Thursday, July 14, 2016

Time to panic, panic attack!

It's time for the panic attack to start panicking, because we're going to talk about how to get rid of it!
Last time on IOI, I gave a biology lesson and a history lesson, AND managed to put all 4 of my readers to sleep at the same time!  It was a proud day for me.  I started writing about panic attacks and what causes them.  Solving a problem works better if you know what's causing it.  I don't want a bandaid on my broken arm, I want a cast that's going to help the bone heal.  So now that I know what's happening to my brain and my body during a panic attack, I can use my parasympathetic nervous system to make choices to counter the effects. No dozing off over there...I'll try not to do that again.  Probably.
So, there's WAY too much adrenaline in the body thanks to this panic attack and if the body doesn't do anything with it, it's going to feel bad physically.  When it's your body this is happening to, move.  Do whatever you can to move.  If you're in a physically confined environment, like your seatbelt is buckled, your seat is upright, and your tray table is in the locked position, You can still wiggle your toes and fingers.  Roll your ankles, wrists, and neck.  Wiggling toes also works in situations like meetings where you really have to be stealthy.  If you are some place with more options, move more.  Stomp your feet, or at least tap them if stomping isn't safe for you, physically.  Stretch.  Stand up.  Walk around.  Run in place.  Run out of get the idea.
Moving makes your blood circulate faster, so the adrenaline gets moved around, and eventually used up.  But it gets used up in smaller amounts so you're not being flooded anymore.  Also, by focusing your attention on your body, you're no longer solely focused on what was causing you to panic in the first place.  This means your brain can move on from what it had previously thought was a threat, and get back to the business of regulating itself and feeling better.  So now that you've dealt with the physical effects of the panic attack, you can start working on taking some control over your mind.  There are a lot of different ways to do this.  I am going to describe a technique that works really well for me.  If you already have one that you like, by all means, use it!  There are plenty out there, so find what works for you.  My preference is to be able to do this out loud.  But if that's not possible given the situation, it works fine to just think it:
Start with naming 5 things that you see, each prefaced with, "I see..."  Right here at my desk, I see a lamp, I see my computer, I see a glass, I see pencils, I see a notebook.
Next, 5 things that you hear, again, each prefaced with "I hear..." I hear birds, I hear the fan, I hear typing, I hear myself breathing, I hear birds.  Yes, I said birds twice.  It's fine to repeat.  Don't get caught up in what you're saying or how you're saying it.  
Third is 5 things you feel.  This means using your sense of touch, not your feelings.  I feel my glasses on my nose, I feel my back against the chair, I feel my feet on the floor, I feel my fingertips on the keyboard, I feel myself breathing.
Next, say 4 things you see, hear, and feel, using the same method.  Then 3, then 2, then 1.  
What I like about this technique is it gets me present. This way my brain stops paying attention to the threat that was probably never actually going to kill me anyway.  Not only that, but my focus changes to my immediate surroundings and my body.  As I go through each cycle of I See, I Hear, I feel, I become more aware of my body calming down, and going back to its usual functioning.  
Feel free to use this and share it.  I also like to use it at night when I can't shut my brain off and get to sleep.  When I use it for sleep, I almost never make it all the way through the third round.  
I'm so relaxed now, I need a nap.
Be well.

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