To stop your panic attacks, you must STOP fearing them.
By accepting that they CAN’T harm you.
And by learning how to challenge the negative thoughts that cause them.
Finally, you must get COMFORTABLE with the unpleasant SYMPTOMS of a panic attack. You can do this by conditioning your mind and body using the following steps.
1. Test you breathing speed
Did you know that breathing too fast is a MAJOR cause of panic attack?
Known as ‘over-breathing’ or ‘hyperventilation’, breathing too quickly results in lots of shallow breaths.
In turn, these cause your blood to have too much oxygen. But not enough carbon dioxide.
Which is a bit of a problem (but not a dangerous one). Why?
Because you NEED carbon dioxide to make use of the oxygen in your blood.
With too little carbon dioxide, your body can’t get sufficient access to the oxygen that its inhaled. And that causes symptoms like:
- Out of body feelings
- Tingling in your hands and feet
That’s why the first step to cutting your risk of panic attack is to make sure you don’t over-breath in your day-to-day life.
Because if you do, you’ll be more on edge than you should be. And, therefore, more likely to slip into panic mode.
So, how do you know if you over-breath?
Just count how many breaths you take in one minute. If you’re doing more than 14, you’re breathing too much. That’s because the ideal is about 10.
2. Learn to breath slower
When you’re breathing too fast, you suck in air using the top part of your chest.
That’s the WRONG way to do it.
To slow things down, you should instead breath using your abdomen. That’s the area around your stomach.
How do you do that?
To get into training, sit down somewhere. Next, place your hands flat on your stomach about 2cm (1 inch) above your belly button.
You want the tips of the middle finger on each hand to touch each other when you breathe out. But not to touch when you breathe in.
You should aim to breath in for 3 seconds. Then out for 3 seconds.
That will give you about 10 breaths per minute.
Ideally, you should practice this for 5 minutes at least 3 times per day until you’re default breathing speed is about 10 breathes per minute when resting.
Besides slowing down your default breathing speed, you’ll be able to use this exercise to calm down when you’re on a plane and feeling panicky.
One thing before you get started: when first trying abdominal breathing, you might feel light headed or dizzy. If that happens, stick with the program as the problem should soon go away once your body adjusts.
Meanwhile, if the idea of doing abdominal breathing freaks you out, start your training by breathing as you normally do. But instead of breathing in then straight out, hold each breath for 5 seconds.
Once you get used to doing this, switch to the abdominal method.
3. Get used to the symptoms of over-breathing
This may sound contradictory, but once you’ve got your day-to-day breathing under control, you need to practice over-breathing.
So you can get REGULAR experience of the symptoms of panic. The idea here is that by getting used to those unpleasant sensations in a controlled environment (like your home), you’ll get to know them for what they are: unpleasant.
But NOT dangerous.
Nor evidence of impending doom.
With that experience under your belt, you’ll be FAR less nervous if panic symptoms emerge while you’re on a plane.
So, how do you deliberately bring on the symptoms of panic? Simple – takes lots of fast, shallow breaths.
Then learn to feel – but not fear – the symptoms as they start washing over you.
4. Get your heart pumping
When you panic, your heart rate quickly speeds up. And that can be scary in itself.
Especially if you’re not used to the feeling of a pounding heart.
The best way to deal with this is to get comfortable with your heart working hard. On that note, I suggest you regularly do an exercise that gets your heart rate up.
Like running on the spot. Or skipping. Or whatever.
Once your heart is pumping, actively focus on how it FEELS.
Do this a few times per week and you’ll soon get comfy with the sensation. Which means you’ll be MUCH less worried when it hits you during a panic attack.
5. Deliberately create panic attacks
Am I kidding?
The idea here is that once you’ve mastered the previous four things, you need to generate panic attacks in order to become a black belt at handling them.
By doing this over and over, you’ll get to a point where you’re able to manage a panic attack on a plane. So how do you create a panic attack at a time of your choosing?
By using creative visualization. In other words, your imagination.
Here’s how it works.
Sitting in a quite, safe place (like your home), you imagine a flying-related scenario that has traditionally made you feel panicky.
As your thoughts give rise to fear, you aim to avoid full-scale panic.
You do this by FEELING the unpleasant symptoms but not allowing yourself to be OVERWHELMED by them.
Meanwhile, you challenge your catastrophic thoughts with facts.
The idea is to repeat this exercise regularly until your visualizations no longer make you panic.
At that point, you’ll be so used to panic that its power to terrify you will be hugely reduced.
And happily, that will LOWER your risk of having an attack in the first place.
Before you begin
If you suffer from a medical problem like a heart condition or asthma, I suggest you DON’T do these exercises.
Meanwhile, to make your panic-inducing sessions less traumatic, you might find it better to do them in the presence of a trained professional like a psychologist.
What do you think of these techniques? Leave something for me in the comments.
This is the fourth instalment in a series of posts about panic attacks.