For any of those sufferers of panic attacks my heart goes out to you. For years I have been completely shut off from exposure to the world due to the damaging affects that the an overly active amygdala can cause. For many people this control centre for fight or flight seems to be very well managed and activates adrenaline response at appropriate times, but many aren’t as lucky and need support.
Many people have referenced the amygdala as “the lizard brain”, the part of the human brain that responds to thoughts whether imagined or reality, an almost hyper-vigilant bodyguard which determines what is safe or not. Once thoughts (which primarily control amygdala reaction) go into serious fear based thinking and attach to different stimuli the amygdala can signal the release of huge quantities of adrenaline, racing through the body and the mind now saying, “stay alive, protect yourself!”. The reality is many of these thoughts that trigger an overly active amygdala rarely ever have any right cause for a need to “stay alive” and are just fear based thinking, but the lizard brain does not have the ability to determine from what is real and what is imagined. It then activates again another burst of adrenaline that the body really has no use for and overloads the system, causing huge changes in breathing, muscle tension(in preparation for attack, that never happens of course!) and usually a spiralling change of thoughts that can range from or may include all the whole list: I’m going crazy, I am having a heart attack, I’m going to pass out, this might be the start of a seizure, I’m dying, I have to go to the hospital, I can’t stop my thoughts, etc.
For many people reading this post it might be very difficult for you not to stop and think ” this is stupid, or just tell yourself this isn’t true”, but the sad reality for panic attack sufferers is regardless of how many times they have had a panic attack it is almost impossible to subside the thoughts to allow the body to react in timely and calm gentle fashion, and internal chaos ensues. There is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel, and there are plenty of solutions that will work for you to create new pathways in the brain that will help you minimize the frequency of the attacks and the severity.
I- BREATH COUNT
The most frequent issue people experience is an inability to breath while experiencing the panic attack, and the more you tell yourself you can’t get oxygen the more you scare yourself into believing you are gonna pass out so you start to hyperventilate, this worsens panic. But if you can simply lay on your back or sit down and breathe to the count of 4 seconds in and 8 seconds (deep belly breathing of course) out it will tell the central nervous system “you are safe” and will slowly gear down the preparation for battle that is going on in your head. Some people prefer breathing in to the count of 1-1000, 2-1000, and breathing out to the count of 1-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000, 4-1000. And remember, no matter how stuffed up your nose is or out of rhythm your breath is, you can breathe through your mouth or almost force the breath count out and the body will self regulate itself back to a more well paced rhythm.
II- SELF TALK
Everyone reads self-talk and says, ” oh bullshit, that is some law of attraction visualization thing for gypsies and never works for the regular joe”. But, you are wrong!….. deal with it! =). Think about it this way, if self talk really didn’t work, then why did your thoughts bring you into the terrible state of a panic attack? You know you were not in any social, environmental, or physical danger so it had to have to been thinking that brought to this nasty chain reaction. Maybe, just maybe, you might use this strategy to work for you and not against you! Slowly tell yourself that you aren’t going to pass out, you aren’t going to go insane (cause you won’t), you are completely safe, and this will pass. Remember it is real or imagined thoughts that activated the rush of adrenaline in the first place, so you can use the positive thoughts to tell the lizard brain there is no need to over react. This method sounds silly, I know, but completely valid!
III – MEDITATION for a 20 minute body scan meditation click here.
This is by far one of the easiest and free methods to get yourself in a mindset everyday that in conducive to balanced-being, leading to less reactionary behaviour which most panic sufferers aren’t the best at. This is a preventative measure, a little extra mind training that you desperately need but chose a million excuses not to use regularly, and of course don’t see the benefits…..am I right? It’s the whole mindset of I haven’t experienced the benefits and can’t feel or understand them, so what is the point of me doing it? What you need to do is trust the fact that meditation is a solution for many people and because of how the central nervous system responds (science, yes I know !) it chemically adjusts many mood systems that benefit you and give you more control of your thoughts. Gaining this control of our thoughts is primarily what we are all after anyways. For guidance of the practice of meditation, please review many of the meditation basics videos that are on youtube, there are a tone! I would say best of luck, but you don’t need it, you just need to practice it regularly and it will work for you =)
What are your most useful tips for a positive mindset during or before a panic attack?