Despite appearances, stopping panic attacks can be simple. Very simple, although it doesn’t work for everyone. Of course, the underlying cause is usually a serious organic disorder, but if an attack does occur, it is very useful to be able to control it quickly.
The basic trick is to calm the breathing. The popular method with breathing into a paper bag reduces the amount of oxygen, which theoretically can even exacerbate an attack. Much better is controlled diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe in for 5 seconds, using only your diaphragm – if you are lying on your back, the area below your ribs (top of your abdomen) should rise up, not your chest. Hold for 2 seconds, let out for 5. Then repeat this cycle, then take 5 normal breaths (NOT fast greedy ones, just normal calm ones) – and again. This will not work for everyone, but there are some people for whom this technique is a real blessing.
This was a way of calming the attack, below I will describe an exercise by Dr Jacobson that will greatly reduce them, sometimes it can cure anxiety disorder completely.
Dr. Jacobson’s Relaxation
This is quite complicated, but VERY effective. It involves tensing a particular muscle very strongly, holding it, and then fully relaxing it. It is a kind of trick: the body feels threatened and panics and tenses the muscles. If the muscles are relaxed, the body “thinks” it is safe, because it is not ready to fight. This should be practiced for a few weeks until you learn to relax your muscles.
It is important to follow a few rules. We do not exercise with a full stomach, we do not exercise when something distracts us, we do not exercise in an uncomfortable position, we do not exercise with the attitude of controlling our body, we do not think whether we are doing it right or wrong, we must be fully relaxed and passive.
To begin, lie down or sit comfortably and do a few rounds of the first exercise, the diaphragmatic breathing exercise. This will help you initially relax.
Next, clench your fists, hold tight for about 10 seconds, and then release. That’s right, don’t relax, just let go. A moment later, you should feel a pleasant inertia – try to enjoy it. In this way we teach our brain to connect pleasure with relaxation, and to induce this state on demand. All of these observations apply to each of the following muscle groups.
Biceps – we tighten them by bending our arm at the elbow.
Triceps (those muscles that straighten the arm at the elbow) – we tighten them while straightening.
Forehead muscles – raise the eyebrows as high as possible. After letting go, visualize a calm, gentle, smooth forehead.
Clench the eyes with all your might, and after letting go, visualize the relaxation in that region spreading to the rest of the face.
Open the mouth to its full width and tighten the jaw muscles (be careful not to pop your jaw 🙂 ). Once relaxed, your mouth should be half-open and free.
Tilt the head back as much as possible, tensing the neck muscles (also carefully, without exaggeration, excess of good intentions can lead to injury). Repeat the exercise, as these muscles are especially often and strongly tense.
After a few deep breaths visualize your head falling into the pillow, floating on it, almost drowning
We raise our arms to our ears, shrugging motion, tensing the “hoods”.
Tighten the muscles of the back, as if we wanted to touch the shoulder blades. We also do this element twice.
Take a maximally deep breath in with the chest. Exhale after ten seconds, visualizing the tension disappearing as the air escapes.
Abdominal muscles – as if we want to lift the shoulder blades off the ground, but continue to touch the floor with the kidneys.
Pull the abdomen in as much as possible, after the relaxation visualize a wave of relaxation that spreads in that area
Bend the back in a cat’s bow, leaning back
Tense the buttocks, as if we wanted to crush something between them
Tense the thighs, together with the hips
Calves, with toes drawn up toward the knee
Feet, bending the toes as if we want to grab something with them
We review the body, looking to see if anything is still tense, if it is – we cycle this group
At the end, we visualize the relaxation, which flows down from the head to the feet.
This exercise should be done preferably twice a day, at the beginning it will take even more than 30 minutes per session, but later as we gain experience – a dozen minutes will be enough. For a few hours after such a session, we are basically immune to stressful stimuli, at the same time gradually, with each day of training, the general “relaxation” and resistance to attacks increases.
In fact, the most important principle that should accompany each element is to focus on relaxation, on this feeling of “oh how good and cool, oh how loose I am”. For example, tensing your neck muscles, after relaxing, you should visualize that you lay your head down on the grass, a summer wind blows over you and there is a wonderful sky above you. Or that we are floating in the ocean, in the middle of a coral reef.
Jacobson therapy can be freely modified – omit the “awkward” muscles or those that are not too tense in us, focus on those we have extremely tense.
For those who do not have the patience or are not able to relax properly, it may be much easier to do stretching exercises. This site is not the place to discuss such an issue, thousands of fitness sites have done it better. Here I will only describe the effect of these exercises on your well-being. By stretching, we achieve very similar effect as with relaxation. Muscles are no longer tense, stress level decreases, we are less sensitive to negative stimuli. Many people have been cured of anxiety by yoga, but any program with exercises for the whole body is enough.
A few remarks – first of all, do not stretch “pulsating”. The correct way to do it is to bend, hold this position for 30 seconds and then straighten up. You should feel no pain, or only very little. It is enough to do one repetition for a given muscle, in the case of the more tense ones you can do several. You should warm up before, for example running in place and then jumping jacks for a few minutes.
Meditation techniques are another sensational method of “calming” the body, lowering the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, and consequently reducing the intensity of anxiety. Unfortunately, the method cannot be explained in a few words on a website, anyway this is probably not the right place to write about it. In one of the studies, a dozen or so minutes of meditation a day reduced the level of stress hormones by half, which is a really sensational result and basically means “curing” a large part of anxiety disorders.