. It will help with a balanced diet and will even keep you energetic and positive.
Sleep - it is important to get ample sleep, exhaustion and tiredness can contribute to anxiety as it reduces stress coping ability. Anxiety can also lead to a lack of sleep so it is vital that you have a "wind down" period before bed. This means not partaking in activities that stimulate the brain too much just before you go to sleep such as computer games, using your phone including checking work emails etc., having caffeine or alcohol, eating anything too sugary, smoking, high impact exercise, being too hot, going to bed on an argument (this can play on your mind too much).
Things that you should try and do before bed are: reading a book, breathing exercises, meditate, mindfulness (we will go into this further later), having a bath, power down devices, listen to a podcast.
Caffeine - this is a stimulant and that can be bad news for someone with anxiety. Caffeine's jittery effects on your body can be similar to those of a frightening event or like the symptoms of anxiety, consuming too much coffee, tea or energy drinks may leave you feeling nervous, it can also affect your sleep. If you consume a lot of caffeine then don't stop it immediately all together as this can be just as bad for your anxiety. Naturally, start to limit it by reducing a small part over time and replace with things like water, natural juices, herbal teas or even decaffeinated drinks.
Eating - don't skip meals and try not to eat too many processed food or sugary or salty foods. By skipping meals you can lower your energy which will in turn make you feel nervous, shaky and bring on feelings of anxiety. Ideally eat balanced healthy meals, but don't deny yourself what you like as sometimes we need a treat every now and then.
Alcohol - although this may temporarily relieve the feelings of anxiety and at time make you feel almost invincible, it is a quick fix and the after effects can be even more harmful. It is unrealistic to think that everyone will cut out alcohol as a lot find it is part of a sociable experience, but don't fall into the trap of using alcohol to enable you to do things. It can lead onto dependency and if this is a position you are in then please contact your GP in the first instance or you can find a list of support organisations via Drinkaware. The other side of using alcohol is that it changes levels of serotonin ("the happy hormone") and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety.
Exercise - this is one of the best things you can do when you have anxiety. By experiencing varying levels in your heart rate, you become used to it fluctuating meaning you don't become as anxious or scared of it getting faster and developing into a panic attack. It also boosts endorphins and makes you feel great. It gets rid of nervous energy and enables you to relax more overall when you have down time.
Mindfulness - Technology, busy lifestyle and more can stop us truly noticing what is happening in the world around us. You lose touch with the way your body is feeling and live too much 'in your head', you get caught up in thoughts and stop truly noticing how those thoughts are impacting emotions and behaviours. Mindfulness is living in the present, it is reconnecting with your body and the sensations you experience and feel. Touch, smell, sight, taste and sound are all part of this, something as simple as studying the pen you are writing with, being in the shower and just thinking about how your hair feels when you wash it or how the water feels on your skin is incredibly calming and brings you into the moment. It makes you forget about the thoughts that are trying to take over and combined with breathing exercises it can make a huge impact on feelings of anxiety and depression. You can practice mindfulness via apps, we recommend: Mindfulness Daily or Headspace, also there is a free course via bemindful.co.uk
Talking and socialising - having tangible relationships and people to talk to is an important thing when it comes to life. We know it can be hard to do so sometimes if you feel shy or a burden, but if that is the case there are many different organisations and people that can help, including us. It is important for you to talk about your worries and your mental health issues and concerns. It can help offload your burdens, it can make you feel more grounded and also it boosts happiness by having those relationships. You can find lots of help in our Useful Links, but we also encourage you to Contact Us.