Panic attacks are becoming more common in our modern societies. Therefore, it is essential to comprehend how your brain works in this situation to understand what you can do and know how to do it.

We all function at different levels, depending on your feelings and stress.

When you are conscious, meaning you find yourself living in the present moment, you feel relaxed, your breathing is slow, and your heart beats gently. In this case, you know that you are living consciously. In the medical world, we say that your para-sympathetic nervous system is in charge.

Imagine going through different emotions based on what you perceive and interpret. This excites your brain and body, and you slowly or fastly feel like you are losing control. For example, you can feel your heart accelerates and beats faster. Maybe your breathing goes shallow. This is when the adrenalin and cortisol hormones kick in because your brain thinks there is a danger and needs to activate the survival responses, flight or fight (or freeze). Here you have switched to what scientists call the Sympathetic nervous system (alias survival brain).

When you find yourself in this mode, control has been lost as you have activated the irrational brain for protection. Now your body is ready to fight the danger or to run away like it never ran before. We all have the skill to trigger this danger zone. However, because of your past and experiences, your brain has assimilated situations of danger whcih are not a danger anymore. Memory is stored in your subconscious, and sometimes our survival responses can be triggered when there is no real danger. Then this creates toxic stress in your body.

When the negative trigger, thought or feeling that has stimulated my Sympathetic nervous system (flight, fight, freeze) cannot be stopped, it then grows and intensifies. This can then transform moderate anxiety feeling to expand onto a panic attack. You feel your heart pumping so fast, and maybe you can’t breathe properly, your vision is altered, sweats or rashes can develop, and your body is hyper-alert and vigilant to fight the danger. When this happens, all my rational abilities are turned off. The priority at this instant is to nurture your emotional brain so you can switch out of this instinct trigger and danger zone to be then able to debrief with your mind and learn from this situation for next time.

What can I do when this happens?

You can use different techniques to help your brain revert to its relaxed and peaceful mood. I will share a couple with you today. Try them out, and find one method that resonates with you the most. Then use the same approach over and over so your brain can assimilate this new way as being the new program to use if the danger zone is triggered. We are tricking and distracting your mind and body away from the fear and the thoughts that started the panic attack here. So by doing this, you are getting out of the irrational brain (danger zone) and back to your rational brain, your conscious brain, and the present. Of course, after you have taken control back of the danger zone, an analysis and debriefing with yourself is required, so next time you learn to catch it before it happens.

Technique1:

As soon as you realise you are going to have or having a panic attack, use the deep breathing technique.

Start taking a deep breath in through your nose, hold a couple of seconds, and out through your mouth. Slowly… In through your nose, hold a couple of seconds, and out through your mouth again, slowly and gently.

Repeat this, over and over, until you can feel your heart going slower and slower. Do not stop the deep breathing technique until you can feel the panic going away. If you do this long enough, you can only go back down and switch out of this danger zone to return to the present and reality.

Technique 2:

Use the counting technique. This way works very well with kids.

Simply start counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…. and then inverse like 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, …

With young kids, I invite you to miss a number to help them trigger their rational brains again. Indeed when we do this, we distract our brain and have to be logical to know how to count. So in this sense, you are leaving the irrational brain (danger zone) and reconnecting with your reason so you can count efficiently.

You have to count long enough (and this depends on people, there are no rules for how long I do it), and only when you feel your heart slowing down and back to its regular beat can you stop counting and debrief with yourself or your kid.

Give a shot at both methods and decide the one you like. Then use it repeatedly, creating a new habit and program for dealing with panic attacks and high anxiety. Only you can make this change happen. I believe in you. You can do it! Keep going even if you don’t find this working well at first. Practice makes it better. This is how the brain works and learns, with repetition. So here you go, you got this!

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