Introduction to Panic Attacks
Panic Attacks can be paralyzing.
These incidents can be mistaken for a heart attack, for fainting, for being sick. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, going to lose consciousness or even think you may be dying! The symptoms can include rapid, pounding heart rate, dizziness, lightheadedness, faintness, nausea, upset digestion, burning sensations in the arms, shortness of breath, inability to swallow, shaking, sweating, seeming paralysis, inability to talk, or tightness in your throat.
One difficulty about panic attacks is the fear that you’ll have another one. The fear of having another attack may cause you to avoid normal life situations where you think they might occur. And by having the fear of having another panic attack, you often create the very panic attack that you wanted to avoid. All stimulated by the overactive amygdala and its “fight, flight, freeze” modalities.
Good news… There are effective tools, which I’ll share in this article.
When The Panic Attack Hits – What do I Do?
The first thing to do is name it. Say: “I’m having a panic attack, it’s just energy and I’m not dying.”
Identifying it takes some of its power away. The Amygdala, the primitive part of the brain that secretes the hormones cortisol and epinephrine, that creates a fight/ flight/freeze response, kicks in at the beginning of the panic attack. When you logically talk to the amygdala, you show it that you know what is happening and it starts to slow down the process. Sometimes it helps to talk out loud, to be a firm director, so you can also hear the words as if someone is speaking them to you.
Next, start breathing.
Breathing Techniques – Keep It Basic.
This doesn’t need to be tricky. One option, inhale through your nose slowly, counting to 5. Hold the breath for 2 counts, exhale through your mouth to the count of 6. Repeat for at least 2 minutes. Another option, breathe through your nose for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, breathe out your mouth for 8 seconds. Breathing gives your body and brain much-needed oxygen. During a panic attack, one tends to breathe shallow and quickly, exacerbating the problem.
Breathing consciously, like the examples above, brings you into the present moment as well. Anxiety is a fear of something that may happen, or of something that has already happened and you’re afraid it will repeat itself. Anxiety is like a brewing storm. Panic attacks are like the torrential rainfall that completely drowns you in the physical manifestation of fear. Breathing consciously brings back your attention to the present.
Now that we’ve identified the issue and started taming it with breathing techniques, let’s really put the kibosh on panic attacks with the transforming modality of Qigong.
Qigong, The Magic Tool.
Qigong, an ancient Chinese modality or exercise, combines gentle movements synchronized with the breath and imagery. By tapping into the mind’s ability of imagination, we are able to actually reprogram the neurons, the brain cells responsible for communicating all the messages, including to trigger or not to trigger the hormones released by the amygdala. If we can stop those stress hormones from being produced, we can tamp down the paralyzing effect of the panic attack.
Now this isn’t difficult, but it is different. Just like anything mastered, it’s good to practice daily, so it simply becomes second nature. Just 5 minutes a day… You can do that, right?
Here we go: Stand with your feet parallel, about shoulder width apart or slightly wider, whichever feels more comfortable. With your hands open, rotate your upper body to the left, at the same time take a slow inhale with your breath. As you rotate, the left hand is above the right with the left at chin high and the right at chest high. With the rotation, act like you’re gently pushing something away from your body. As you finish the rotation to the left, start to exhale and with hand positions as you rotate to the right, with the same sweeping pushing motion.
Here’s where it gets a little weird, but stay with me. It’s important to do this with the imagination of a child. Children learn by imaginary play. It creates clusters of neurons in the brain so they remember what they imagine. We’re doing the same thing here. What we are going to imagine is that we are pushing clouds away, first to the left with your inhale, then to the right with your exhale. Do this over and over.
If you really get into this silly game of moving clouds, you can imagine that you are the wind, because that’s what really moves clouds. The wind is pure energy, there is no matter, no physical nature. So if we are the wind, we stretch ourselves way up into the sky (in our imagination). If we are pure energy, there is nobody to feel pain, we just have our inhale, as we move one way, and exhale as we move the opposite direction. Soon we feel light and calm. Make it fun, make it silly. It’s not serious business, this moving of clouds. But getting rid of the panic attack is important, and this is the best tool I know. I’ve prescribed this exercise to many of my clients for over 30 years. No drugs and no side effects, except for a calm lightness of being here in this present moment and not anxious about something that hasn’t happened.
To see a 5-minute video of this exercise that I created, go to: Moving Clouds Qigong for Anxiety
Changing How Your Brain Reacts To Stress
Stress Is interesting. On one hand, the hormones Epinephrine (also known as Adrenaline) and Cortisol, give you the energy to accomplish a difficult task. However, if that difficult task is in the future, or may not ever actually happen, but your mind thinks it might, those hormones are still produced even though there is no task to get through. What happens? You start to oscillate with all that energy produced by the stress hormones, and it feels awful! It feels like you want to jump out of your skin! It feels like you’re losing control of your body. You’re about to have a panic attack.
Knowing the signals, you can use the above tools to quell your brain’s response. When you do that enough times, you create neuron clusters that now make it second nature to go for your tools, rather than have a full-fledged panic attack. You’ve just experienced Neuroplasticity: you’ve changed your brain! Congratulations.
Remember in the section where I was teaching you the Qigong, “Moving the Clouds”? I asked you to come to the exercise like a child. Children, as well as all of us, learn in two ways. By repetition and imagination. Qigong uses both. That gives you two chances to change how your brain reacts to stress!
You’re Not The Only One!
People that have panic attacks are often embarrassed to talk about it. They think they are weird and no one else ever experiences them. That is a falsehood. Hundreds of thousands of folks just like you have panic attacks every day! Please try these tools, and then you can pass them on like I am to help someone else. That’s how we get better: helping people help themselves.
Good Luck! Have a great rest of your day and here’s to your awesomely healthy self!