Panic attacks. Whether they whack you upside the head on a daily basis, or only during times of stress, they can seriously harsh your buzz.
For instance, imagine that you’re having the best day ever.
The sun is shining, you found a spare penny, you held the door open for a stranger, and he thanked you. What could possibly go wrong on a brilliant day like this?
Well, you could start shaking for no reason.
And you could suddenly find yourself unable to catch your breath. Then your hands might start tingling. Then your chest might hurt. THEN you might be overcome with terror, a desperate need for a toilet, and the dread certainty that you’re about to vomit up every single meal you’ve ever eaten.
But, while a panic attack can feel like the worst thing in the world, most of the symptoms are caused by your brain unexpectedly dumping a bunch of adrenaline into your bloodstream.
Wrongly sensing danger, your brain has flooded your muscles with blood and put your senses on high alert to help you to deal with the danger. This is called a fight-or-flight response, and it’s super useful during, say, a bear attack. When it hits while you’re grocery shopping, however, it can be just plain traumatic.
But you can take the edge off a panic attack — or even cut one short — with these five anxiety hacks.
1. Put your hands in the air like you just don’t care.
Have a good old stretch as soon as you realise you’re panicking. Sneak in a yawn if you can. Although you may not realise it, when you panic you breathe too quickly and shallowly, which can exacerbate your symptoms. Yawning and stretching can interrupt this cycle, relieves the tension in your muscles, and makes you look cool like Fonzie.
2. Inhale, hold, exhale.
Don’t get your knickers in a twist trying to remember complicated breathing techniques. Just inhale for three counts, hold for three counts, then exhale for six. This activates your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates relaxation and sleep. You should soon automatically start to feel a little calmer.
3. Concentrate on your peripheral vision.
Another way to trigger your parasympathetic nervous system is to stare straight ahead while focusing your attention on your peripheral vision. Spend a few minutes concentrating on what’s happening on the edges of your eyesight. The more you practice this, the more relaxing you’ll find it.
4. Walk it off.
Right now you’re brimming with excess adrenaline. In the event of a bear attack, you’d expend that energy by fighting, then fleeing, then furiously tweeting your experience. But this isn’t a bear attack, and all that extra adrenaline is just giving you racing thoughts and sweaty palms. So go for a gentle stroll and walk it off. Or, you know, find a bear to attack*.
*Do not find a bear to attack.
5. Get some perspective.
A panic attack can seem like it’s consuming you, but it will subside. Your body doesn’t have infinite supplies of adrenaline and you cannot physically sustain a panic attack forever. Keep telling yourself that it will pass — putting your panic attack into perspective can help pull you out of it.
When it’s all over, have a lie down.
A panic attack can leave you feeling cold, shaky, and a bit freaked out, but a nap, a hot bath, and some tea can help to restore your equilibrium. If you’re having a lot of panic attacks, of course, you should see a doctor to find out what’s behind them.