When we are anxious or experiencing panic, we tend to shallow breathe so all of our breathing is in the top part of our bodies. Why? Because anxiety activates your fight or flight system. Back in the days of cavemen, this would keep you safe from danger, your heart beats faster in order to get more oxygen for fleeing or getting ready for battle. However, now I very rarely get chased by a dinosaur. In my case, it has happened when I have been sitting at home knitting, drawing or looking after my niece. Not really life-threatening scenarios. By using diaphragmatic breathing, we are regulating the balance of gases in the body and relaxing the muscles, soothing the parasympathetic system. You can practice this by breathing in for four seconds and out for eight seconds, try to take notice of where your body is tense and relax any areas on the out-breath. I was recently told that the out-breath is the most important part, prior to this I had been focusing on trying to inhale deeply, this just made me feel like I couldn’t get a full breath. By exhaling properly, we release the carbon dioxide and empty the lungs, making it easier to take a full breath. If you practise this regularly, your body gets used to doing it. It sounds easy but it takes practice.
If you are like me and anxiety hits you at times for a reason you can't currently identify, bringing yourself into the present moment, by reassuring yourself that you are safe, can help to relieve some of the anxiety you are experiencing. This helps with trauma, at times I just repeat I am safe until the feeling passes.‘Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World’ by Mark WIlliams and Danny Penman is a really great resource for practising being in the present moment and comes with an audio CD, which you can use over the course of 8 weeks to go into a deeper practice.
Again this helps by bringing you to the here and now. By taking notice of your surroundings you can understand what is really happening, in this moment.
Do something to distract yourself. I have found knitting, doodling or anything crafty helpful. Especially if its something that you need to learn, as you may absorb yourself more fully in it.
Look around you and find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell and one thing you can taste. Keep doing this until you are feeling calmer. I can make the mistake at times of checking my anxiety levels after each round, this tends to just keep it going. If you look for something, you will normally find it. I have found that if you immerse yourself in the exercise and do as many rounds until you notice your body relax, that generally works best.
List as many things you can see of that colour, then pick another one. This works in the same way as the above exercise. There is an app called 'what's up', which has loads of exercises like this. I have found this really helpful when I have been out in the community.
When my mind is racing, I struggle to really listen but I have found that if I don’t give myself unrealistic expectations, for example, not having any thoughts for the whole audio, and be more realistic, trying to focus for maybe just 10 seconds to start with and then building on it. The exercise is a lot easier.
One of my past times is beating myself up when things don’t go as planned, but I am learning that it actually doesn’t help… at all. Instead, I gently remind myself that I can always try later. The insight timer app is really helpful as it has 1000s of free guided meditations. I use Headspace but found that in the acute stages of illness, my mind was too frantic to meditate so insight timer was more useful at that time.
My friend visited me recently, she had a panic attack on the drive to me. The following day she had another one. I spoke to her kindly and burned some incense, in an attempt to ground her and make the environment more relaxing. It made me realise how awful I am to myself when I experience panic. So now, I try to remember how I treated her and treat myself the same. I find burning something that smells nice brings me back to my senses and tends to help me to implement the self-soothing strategies that I have learnt.