Don’t crack your gum because the sound annoys everyone around you. But some mental health professionals recommend chewing it to lower your sense of distress. The chewing action releases some stress, the rhythm is calming, and the flavor might soothe you, too. Keep chewing quietly as your read how The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines panic attacks as “… the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feelings of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
- Chills or heat sensations
- Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
- Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself) Listen to this podcast.
- Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- Fear of dying
… Although anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as a racing heart or knots in your stomach, what differentiates a panic attack from other anxiety symptoms is the intensity and duration of the symptoms. Panic attacks typically reach their peak level of intensity in 10 minutes or less and then begin to subside. Due to the intensity of the symptoms and their tendency to mimic those of heart disease, thyroid problems, breathing disorders, and other illnesses, people with panic disorder often make many visits to emergency rooms or doctors’ offices, convinced they have a life-threatening issue.”
You can read the rest of the website to learn more about panic attacks.
Spending time in nature can lower your sense of stress, too. Fresh air, greenery, even feeing birds or other small animals can be quite soothing. Make that a daily ritual and you’ll have a method for calming down on command as necessary.
Performing specific actions such as smiling on purpose, taking a walk or jogging, even doing reps with some sort of exercise can calm you down. Physical action affects your brain. You can even stop, sit still, and breathe in and out slowly, inhaling with your nose and releasing air with your mouth. Those and other simple actions inform your nervous system that things are under your control, not falling apart. Dancing, smelling soothing aromas such as hot, fresh baked goods, lavender or something else that you enjoy is also calming. Choose the action that calms you and enjoy the victory of taking control of your temporarily deceptive emotions.
When you’re ready to think past that panic attack, ask yourself what truly frightens you. It might not be the situation or object you blame. They could be cover stories for the real problem. A friend or therapist can help with this “Identify the Real Fear” task. Talk to someone who can speak with patience, a sense of compassion and a sense of humor. They might be able to help you to realize, all on your own, what is bothering you at the back of your mind. Fear of death? Fear of missing out? Fear of having a panic attack? Losing what you cherish? Something else?
I’ll share a real life scenario with you: I once was at a wedding when a happily married woman fled the hall breathing heavily. Perspiration dripped from her head as she clutched her chest as if in terrible pain. I ran after her, knowing full well what a panic attack looks like. I found the woman in a bathroom, weeping as she scrubbed off her smeared make-up in a sink full of rushing water. I handed her some paper towels to dry off, then led her in a rousing dance around the lovely restroom, singing “Shall We Dance?” and “Happy Days are Here Again.” Women entering the area joined us in a goofy dance marathon as my friend recovered her sense of safety by laughing at the absurd scene in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Whenever she begins to panic, I whisper “Dance like nobody’s watching” and she immediately relaxes with the memory of that evening.
When you find out what works for you to calm down, use the technique as needed. If you want to speak with a therapist, do so. Augment your time with your online or in-office counselor by reading Byron Katie’s calming thoughts about life and the tricks that thoughts play on our minds. Not every fear is based on reality. And remember, “When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.”