Have you ever experienced high levels of anxiety bordering on panic? Symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure, sweating, heart pounding, dizziness, and racing thoughts can be overwhelming when they arise. And if it’s ever developed into a full-blown panic attack, you know the paralyzing fear that comes with that experience.
When these symptoms arise for you, it’s a good idea to consult your medical doctor. Some symptoms are shared in common with heart or lung issues, so you want to be sure there’s not an underlying medical concern that’s causing the symptoms. But if you check with your doctor and you are otherwise physically healthy, your doctor might recommend psychological treatment and/or “rescue medications.”
Rescue medications, such as Xanax or Ativan, are anti-anxiety medications that help to bring your symptoms down to a manageable level when you are facing a high level of panic or anxiety. I believe these medications can be helpful in crisis scenarios.
But if you don’t have these rescue medications or prefer a more natural approach, there are ways in which you can harness your body’s natural calming systems to relieve that anxiety. Below are some suggestions for rescue “meditations” that you can do when you’re experiencing panic or even just feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
If you find that these strategies aren’t effective or you’re continuing to experience symptoms, seek out help from your medical doctor or a mental health professional to address what is causing the panic.
When you’re panicked or anxious, breathing patterns are more shallow. If you place a hand on your chest while you’re feeling stressed, you’ll likely find it rises and falls in short bursts. The goal in taking deep breaths is to engage your diaphragmatic muscles in your abdomen. This triggers your body’s natural calming system that helps you relax.
To do this exercise, sit comfortably in a chair or lay on your back in a comfortable position. Place one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen. Take a few breaths and notice which hand moves. Focus your breath so that your hand on your abdomen is rising and falling more with each breath.
Next, take a series of breaths with one of the following patterns:
4-square breathing: breathe in for 4 counts, hold at the top for 4 counts, breathe out for 4 counts, and hold the exhale for 4 counts
4-2-6 pattern breathing: breathe in for 4 counts, hold at the top for 2 counts, and breathe out for 6 counts
Do 10 repetitions of one of these patterns. Using a breathing pattern that focuses on a longer exhale helps regulate the body. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of your body that calms the fight-or-flight response associated with anxiety and panic.
Guided Meditation for Anxiety (Yoga With Adriene)
On her YouTube channel, Adriene of Yoga with Adriene offers a playlist of short, guided meditations that can help you when your’e in a crisis. She also has yoga practices designed to help you ground yourself or deal with anxiety on her YouTube channel. If you have the time to do a longer workout or yoga practice, this might be a good fit for you. Moving your body is a great way to deal with anxiety or panic.
Headspace or Other Meditation Apps
Headspace is a great app teaching the basic skills of meditation. They include short videos describing how to approach meditation, and they offer their first 10 basic meditations for free.
While you can only access those 10 meditations without a subscription, I’d recommend looking into their subscription, especially if you’d like to make meditation a more regular practice. If you do have a subscription, here are a few of their “SOS” meditations I’d recommend:
Visualize a Calm and Peaceful Place
Spend a few minutes thinking of a place you’ve been or that you create in your imagination where you can feel calm and peaceful. Identify what you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell in that image. Envision yourself there and notice what emotions it evokes. Pay attention to the pleasant feelings in your body and allow yourself to enjoy them.
5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Exercise
Start out by taking a few deep, abdominal breaths, as described above.
Begin by noticing 5 items in the room around you that you see. Say them out loud. Describe the colors you see, Identify any textures you’re aware of on those items.
Next, notice 4 things you can feel without moving your body: it could be your clothing on your skin, the feel of the chair in which you’re sitting, or your feet on the floor. Say these out loud as well. Describe the sensation of those feelings.
Then notice (aloud – catching a pattern?) 3 things you can hear. Describe the sounds: whether they are consistent or intermittent, loud or soft, familiar or unfamiliar.
Notice 2 things you can smell or two things of which you like the smell (as sometimes in a sterile environment there aren’t many smells). Describe what these things smell like.
Finally, notice 1 thing you can taste or of which you like the taste. Describe that taste to yourself.
Regular Meditation Practice
What I’ve shared above are short, quick meditations that you can do in a crisis. However, the strongest benefits of meditation have been shown when you implement a daily meditation practice over the long-term. Daily meditation actually changes the structures of your brain associated with stress and calm. If you find you like these strategies for calming yourself, I suggest that you try meditation daily.
These “rescue meditations” are a way to distract yourself from the symptoms of anxiety and calm your body down so you aren’t so overwhelmed. However, they are not meant to completely resolve the anxiety. The panic will continue to come back until you recognize the source of the anxiety and resolve it. If you notice the panic continuing, consult a mental health professional to begin examining the potential sources of your distress.
Have you been dealing with symptoms of panic or anxiety, but aren’t sure why? Are you feeling overwhelmed with stress in your daily life and looking for solutions to bring about more peace and calm? Are you tired of dealing with the physical symptoms of panic? At Restored Hope, I offer counseling that targets the roots of anxiety and helps offer relief from the effects your symptoms. Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up your first appointment.