Ten Alternative Ways to Survive a Panic Attack
According to Wikipedia, the first panic attack was suffered by Napoleon in 1814 when he ran out of crackers for the camembert.
Hopefully, that joke is not racist towards French people, although one never knows what is acceptable these days. Anyhoo, I’m not going to begin like every other article by citing the history of panic attacks and my personal history, as they are irrelevant. Let’s go straight to my list. Try not to freak out too much.
1. Do Nothing
Have you ever considered what would happen if you just lied there like a rag doll and said, ‘Ok, panic, do your worst’?
Having a panic attack or an anxiety attack is like a dog chasing its tail. You fear the anxiety coming on, and it is this very fear that brings on the stress. The next level is a sense of dread that some void will swallow you up. Knowing that there is no such void is helpful in theory. But experiencing the total non-substantiality of anxiety is very empowering. It occurs when you dare to accept what is happening. Just lie there like a floppy rag doll and say, ‘Ok, show me what you’ve got.
You could try just allowing yourself to experience the panic for 1–2 seconds to begin. Then 3–4 seconds, and so on, until you can float with it and see where it ends up.
Remember to take it slowly, and that panic is just a whirlwind of your own making.
2. Make your breath as long and slow as possible
Some people tell you to focus on your breath. That can be good, but focusing is not a task in itself to most people. It is better to give your mind a job to do. When naughty children are running around, we don’t just watch them. We put them to work painting or something. When they are focused on a task, they calm down.
Tibetan medicine states that the thoughts and emotions we experience are stale air trapped in the body. So, to control one, we have to control the other. Our task is to make the breath as long and slow as possible. When the breath is long and slow, the mind has to be calm. It has no choice. Also, when we are panicking, our breath is short and quick. It also has to be this way.
By changing the state of the breath to long and slow, we change our state of mind to long and slow since the two operate as one. It might take twenty to thirty seconds to kick in, but this method is a winner.
3. Sing 500 Miles while dancing a jig
I had a friend who used this method and claimed that it had a 100% success rate. You can see why. Studies have shown that both dancing and singing elevate serotonin and blood oxygen levels. In addition, focusing on song lyrics, even ones you know well, gives your mind a task. This song, in particular, by the Scottish band, The Proclaimers, has staccato rhythms and long verses that force you to breathe better.
Changing your focus is the essence of diverting a panic attack. Dancing a jig while singing will make your breath longer, too, as well as get some much-needed oxygen into your body.
Just keep singing and dancing until you feel better. It won’t take long.
4. Write an email to yourself documenting what is happening as it happens. Refer to yourself as Dr.
You could even come up with a name for yourself like ‘Dr Claude’ or similar. The wild nature of this method will get you out of your panic and also allow you to study your symptoms.
Many famous doctors have been their own case studies. Through this method, you will at least understand what is happening in your body instead of just freaking out. The more you practice this method, the more you will understand your condition.
Taking a scientific approach is often helpful as you can look back on your notes and see what works and what doesn’t. Having a notebook on hand is also beneficial, but you can use your phone or record yourself speaking. It is important to call yourself ‘doctor’ to maintain a scientific outlook and remember not to take everything too seriously.
5. Do Yoga
Look, try not to run around mid-panic trying to find your yoga mat and your compression pants. The easiest thing to do here is a simple forward bend from a standing position. Try to touch your toes and take a few deep breaths. Alternatively, you can do child’s pose. Not all poses are appropriate. Don’t start folding your legs full lotus, especially if you are out at the bus stop.
The essential point is to elevate the heart to at least level, preferably above the brain. This elevation allows a rush of oxygen-rich blood to flood your brain.
If you try holding your breath for a while, you will experience something similar to a panic attack as your brain runs out of oxygen. In many ways, the attack is just a signal from your brain saying, ‘get some oxygen back up here, and yoga poses where the brain ends up level or below the heart are just the ticket. Practice this in moderation.
6. The old paper bag trick
We have all seen it in the movies. Someone has a freakout, and someone else gives them a paper bag to breathe into. The old paper bag trick is supposed to balance out oxygen levels by increasing the amount of CO2 in the blood. We are often taught that CO2 is bad for us. In excess, it can be, but some CO2 is necessary to balance blood oxygen levels. So next time you eat a sandwich from a paper bag, don’t throw it out but keep it on hand — as long as it’s not greasy with mayonnaise, that is.
7. Put on ‘Eye of the Tiger’
We have all heard about the flight or fight response. The flight response is desperately wanting to get away from a situation. Unfortunately, when it’s happening in your own body, that can be tricky.
So, what if we chose the fight response instead? And, what better way to trigger that response than the international symbol for the start of a fight?
Then as it kicks in, feel free to yell ‘Adrian’ out of the side of your mouth and start running around punching the air.
8. Massage pressure points
If you are like me, when someone mentions pressure points, you might start groaning as if they were talking about getting counselling from some wizard in the sky. But mainstream health has begun to accept that there are specific points on the body that are interdependent with other points. Like the connection between the breath and mind discussed earlier, these points cannot develop a pattern independent of the part to which they are connected.
This idea is why pressure points are helpful. In addition to anxiety points, it is beneficial to learn about pressure points for all kinds of situations. I also used to hate this kind of thing, but I have since experienced the benefits on many occasions.
9. Visualise the Star Trek deck in your mind.
I can’t say I am a Trekkie. The closest I came to being one was binge-watching the entire Voyager collection when I was sick one time, and I must admit, it was deeply insightful. We have said that the essence of surviving a panic attack is to change focus. In meditation practice, visualisation is used as a powerful tool of concentration. You don’t have to be a Star Trek fan to make use of this one.
Once the attack begins, imagine the captain in your head sitting in his chair, warning of an oncoming attack from a Klingon warship. Imagine the lasers hitting and the camera tilting side to side. Give instructions from the captain to the crew. Ask crew members what is happening in the breath control room etc. Continue till it stops, then congratulate and thank your crew.
10. Run Forrest Run
I learned this one hard when an acid trip went terribly wrong. I started running and didn’t want to stop. The run flushed my body with oxygen. It didn’t stop the trip, but it did stop the panic. Forrest’s Momma dies in the movie Forrest Gump, and he doesn’t know what to do, so he starts running and doesn’t stop until he feels like it. I’ve been there many times. Running is food for your soul. The more you do it, the less likely your old friend panic will come to visit.
Panic attacks need not ruin a perfectly good day. The essence is really to get more oxygen to your brain and to change your focus. Of course, there are other factors. Perhaps you need to eat some carbs. Regardless, a sense of humour about such things can go a long way. These ideas are easy to say and harder to do. I understand why people turn to drugs to control such things, as they are incredibly unpleasant. But, remember, panic attacks are an illusion caused by various physical factors, which we then give a name to and project onto external circumstances. In the old days, someone would have slapped you around the face and said ‘get a grip Johnny’.
These days you don’t have to get a grip. It is more helpful to stay with the panic and investigate it, to leave yourself better equipped for next time.