The Problem With Panic
…And Two Things To Do When You’re Feeling It
The problem with panic is it is utterly exhausting, and it shuts down our ability to function well.
Easy enough to say, but what does it mean. And more importantly what can we do instead.
I recently experienced it myself, so I feel in a good position to write about it not just in theory, but in practice.
Normally a very calm person, a series of events leading up to uncertainty and multiple hoops to jump through in order to travel and see my family put me into a highly anxious state. I became forgetful, emotional, and exhausted. This is what I have learned for myself, I hope it helps you.
Why Do We Experience Panic?
- Something feels out of our control
- We become triggered by information that scares us
- We pick up on those around us
- All of the above together!
Why Does It Do To Our Minds And Bodies?
- When we experience panic our sympathetic system revs up releasing energy to prepare us for a perceived emergency
- Our bodies flood with adrenaline, our heart-rate quickens, our eyes dilate, our breathing becomes shallower and rapid. All of this takes a lot of energy, so after the initial burst we feel drained
- Our emotions are close to the surface and can be triggered in an instant
- Our brain empties out of everything other than the thing that has triggered fear. Normally our conscious mind can hold 5-7 thoughts at any one time. But when we are stressed, anxious, or panicked we can only hold a couple of things in our mind. This can lead to forgetfulness, mistakes, and poor decisions. This can be all the more unnerving if you don’t realise it is just your mind’s way of telling you to stop and recentre
- We may forget to take proper care of ourselves like eating regularly, keeping hydrated, moving our bodies
What Can We Do When We Experience Panic?
- Notice if the cues are external to you (the news, rumours, general vibe from others). If it is, limit your exposure to those things.
- Recognise it’s happening to you. This is important. When you realise you have been triggered you start the process of regaining self-control and regulation
- Slow things down. Have you noticed that when you feel panicked things seem to speed up? Take three long breaths. Really long deep breaths. It will tell your body to calm down
- Get out of your head and in to your body. This could be by making yourself a cup of tea, taking a bath or running warm or cool water over your wrists
- Take things one step at a time. When we feel overwhelmed and panicky it is usually because we are thinking too many steps ahead. Things seem to escalate, one after another, and it all feels out of control. We can’t possibly have any direct influence over stuff in the future. So just break it down to the next step you need to take. As for the rest, trust in your own ability to sort through whatever presents itself, a bit like driving a car and responding to whatever situation comes up.You got this!
- Reach out to a grounded friend or two. Talk your situation through with them, or accept a hug or two. Lean on them and accept their strength. It will bring you back to yourself
At the end of the day I recognise that all the words I write now may go out of the window when you are actually experiencing panic. So just remember these two things: breathe deeply (cue the mind/body to relax), and get into your body (tea, warm water, a comforting scent of vanilla, lavender or whatever you find soothing). If neither of those are enough then reach out to a grounded friend. From my personal experience having done the first two, it was the support and wisdom from my friends that returned me to normal.
You got this!