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Ten Steps to Ease Out of Panic

Terrifying, disorienting and disruptive feelings can come on without warning. A word, sound, smell or image can trigger disturbing thoughts as well as emotions.With panic a pounding heart, shortness of breath and dizziness can precipitate an emergency room visit. This happens because the right side of the brain, which is faster and “comes on line” sooner than the left side, leaves us unable to think clearly about what is happening and we can be cast into a foreign “feeling zone” where everything seems unfamiliar and unsafe. Since we do not know, at such moments,whether or how to fight or flee, we end up freezing and don’t realize these feelings while awful are not dangerous or life threatening. Frequently, we cannot reason our way out of such emotionally charged events, so other strategies are needed.

Here are Ten Steps, that in my years of work with anxiety and panic, I have found helpful:

  1. Identify the present date and the time down to the specific hour if you can.
    Keep your eyes open. There is no rush, so take your time. Look around at your surroundings and notice the shapes. Notice and count, for example, all the objects that you see which are square and all the items that are round.
  2. With eyes open continue to slowly and gently look but this time notice the colors. Again see red or blue or green and count them, still remembering the date and time. Your attention is focused outward to both see your world and orient yourself.
  3. If not seated, please do so. Sit erect and forward in your chair, so your back is not touching the back of the chair. Let your hands rest on your thighs. Your feet should be firmly on the floor with shoes off. Press your weight forward a bit so you can feel the floor beneath you as firm and solid.
  4. Take a tennis or handball and with one foot firmly planted lift the other and roll the ball along your arch. Then do the same with your other foot. This might be a bit tender at first but feel your foot gently relax and give into the ball, as you remain present and aware of your surroundings.
  5. Return both feet to the floor and still sitting erect, pay attention to your body checking for points of tension. If you feel any point of tension, just notice and comment: “My neck is tight,” “My legs are heavy.” Try not to judge or interpret, just notice.
  6. Focus on your breathing with your lips slightly parted. Feel the air enter your body through your nostrils, traveling to your stomach and diaphragm and then back up and out. Become aware of the rhythm, be it rapid and shallow or slow and deeper. Slowly drop your gaze to about three feet in front of you and feel yourself breathe with no effort to control it.
  7. Begin to count or name your breaths; for example, 1 on the inhalation and 2 on the exhalation or name them “in” and “out.” Just focus on the rhythm of your breathing, knowing your mind will wander but bringing it back each time you are distracted by simply saying, “thoughts.” Continue for five minutes to start if you can and build up to twenty minutes.Be sure to make the exhalation longer than your inhalation as this helps quiet the nervous system.
  8. Attend to your body to note any tension. If you still notice discomfort, assign a feeling phrase to the area: “My stomach feels nauseous and I am anxious.” Just notice the feeling and let the sensation linger to see what else you become aware of without interpreting or assigning meaning.
  9. If the feeling and sensation fades or lessens some, say to yourself, “That was then, this is now,” and alternate light tapping on your thighs with your hands. You are “tapping in” the present experience, as such bi-lateral stimulation helps the brain integrate the experience.
  10. If you are still uncomfortably anxious image yourself sitting in your favorite place: a place where you enjoy and have experienced calm and relaxation. Fill in as many details as you can, like the temperature, sounds, smells, textures, etc. If you wish and you have a special friend, relative or pet, for example, imagine them with you as you breathe and rest. In the present you can care for yourself.

Repeat these steps or if you so choose change them to fit your needs.

May a sense of peace be with you.