Reduce Anxiety and Panic
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
You know that feeling? Your heart races...you start to shake...you find it difficult to swallow
What are #Anxiety and #Panic? They are your body's reaction to feeling unsafe...whether you are under real or perceived threat. What is physically happening in times of #Anxiety, is your brain is releasing cortisol. In #Panic, your brain is releasing adrenaline. Your body is reacting the way it should when it feels under threat, whether that threat is real or perceived. It is doing what it can to keep you safe. It is what pulls you back to the kerb when you are crossing the road before you have even realised a bus is coming. We need it. It performs a necessary function when we are in danger. But, despite trying to keep you safe, it is causing distress through the somatic experiences in our bodies.
If we look at wild life documentaries, we can see that in the wild, when a lion chases a deer, the deer goes from peacefully grazing, to running for it's life, to peacefully grazing. So, why can't we do that? Well, in this wildlife example two things are happening: first, the dear is using up the cortisol and adrenaline as it runs; and second, the deer does not have the front brain executive function of humans and so it does not overthink or add details of "what if". Humans, on the other hand, usually do not have the luxury of running away to use up the cortisol or adrenaline, but we do have executive function so not only can we replay the incident over and over and over again, we can also add "what if" details which can sometimes be much much worse than what actually happened.
What does this mean for us? Well it keeps us in a high state of alert. Similar to a meerkat, we are left always on the lookout for danger. This in turn keeps us in the high state of alert...you get the cyclical picture.
So, what can we do to combat this I hear you ask? The answer is simple...we can breathe. Yes, breathe. That basic bodily function that we do automatically without having to think about it. However, when we feel under threat, as we do in times of #Anxiety and #Panic, we tend to take short, shallow breaths, which signals to our brain that we are not getting enough oxygen. This in turn signals a threat still exists which keeps us in the state of #Anxiety and #Panic. What we need to do, counter-intuitively, is take long, slow, and deep breaths which brings our autonomic nervous system down from our "fight or flight", response and back into "rest and digest" state.
Try this and observe what you notice happening in your body. Sit or lie down and place your hand on your diaphragm. Breathe in slowly through the nose, gently, for the count of five. Feel your belly inflate like a balloon. Hold that breath for the count of two. Then breathe out slowly, again through the nose, for the count of seven (if you need to breath out through the mouth, purse your lips like you are about to whistle, and blow gently). Do this three or four times and pay attention to your shoulders. You may feel them dropping if you are seated, or you might feel them sink into the sofa or bed if you are lying down.
Notice how your #Anxiety or #Panic as decreased...it may not stop, but it should be at a much more manageable level than it was before. You can try using this sort of breath work periodically through the day, even when you do not feel #Anxious or #Panicky. The hope is that your body learns how to breath this way automatically when you are activated, the same way that it knows how to breath when you are asleep.