There are a number of things you can do to help relieve yourself from a stressful situation, while having a panic attack or while experiencing anxiety. The key to these coping skills is to catch the anxiety or panic before it gets out of control. Once you have passed those 90 seconds of being in Lizard Brain, it may be too late to rein it back.
Poster from http://savvyschoolcounselor.com
BREATHE: take ten long, slow deep breaths for a count of five. Inhale for a count of five through your nose, hold for a count of one, exhale for a count of five through your mouth.
Place your hands on your ribs, just under your breast tissue with the thumbs in the front and fingers in the back. Breathe and see if you can feel your ribs move. Do this for at least 2 minutes. If you need more than 10 breaths to get to two minutes, continue breathing this way. It is important your do this for at least two minutes.
Do this on a regular basis, at least three times a day, so you build muscle memory and you will be more likely to do it during a stressful situation.
RUN YOUR WRISTS UNDER COLD WATER: when you are in the middle of an anxiety or panic situation, run your wrists under cold water. This sends signals away from your lizard brain back to your neo cortex to protect your body from becoming too cold and going into hypothermia. You will not experience hypothermia because you are just running water on your wrists, but your brain does not know that. Keep doing this until the panic goes away.
TAPPING: You can watch the YOUTUBE video on tapping. Here is the link.
In this video, they demonstrate the tapping by tapping the wrists together, rather than the way I showed in class. Both work. I find that if you are in a situation where it would be awkward to do the full sequence tapping as in the video (sitting at your desk in school, or at work), doing the tapping in the webbing of your thumb and finger while staying focused on your breath is just as effective and can be hidden from others.
GRATITUDE JOURNAL: Get a small notebook that you can carry with you and in it write down everything you are grateful for: you have a home to live in, you have food to eat, you have a TV or radio, you have a family that loves you, you are in good health, you have a job or income, you have pets, a sister, a brother etc. No matter how small (I have a favourite mug) or insignificant, write it down. And read it. Look at it when you are feeling down.
We take much too much for granted and the simple act of reflecting on what you have in your life that works, is huge. Be grateful for your health. Be grateful for the love you have. Be grateful for your intelligence, your coping skills, your positive attitude, the ability to bounce back from hardship and take something positive with you. These are all things to welcome and reflect on.
For teens, have gratitude for having a place to sleep, a room to hold your things, privacy when you need it, family to talk to, or close friends, or a counsellor at school. Be grateful you have the opportunity to go to school and get an education, which will allow you to get a career you can feel passionate about. Be grateful for your gifts of writing, art, sculpture, writing poetry, knitting, singing, making music, your ability to understand math and science. Be grateful for your health.
FEELINGS JOURNAL: Get a second journal and in this one write down all the things that are making you miserable: you have anxiety, you fear public speaking, you are failing in school, your parents don’t understand you, you hate your boyfriend/girlfriend, your friends are mean to you, you have a lousy boss, your colleagues are jerks, the customers at work are ginormous pains in the butt, you hate your life. Write down every crappy thing in your life. Write it fast. Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, spelling, nothing. Just let the feelings spew forth and write for as long as you want.
When you are finished, rip out those pages. DO NOT READ THEM. Crumple them up and burn them in the fireplace (for kids and teens, under supervision, you don’t want to burn sown your house in the process) and as they burn, feel the energy of those negative thoughts burn away inside of you. Feel how much lighter your body and mind becomes. Do this is silence and watch how all the negative feelings turn to ash and float away.
Then, get your gratitude journal and look at all the positive things in your life. Deep breathe, and focus on the positive.
TALK TO SOMEONE YOU TRUST: Find a friend, a close relative, a parent or sibling, a counsellor, anyone that will listen and HAS YOUR BEST INTERSTS IN MIND. Do not fall into the trap of unloading to a boyfriend or girlfriend because, although they may care a great deal for you, they may not have the skills to help you, they may not want to listen to all your problems, they may not have your best interests in mind. They may be thinking how does this affect our relationship? Is this person mentally weak or strong? Or, in a worst-case scenario, how can they use your problems against you. You tell them all your dark secrets and the next thing you know, the secrets are on Facebook, being told to other friends or people in your social group, or even worse, not being taken seriously.
If you are married, there is a stronger bond between you and your partner than with a girlfriend/boyfriend situation. And the things you talk to each other about have a different value.
FIND A DOCTOR OR PSYCHIATRIST: Get a complete check up. Find out if your anxiety or depression is related to an illness. Try medication to see if it will help. Now this will be a long process because different medications work differently on everyone. Just because a friend using Amitriptyline and has success with it does not mean you will have the same results. Every body is different.
The great thing is you may find out you have a treatable illness. And you may need to be on meds to treat that illness. It is no different than being a diabetic. Having a mental illness is a disease of the mind, just as diabetes or high cholesterol is a disease of the body. There is no shame in taking meds, but you have to use them as directed and you need to go on and off them following your doctor’s advice.
DO YOGA: Doing any kind of yoga is better than not doing yoga at all. Pick out four or five poses you really like and practise them for at least 20 minutes twice a week. That’s it. Does not take a lot of time, and you may find you become addicted to it and want to practice every day. Even better! Find a yoga coach that will work with you to teach you what you need to do for you.
Yoga classes are great, but not all instructors are created equally. You need to be able to get into and out of poses safely, you need to know the best way to move for your body, and you need to be safe. Remember, yoga should not hurt.
FIND A LIFE COACH: The difference between a therapist, counsellor and life coach is simple. Counsellors and therapists will devise a treatment plan for you. A life coach knows you have all the answers inside you already and they will help you figure that out through asking questions, letting you sort your feelings, and guiding you to find your own answers. This is powerful, as with yoga, all the answers are already in you. You just need to find a coach to help you find your bliss.
MEDITATION: Meditation takes on many forms. You do not have to stare into your navel to find the meaning of life. You need to be PRESENT. In THIS moment.
Anxiety is about the fear of what might happen. PTSD is about the fear that already happened and can happen again. Anxiety, PTSD and Depression looks to the past. Worry looks to the future. In both situations you are missing out on the present.
Meditation brings that present right in your face. You focus on your breath, and just bring awareness to what you are feeling in your body. You don’t need to change anything, just become aware of the sensations. Are you hot? Are you cold? Do you feel tension in your neck or stomach? Can you bring awareness to those places of tension and release them through breathing?
VOUNTEER: Help yourself by helping others. Become a person in service to pets, elderly people in a nursing home, hospital aid workers, help out at a homeless shelter. Find something that connects to you and help people or animals that have a worse situation than you are in. Being in service of others, as long as you are doing it for the good of others, is one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself.
Become a beacon of hope for someone else.
WRITE: I started writing at a young age. I think I was six. My passion for words, the time spent in solitude writing down my thoughts and feelings created a superhighway of expression for me. I turned my problems into short stories, and eventually, novels. Mt freedom of expression was to drown out my demons on the written page. Here, I was in control of all the negative, horrible things in my life. I chose what happened to a character, whether they lived or died. I had control over something, when my entire life was out of control. This was HUGE. What an incredible relief it was for me to write down make believe things to help me cope with some of the worst possible situations in my life.
You don’t need to become a published author (but you can), and no one needs to read what you write (unless you want them too), but you will find the journey amazing.
LEARN TO PLAY A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT: Throw your energy into something that will fill you with joy, something that has a little bit of a challenge for you, and something you will work on.
The bonus? You will be creating new neural pathways in your brain that will enhance the way you think, make you smarter and more adaptable and make it easier for you to learn new things.
DRAW PATTERNS: This is another form of meditation. Focus on drawing patterns, mandalas, concentric designs, puzzles, etc. Again, this creates neuroplasticity and increases the use of your brain in a different way that it is used to and thus creates new ways of thinking.
Remember, all unhappiness begins with a thought. Our thoughts create our actions; our actions create our life as people respond to those actions. If you want a different result, you need to change your thoughts, and that can only be done by doing something different.