Being the Master of Managing Panic that I am, I am a pro when it comes to stopping panic attacks. There are three basic steps.
1. Stopping a spontaneous panic attack starts by understanding what the heck is happening within your body.
Your brain is malfunctioning.
This malfunction causes adrenaline to be released.
This adrenaline causes the feeling of fear to explode in your body and brain.
Naturally, you respond to that fear by trying to identify the source of the danger so that you can protect yourself.
Because there isn’t an obvious danger, your brain will choose the most likely cause, often determining that you must be dying or going crazy.
Realizing that you must be going crazy or dying, causes another (secondary) release of adrenaline, because now you are legitimately afraid. (You don’t want to die or go crazy, after all.)
In your state of fear, you breathe differently – sometimes faster, sometimes slower, and the changes in oxygen can trigger feelings of dizziness, or confusion, or a warped perception of the world around you.
And the sensation of fear and panic is extended. This cycle can go on and on as your fear triggers the release of more adrenaline.
2. You need to understand and trust that panic can’t hurt you.
The physical and psychological sensations of panic are awful. You feel like you are having a heart attack, or about to faint, or dying.
But the truth is that panic can’t hurt you. Understanding this helps you to manage your fear.
3. You know what is happening in your body, and you know that it can’t hurt you. Now, you need to change how your body interprets this flood of adrenaline.
Initially, your body is going to respond to adrenaline exactly how it was programmed to respond – with a shit-ton of fear.
Adrenaline causes your heart to pound, blood to rush to your muscles, your lungs to clench, making you feel like you can’t breathe. Your body is poised to leap into action. It can cause burning or tingling sensations. It can make you feel hot or cold, dizzy, confused, and a whole host of other incredibly unpleasant sensations.
Our brain interprets those sensations as a sign of danger – which is why we feel afraid.
But you can teach your brain to interpret those sensations differently.
This is the hard part. This is the part that takes practice.
It is hard because your body is hard-wired to respond to these sensations with fear and life-saving action. You body does NOT want to sit calmly and breathe while adrenaline pumps through your system.
And yet… you can teach it to do exactly that.
The strategy that worked for me was to act as an impartial reporter and cheerleader. My job, when adrenaline flowed, was to observe, record, and offer encouraging support.
My internal dialogue sounded something like this:
When you do this repeatedly, you are training your brain and body to respond differently.
You are teaching your body not to respond with fear when you feel the effects of adrenaline in your system.
With practice, it gets easier and easier to do.
You may not be able to prevent the malfunction that causes your brain to release adrenaline (that will take time to heal), but if you don’t respond with fear when it happens, and you allow the adrenaline to flow through and out of your body while you remain calm, within a few minutes you will be back to normal, without it ever exploding into a panic attack.
It really is that simple. And knowing that panic no longer has control over your life is a damn good feeling!!!