Panic and Anxiety attacks suck; they are terrifying and come out of nowhere and leave you feeling totally out of control. Out of date, therapies are failing too many people who are left with a growing fear of fear despite making their world smaller to feel safer.
As promised from a request, I am going to tell you not only how to hack into and reverse a panic or anxiety attack, and I am also going to go through how to reduce and prevent them from happening in the first place.
This article is not a replacement for therapy as you should, if possible, seek the help of a professional. But it really can help you treat your anxiety in a more holistic and useful way than just talk therapy alone.
While counselling therapy has its place, and I would recommend it to the client that I felt needed to go through their history, and it was something as a therapist I didn’t want to offer my clients.
Bored of Talk Therapy
Having anxiety at the time, I was bored of talking about it with my anxiety not changing much at all. I wanted to stop feeling powerless, and I wanted to take control of my anxiety and work on it myself with a set of tools that would not only wind it down but heal it altogether.
I didn’t know at the time, but through exploration, I began to realize that most anxiety issues and panic attacks are a physical injury caused by a struggling nervous system, which in turn tells the parts of the brain responsible for emotions, mood, and survival that they are in danger. My nervous system was shot to pieces, and my lifestyle and mindset were preventing it from healing the way it should.
Seeing my anxiety as a physical condition was life-changing. I had an injury that needed healing, and it wasn’t long before I began to find tools, strategies, and ways of thinking which started to not only heal my anxiety but also increased my confidence and resilience too.
A few decades later, and here I am, sharing with you the tools, mind, and body hacks that do affect healing anxiety. I am only interested in what works, and I have found that that anxiety heals much more quickly by focusing not just on mindset, worries, or past trauma but also on physical health and all aspects of your lifestyle and neurochemistry.
What is a panic attack?
Well, it is as the name suggests, a sudden attack of panic and fear triggered by your survival center, the limbic system. It can include these common symptoms:
- Pins and needles
- Racing heart
- Shortness of breath
- Chest or stomach pain/pressure or squeezing sensation
- Feeling hot and cold
- Feeling like you are dizzy, going to faint or even die
- De-realisation (where reality seems to shift and not feel real)
By the way, I know the above sounds like a heart attack, and you should always seek medical advice if experiencing the above anyway to have any heart, asthma, or any other physical issues ruled out. Once anything physiological is ruled out, then then the main focus can return to what is causing your panic attack symptoms.
Panic attacks are your survival response in action, they don’t feel nice, but they soon will pass.
For example, my brain learned that nausea, hot and cold forehead, sweat, and pins and needles were a total panic trigger for me and could easily lie to me by making me feel like I was going to be ill.
I would then avoid various situations where there was a risk of me feeling embarrassed, ashamed, or throwing up in front of other people.
My world became seriously small when this was going on. The people I was trying to fit in with were all traveling into the city by bus to be cool, and I wanted to go too, but it turned my stomach to even think about going.
It’s all about the chemistry
Why do they happen? In my view, it’s mostly down to a neurochemistry imbalance causing the extreme fight or flight response. Making sure these are more balanced will make a massive difference to healing your anxiety. I am going to keep this simple, but it is worth knowing the main neurotransmitter players that have the most significant effect on you, these are:
Serotonin – this neurotransmitter is associated with mood, sleep, sex, and appetite. When it’s balanced, you can feel more relaxed, happy, and confident. If this is low, you can feel anxious, low in mood, have intrusive negative thoughts, anger, and depression.
Dopamine – this is responsible for your drive, desire, energy, motivation, rewards, focus, and movement. Low levels can see you feeling anxious and trying to raise levels through unhealthy habits with food, drinks, drugs, and other short term rewards.
Noradrenaline or norepinephrine – is a stress hormone and neurotransmitter, which helps you think and move fast when you are in danger. It also regulates inflammation, mood, memory, glucose levels, alertness. Imbalanced levels are linked to Bi-Polar, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, lack of interest, arousal, brain fog, and memory issues.
Acetylcholine – also known as the “memory molecule,” promotes a good mood as well as helps to regulate fear and anger. Low levels are associated again with anxiety, emotional instability brain fog, and fatigue
GABA – is a clever little neurotransmitter that can attach itself to a protein called a GABA receptor and helps to produce a calming effect on fear, stress, and anxiety. Low levels of GABA are again linked to anxiety, stress, and depression.
Oxytocin – this is vital for our human connections by increasing, trust, empathy, and bonding, I do believe human connection is everything, and that is currently at risk though isolating ourselves through a lack of human interaction in person. Low levels of oxytocin are linked to empathy issues, poor social functioning, feeling isolated, and personality disorders.
Adrenaline and cortisol are hormones also vital for survival response, which are great if you are ever in danger but awful for your physical and mental health with overexposure through unhealthy lifestyles, multitasking pressure, focusing on negatives and catastrophic thinking.
Lifestyle is everything
There is no getting around it, but a healthy diet, lifestyle, and mindset management are vital parts needed to build up and maintain balanced neurochemistry levels you need for confidence, focus, good mood and to feel strong and relaxed.
The problem is that anxiety, stress, and depression can lead to the absolute opposite, with poor, unhealthy lifestyles keeping vital neurotransmitters unbalanced. Getting started to change these levels can feel hard, but it is achievable and the best investment you could ever make.
Focus on these areas of your life to make the most significant impact on your physical health
Your nervous system and gut health need a well-balanced diet to get things in order. It will struggle to heal without the essential vitamins and minerals which create the building blocks for your neurochemistry to flourish and work. Over 90% of serotonin is produced in the stomach. Looking after your gut health is key to feeling well again.
Drugs, alcohol, and junk food are ways for your anxiety to trick you into feeling good and safe now; it’s a cruel trick which adds more pressure to your physical health and wipes out your good neurochemistry. Life’s too short for comedowns, regularly feeling bloated and hangovers as your nervous system can’t afford it.
Exercise is a must, from walking and moving more to get that heart rate up to produce well-needed endorphins and boost your neurochemistry naturally, too. I have lost count of how many clients were terrified of exercise and now cannot imagine life without it due to its benefits.
There has to be less stress, less multitasking, less mental load, and more rest and recharge. We seem to be trying at times to race through life as if we are running out of time. The effect on our nervous systems from this self-imposed danger is causing an overload of cortisol, noradrenaline, and adrenaline, which wreaks havoc over long periods. This isn’t sustainable at all, so learning to reduce this pressure on yourself, slow down, and more recharge time needs to happen. Multitasking is a huge culprit, and this lousy habit messes with your cognitive functions way too much as it reduces your attention span and actually dumbs you down. Sitting there watching tv with a variety of screens open is, in my opinion, one of the reasons we are struggling too much with our concentration spans.
Wake up and feel alive
Indulging in your passions boosts your dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. Please make a list of what activities make you feel alive and happy, where when you are doing them, and you get lost in a zone where time doesn’t exist! You cannot even put a price on what this will do for you on so many levels. If you are sleepwalking through life, now is the time to wake up and start living again.
Connect, connect, connect. Find your tribe, find the people who will inspire and support you to be the person you enjoy being the most. Again the neurochemistry boosts are invaluable and need to happen now.
Last, in this section, how is your job? If you are not taking risks to have the career you truly want, then seek help to explore the possibilities of making that happen. It’s either that or stay in your current job role or field for the rest of your working life. How long is that going to be exactly?
Sort your sh*t
Your anxiety and panic attacks are a message to sort your shit out, your life needs a redirect, and somehow you did not hear the message before, so it’s getting louder and louder until you pay serious attention.
It’s one of the best messages you could ever receive as this could be a groundbreaking moment for you to make the changes you have been putting off but badly need and also deserve.
Tips and Tricks to hack Anxiety and Panic
I had no tools whatsoever to help me with either of these, I just coped the best way I could, but this also left me with a fear of fear, I would do anything not to experience being out of control like that again, especially around people.
I would have loved these tools, which can hack into a panic attack and turn it around very quickly. Now, this isn’t an instant cure, but it can help rewind it down so you can become confident in handling them and therefore reducing your fear of fear.
The foundation of all these hacks is the breath. Take a few exaggerated breaths to the belly, breathing into the nose and expanding your stomach out. Breathe out longer than you breathe in. Breathing to the diaphragm triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which tells the brain you are safe. Shallow breathing to the chest triggers the sympathetic nervous system, which tells it you are in danger. It reduces adrenaline and cortisol exceptionally quickly within the first few deep breaths, keep that going slowly and rhythmically.
So stop shallow breathing and make deep diaphragmatic breathing your vital new habit.
Add the pause
Find the pause point right at the end of the out-breath, hold for a moment, and then breathe back in. My clients are big fans of how quickly their minds slow down and how relaxed they feel from being in this present pause moment.
Accept the feeling as you breathe into your belly, become curious about it, and explore. Doing this is counterintuitive, and changes fear to curiosity. The more you accept the feelings that come with a panic attack and sit with them like a bumpy ride in a car, the more the feelings begin to recede for a smoother ride.
Feel your feet on the floor bring your attention here as your breathing to the stomach becomes easier.
Tap left to right on your leg.
You can also create a slow rhythmic tap on your legs with your hands from left to right. This tells your brain you are safe and soothes it too.
I am safe
I am calm, confident and in control.
Tell the brain you are safe; it needs to know and will act on it too. I know that can seem odd when you feel the opposite, but unless you are in actual physical danger, you are safe.
This will pass
Reminding yourself that this panic or anxiety will soon pass can help reduce it’s effect as you know these feelings cannot last.
Chewing Gum quickly reduces the stress hormone cortisol fast.
If near cold water, splash your face or dunk your hands in as this triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to tell the brain you are safe.
Those negative thoughts that seem so loud and adds to the panic? Listen to what side of the head they seem to come from and try to hear them from the other side of the head. You can practice this with your negative thoughts.
I love this popular mindfulness technique, and so many people have yet to hear about it. When feeling panicky, you will feel like the center of the universe. Taking to yourself and over-focusing on your feelings can make you feel worse as you can begin to interpret normal feelings as now dangerous.
Bring your attention out of your mind and focus on those around you. Take your time to focus on each one; breath deeply into each one you find.
Five things you can see. Take a look at the colors, shapes, textures, light, and shade.
Four things you can hear, really listen out for 4 different sounds one by one.
Three things you can feel so that you could focus on your skin, temperature, clothing
Two you can smell, take your time with this, it can be hard.
One taste you can distinguish in your mouth.
I am not that f*cking important.
Something I like to remind myself is that the trick of being the center of the universe when anxious is how you believe other people are that interested in judging and wanting to shame you.
No one is that interested even if you do believe the hype that you are the star of the show.
“I am not the f*cking important,” reminds my clients and me that we really are not that important and can move our attention away from such fantasies and back to reality.
I also like to remind myself when predicting the future that “I am simply making it up,” and I don’t have time for this unless useful.
My thoughts are not real no matter how it seems, and with some simple thought management techniques, I can move my mind on to more essential thought processes or the present moment.
Shrink the thoughts
We evolved a neat trick with our thought processes, and that was to have thoughts appear like giant cinema screens in front of our faces of what we fear, which can trigger anxiety and panic. Learning to move back that image and shrink it, trains the subconscious mind to reduce the importance of the thought. This is one of my favorites as you can change all sorts of things in your subconscious to get more out of life.
Focus your attention on physically relaxing your jaw, neck, and shoulders is a great way to tell your mind you are safe. One of my favorite positions is the superhero pose, stand tall with your legs a little apart with your hands on your hips. Add a smile to make this even stronger too.
Wet mouth means safe, and dry mouth equals danger use saliva or water and swirl it around your mouth to instruct your mind to calm down.
Chase the anxiety
I love this one, and it is worth your time and attention if you list your symptoms, which frighten you about panic, you may mention.
Fast heart rate
Feeling hot and sweaty
Breathing getting shallow
A tightness of anticipation in the stomach
These are also the same if you were watching a scary movie, having sex, exercising, or going on a roller coaster. It is often the interpretation that makes it worse, so change your perception and if you can, do your best to increase your symptoms by chasing them. Trying to increase your heart rate, get hotter, or increase any pressure is counterintuitive, which makes the anxiety confused and likely to retreat.
See it as a challenge.
Changing the perception of the anxiety can mess it up too. For example just seeing anxiety as challenge for you to overcome at that moment, introduces the good neurochemistry and hormones which helps you not only connect to people around you, it also can introduce a variety of emotions depending on your perception including, determination, pride, curiosity, compassion and kindness which are all anxiety killers.
These are just some of the tips I share with clients to help them manage and heal their anxiety.
So as a reminder for what we have talked about here’s a quick recap:
If you are suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, then it’s likely your nervous and limbic system are struggling and need time to refresh and heal themselves. It really can do this by getting regular good night’s sleep, nutrients, exercise, and thought management. If you choose an unhealthy lifestyle, then your nervous and limbic system will struggle more than they need to. This is likely to result in your quality of life suffering. Take the steps needed to change your lifestyle to one, which enhances your wellbeing and doesn’t destroy it.
It’s tough to feel anything positive if your neurochemistry is struggling, so please look after your neurochemistry, and it will look after you.
Use the tips and strategies to help you not only manage your anxiety and panic but also to help it heal. Please contact me if you need any help or advice with panic and anxiety attacks.