We are all guilty of sometimes driving ourselves into self-induced panic attacks when we encounter stressful situations. As much as we hate experiencing it, this sense of anxiety is actually an ingrained biological trait in us – it’s part of the whole fight-or-flight response that our sympathetic nervous system produces whenever we feel threatened. While we can’t exactly get our nervous system to shut up and not bother us, we can tone down the irrational aspects of it before it overwhelms us.
1. Be aware
Each time you enter/exit fight-or-flight mode, you should be able to identify the signs the before it happens again the next time around. Being able to recognise a threatening situation will help you break out of it more easily as your mind will be able to defuse the terror before it takes control of you. It also helps that the more familiar you become with a situation, the less unpredictable it may seem. Awareness can be as simple as learning to pre-empt the signs by mentally telling yourself that your response is simply a biological reaction that is entirely controllable.
2. Practice deep breathing
Panting in repetitive succession is one of the surest signs of a panic attack. Left unaddressed, it can slide into full-on hyperventilation. You can learn to calm yourself and lower the levels of panic by adjusting your breathing pattern. Take deep breaths, inhaling for four counts and exhaling for another four – repeat this breathing pattern five times and the haze of panic will have dissipated significantly!
3. Re-assess at the situation objectively
Once your breathing has become more measured and you don’t feel like you're spiralling out of control, take a moment to re-evaluate at the situation from your new, collected point of view. Remind yourself that you are not in a life-or-death situation and there’s no need to fly into a full-blown panic attack. Even if a solution does not become immediately clear, you can always approach a third party for some outside or more experienced perspective.
Stressful situations are too common in this day and age, so learning how to deal with all the nasty shocks that life throws your way can help you manage situations more calmly and save you a lot of unnecessary mental distress. The next time you feel your fight-or-flight mode kicking in, work through these three steps and you'll be able to defuse the situation before it erupts!