Natural Ways to Cope with Panic and Anxiety Attacks
Suffering from panic attacks or anxiety attacks are never fun and can be scary if you do not know what they are. This can be an uncomfortable feeling and knowing that it can happen to you again without any warning, can leave you to feel hopeless and helpless. For some, it can be an occasional panic attack where you experience it only in particular situations, while for others it can be frequent and recurring that it prevents you from leaving your home. In my previous blog, I discussed ways to support a person suffering from panic or anxiety attacks, the symptoms of panic and anxiety attacks and also on what panic and anxiety attacks are. In this blog, I want to share with you coping techniques to manage panic or anxiety attacks.
Some of the techniques mentioned below may not work for you, while others will. Try them all and keep using the ones that helps you the most.
1) Deep Relaxation: Focus on your breathing making it slow and steady. One of the first signs of panic attacks is difficulty breathing. Panic attacks can lead to hyperventilation. It is important to take slow, controlled and deep breaths. When you focus on making your breaths even, your heart rate will slow down and the attacks will decrease. It has a calming effect when you breathe slowly and deeply. Focus on your out-breath, letting the air out of your lungs. This will help you to take a deeper in-breath making you feel calmer. Take your focus out of having a panic attack. The goal of deep relaxation is to focus on the way you are breathing. Close your eyes, while you practice focusing only on the in-breath and out-breath.
2)Use your senses: Use your sense to notice what you see, feel, hear and smell in your environment. This is to help you remain present and not think about upsetting events from the past or something upsetting that you think might happen in the future. Focusing on the present will help you to feel calm. Many people try holding a pet, or they notice the colors, textures, and shapes in a room, or call a friend. Many people use aromatherapy to cope with panic and anxiety attacks. The smell of lavender has a calming effect. Try other essential oils to see which one has a calming effect on you.
3) Visualization: This is to help you clear your mind from stress, tension and anxious thinking. This technique is useful when your mind is racing with anxious thinking. This is an effective technique to remove intrusive thoughts. Try practicing visualization for 10 minutes at a time. There is no right or wrong way to do this technique. As long as your attention is on the exercise, you will benefit from it. Try doing this exercise in a quiet place. With practice you can also achieve positive results in a busy environment.
To practice visualization, I first tell my clients to sit comfortably in a chair, close their eyes and focus on their breathing. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your stomach. Take a breath and let your stomach swell forward as you breath in and fall back as you breath out. Practice this many times until you get the hang of it. This is called Diaphragmatic Breathing. This is to help you to focus on your breathing without letting anything intrusive cross your thoughts. If other thoughts do enter your mind, just let it go and focus on your breathing.
Once they have practice with diaphragmatic breathing, I tell my clients to start visualizing a safe, calm place they enjoy going to. I often tell them to “find your happy place.” This place could be a beach, rainforest, pool, mountain, etc. Whatever place it is, make sure you feel calm and rested. I tell them to picture the sounds, smells, sights, and feelings of being in the happy place. Picturing different situations allows your mind to release and let go of things that you have been holding onto.
You can practice visualization almost anywhere. It may help to record yourself talking slowly about this happy place, describing everything that makes you feel happy, calm and safe. You can listen to the recording almost anywhere which can help you with the visualization process. It is also recommended to try this before going to bed as it may enable you to sleep better. Some practice this technique in a room other than their bedroom as it helps them to leave their mental stress and anxious thinking behind them in the other room. As a tool, this technique can be effective. You can reach a deep feeling of calmness and can help an attack from starting. It can help you to overcome anxious thoughts and feelings.
4) Letting go of thoughts: This is another visualization technique I often tell my clients to practice when feeling anxious. I tell my clients to envision themselves sitting on the bank of a river, watching a leaf slowly drifting. This leaf represents one thought or feeling. They acknowledge the leaf and thought or feeling it represents. Slowly, they envision the leaf drifting away. As the leaf drifts away, so do the thoughts or feelings that represent the leaf. Another leaf floats by with a new thought and the same process is done. This is a good technique to practice because it teaches you to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings but at the same time to let go of your thoughts and not hold onto them.
5) Progressive Relaxation: Relax your muscles in your body, envisioning your body slowly becoming limp. Clear your mind and focus on something that relaxes you. Pay attention to the muscles in your head. Tense up your forehead, then relax them. Tense up your cheeks and then relax them. Slowly move down to your neck, shoulders and back by tensing each one and then relaxing them. Continue to move down and tense your bicep, wrist, hands, fingers, thighs, calves, feet and toes and relaxing each set of muscles separately. Imagine your calming place and be calm and happy. You can use this technique anywhere to center your thoughts away from panic attacks.
6) Yoga: Yoga is a great way to cope with anxiety because it is a combination of physical and mental discipline. There are many forms and styles of yoga. Hatha yoga is the most common and is great for anxiety management. I would not recommend Bikram yoga which is practiced in hot environments and is not suitable with anxiety. Research which style of yoga is best for diminishing your anxiety and practice this style of yoga.
7) Meditation: This technique can help you discover peace when your thoughts are overwhelming. It can have a great impact in all areas of your life. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and clear your mind of every thought. You can get a meditation CD to help you get a level of peacefulness. There are different types of meditations such as:
- mantra meditation where you choose a calming word or phrase and you repeat it over and over
- mindfulness meditation where you become aware of the environment and more accepting of it. You simply observe, accept and let everything flow over you while focusing on your breathing.
- walking meditation where you focus on your walking and concentrating on the motion of your legs and feet. You notice and appreciate everything around you as you pass by. You can combine other types of meditation techniques such as Mantra Meditation where you repeat a calming word as you breath deeply and regularly.
8) Write things down: Usually, we tend to catastrophize situations which leads us to experience anxiety and panic. It helps to write your worrying thoughts down. This will help to separate your experience for the things that are weighing you down. Seeing your responsibilities or what you worry about on a piece of paper will help you get a clearer idea of how to tackle them and it will help to release stress. Be realistic with your reasoning and practice challenging your negative thoughts into positive thoughts. You can read more on how to challenge your thoughts on How to Build Self-Esteem, which is a blog I wrote.
9) Distraction: Interrupt your anxious thoughts by doing something else so you can focus on feeling better. You can distract yourself when you feel an anxiety attack happening or even when you have an attack. You can use the following:
- Be observant by looking around to focus your attention on something else. Try to find interesting things to examine.
- Count things to help take your mind off of your anxiety
- Play games on your phone which can help take your mind off of your panic or anxiety
- Do chores if you are at home. This will help you to focus your attention on a chore and it will help to know that you accomplished something.
- Doodle on a piece of paper. This will help you to focus your attention on the act of doodling and take your mind away from stressful or anxiety provoking situations.
- Say positive things to yourself. Repeat that nothing bad will happen by having an attack. This will help your body to relax.
10) Live in the present moment: Why worry about something in the past when we cannot change what happened? Why worry about something that we are not sure will happen? Most of us worry about things that already happened or things that actually never happen. Reality consists of one time, the present. Living in the here and now helps to bring inner peace. You are focusing on what you are doing now. When you find yourself thinking about the past or the future, remind yourself that worrying is not going to change what happened or what will happen in the future. Ask yourself if your needs are met and think about addressing what needs to be done or met now. Practice being in the present by focusing on something positive or beautiful in the here and now. I like to think about this quote when I start to worry: “Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it does not take you anywhere.” This helps me to realize that worrying will not and does not have the power to change anything. It also helps to bring my attention to present.
Nieves, H. (2015). Natural Ways to Cope with Panic and Anxiety Attacks. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mental-health-awareness/2014/02/ways-to-cope-with-panic-and-anxiety-attacks/