Panic attacks are surprisingly common; at least one-third of us will have one at some point in our lives, so if you have panic attacks, know that you are not alone.
Panic attacks can feel like you can’t breathe, your heart may be pounding, and you may experience intense feelings of fear, nausea, trembling or shaking, sweating, hot or cold flashes, or tingling sensations. This is because your body has activated your fight or flight response, which floods the body with adrenaline and cortisol, preparing your muscles and organs for danger by pumping more oxygen and blood to large muscle groups like your legs.
You may experience dizziness as blood is diverted away from your brain and into these muscles, and your mouth may be open to allow more oxygen into your body. Nausea, diarrhoea, and gastric distress are also common because, when you enter fight or flight mode, your digestive system slows down because you don’t need to eat a large meal when you’re fighting off danger.
Here are a few things which can help you with panic attacks :
- Sour and salty – Have sour or salty foods on hand when you feel the onset of panic, such as sour lollies, salty chips, or strongly preferred gum or mints. You could also imagine yourself in the presence of a lemon. Why? Because soul/salty activates saliva production, which halts when you’re in an activated, fight/flight state. A sour/salty taste stimulates salivation and swallowing via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a component of your parasympathetic (ventral vagal) nervous system. Activating salivation activates your vagus nerve and ventral vagal system, reducing sympathetic nervous system activation.
- Cold Exposure – Splash your face with cold water, submerge your face in cold water, run your wrists under cold water, or place ice cubes on your wrists and neck. Cold exposure activates your flight or fight response, but then your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in. Because your vagus nerve runs through your face and wrists, concentrating cold on these areas also activates your vagus nerve.
- Valsalva Manoeuvre – The Valsalva manoeuvre is an effective technique for quickly lowering your heart rate. Bring your hands together and blow on your thumbs as if you’re trying to blow up a balloon, but your exhale has nowhere to go, as shown. This works because increasing the pressure in your chest cavity directly affects your vagus nerve, lowering your heart rate. You should exhale for at least 15 seconds with puffed cheeks and repeat 2-3 times as needed.
- Proprioceptive Input – Finally, there is proprioceptive input, which is weighted input. When we go to sit on a chair, for example, we use proprioceptive input to understand where our body is in relation to our surroundings. The weight has a calming and organising effect on the mind. When you’re panicking, the best way to get proprioception input is to push against a wall as if you’re trying to push it over, hold for 10-15 seconds, then rest and repeat 2-3 times. Proprioception input can also be obtained through a firm hug, chewing, massages, yoga stretches, weighted blankets, vests or eye masks, and lifting weights/heavy objects.
Did you find these hints helpful? Please share with anyone you think might benefit from this.