The first tip I try out and share with you here is for me personally to “get down to business” – to recognize my own panic and stop it? Okay, I know myself already in stressful situations, but panic …?! I already had a touch of panic, fear or fright a few days ago when I imagined what happens when the shops close and curfew is the norm: No more drinking an espresso every morning in my favourite café? (very briefly here a greeting to the team of the Cafe Lille in El Medano, I miss You) Not seeing any familiar people anymore? In Spain this is actually unimaginable and for me personally it is. Why do I feel physical panic in me now? Coffee addicts might understand it, because caffeine withdrawal is not nice. Somehow my thoughts start to get more and more panicky and go around in circles: What if supermarkets are out of coffee too? What if I feel so bad that I can’t take the dog out anymore? Or we die and nobody notices? … In my head the thoughts keep turning…PANIC… But STOP – I will now follow tip number 1: recognize panic and stop. For this purpose I present the REST exercise and try it out myself.
REST = REalize and STop.
The first step is to realize that I’m panicking. I can tell that I am panicking most quickly by my physical reactions. People in panic breathe faster and the muscles, especially in the neck and back, tense up. Some people start shaking or get a shaky voice. Others have a nervous bowel or get stomach cramps. If you are aware of what your physical symptoms of panic are, you will be able to notice and stop the panic faster. So please take a moment to think about what are your physical symptoms when you are panicking. What are your physical symptoms of panic?
If you perceive these physical signals and realize that you are panicking, you can overcome your panic relatively quickly by regulating your breathing. The aim is to slow down your breathing again. Slow breathing gives your body and especially your brain the message of relaxation. Ideally, you should sit down somewhere. Your upper body is upright so that you can breathe easily. Ideally, you close your eyes. You can also do the exercise while standing with your eyes open, e.g. in the supermarket.
“Breathe in and breathe out. Breathe in again. Now breathe out as long as possible. You breathe out slowly and calmly until there is really no more air in your lungs. Then inhale briefly. Then breathe out again slowly and very long. Extend the exhalation as long as possible. Then inhale briefly. Now breathe out again slowly and long until there is really no more air in your lungs. Breathe in this way about ten more times. Slowly and calmly out and in again briefly. The exhalation is much longer than the inhalation. … Continue to exhale very slowly and as you exhale slowly and completely, imagine your body relaxing. With each breath your body becomes calmer and more relaxed. With every breath you feel your muscles relax and your body fills with calmness. Breathe in this way about ten more times while actively imagining your body becoming calmer and calmer. Slowly and calmly out and in briefly. “
Why does this REST-exercise work so fast?
When we panic, the amygdala – some call it our fear center – in our brain takes over. It sends the signal alarm to our body. The body immediately accelerates breathing and tenses the muscles. Fortunately, this communication between amygdala and body works in both directions. That means the body can also send certain signals to the amygdala. With the above exercise the body sends signals of relaxation to the amygdala. With the above exercise you tell your brain that it can cancel the alarm mode. As soon as the amygdala has calmed down again, the Preforal Cortex can work again. The Preforal Cortex is what makes us capable of action. It is responsible for attention and organizing complex actions. This is what we need in a crisis situation – sensible action. Panic does not help at all.
There is another reason why it is so important for us to be in panic mode as rarely and as briefly as possible: Every time we are in panic mode, our body releases cortisol, the so-called stress hormone. Too much of this stress hormone burdens our heart. Therefore, it makes sense to do this breathing exercise even at the first small signs of panic. The good thing is that this breathing exercise has been used successfully for centuries – by yogis. It works quickly and can be used by everyone.
That’s right – this exercise is really applicable everywhere. No sooner said than done. I have already realized my personal stress thoughts, which put my body in a panic situation. So that I remember the breathing exercise in everyday life, I wrote a sentence on a piece of paper: “Use your body for help, because you always have it with you anyway. At the moment I always have this note in my trouser pocket as a reminder. When I now notice how worried I am about not having any more coffee, I remember this sentence, take a spontaneous deep breath and start with the exercise.
The long exhalation of the exercise is difficult for me at first, but I have the “REST” like a stop sign before my eyes. I force myself to take a short inhale and a long exhale. Suddenly I remember a yoga class where we all should make a sound with the long exhalation. Which was embarrassing for me at the time, when everyone then loudly pfff… made a noise. All these pictures and memories and the conscious breathing completely distracted me from my panic thoughts. I notice how I slowly relax. I am curious how often I succeed in calming my panic with this exercise. For the next time I plan to count my breaths during the REST exercise. I suspect that I will then be able to relax even faster.
What do you do against acute panic? Any ideas?