Every year, about three million adults in the United States will experience a panic disorder. Those that do might avoid people and public areas in fear of an onset of a panic attack given the unexpected nature of the attacks. Although spontaneous, there are tools to manage the invasion of panic attacks. One way is through mindfulness. Mindfulness somatic therapy practices coupled with mindfulness meditation can help ease the aftershocks of a panic attack and lessen its severity. Learn how a body scan meditation can help you.
Panic Disorders and Panic Attacks
Panic attacks involve sudden intense fear and anxiety, as well as a sense of loss of control, in response to a perceived threat. When they happen frequently it is a panic disorder (PD).
The symptoms of panic attack include:
- Feeling of dying
- Feeling of having a heart attack
- Fear of having lost sanity
- Loss of control
- Heart pounding
- Trembling or shaking
- Chest pain
- Dizziness or faintness
- Tingling sensation
- Tightness in throat
- Shortness of breath
Most panic attacks last up to ten minutes, peaking within the first minutes. The attack can be draining, leaving people exhausted and in fear of more attacks occurring.
Mindfulness Somatic Therapy: What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the act of bringing attention to the present moment. It is becoming self-aware. And truly tuning into what is going on within and around us. For example, noticing that we are clenching our jaw while birds chirp in the distance. Mindfulness is something we already do–exist in the moment. However, many of us are distracted by the external, the past, and the future. Noticing bodily sensations, acknowledging one’s own feelings, and accepting one’s own thoughts can aid in getting you to the present.
Strategies To Get To The Present
Pulling up an instruction manual to ride out a panic attack may not be practical in the midst of an intense attack, but practicing these coping skills regularly may make them a second nature response to one.
When a panic attack strikes, you can briefly sway from side-to-side, let your breath and spine flow in waves, or lift your heels and release them to anchor yourself back into your body. Once you have let go of some of the stress in your body and have diverted from an anxious state of mind, you can begin a body scan meditation. Quieting the mind through body scan meditation is a mindfulness practice that can center you and keep you in the present. And it offers a perk, manifesting in feelings of gratitude and appreciation when you experience yourself in your body at that very moment.
What to do
Find a place to sit. Close your eyes and sink into your body while maintaining an upright spine that supports you, as if golden threads are holding you up from above. Make an effort to notice the sounds and smells around you. Observe how your breath goes in and out of your body, without feeling the need to change it. Then take note of what you are sensing in your body.
Starting from the top of your head, scan your body, section by section. Pay attention to fine details such as curves, sockets, holes, hair, shapes of body parts, and the like. Check in with yourself to acknowledge any sensations you have going on in your body or any tension you are holding. See if you can find a quiet or more comfortable spot in your body. If there is tension, accept it and attempt to release it by focusing on relaxing that part of your body. For example, you may realize that your eyebrows are scrunched, your fists are tightened, or your neck and shoulders are clenched. Not only will this let you drop into the present moment but it will create space for your muscles, resulting in less pain.
Once you are through examining your entire body, do a quick inventory of how you and your body are feeling. Sit still without an agenda and without trying to control anything for a few minutes. See if with a dual awareness you can hold onto the internal calmness as you slowly take a few deep breaths and open your eyes into the present moment. This practice can keep you from spiraling into negativity during and after an attack. And it can promote overall well being in the long run. Practiced daily, whether you have 5 minutes or 55 minutes, these types of mindfulness somatic therapy or practices can teach your body how to find the “calm,” and be able to return there in times of distress.
For more information about Trauma based resources please contact Trauma and Beyond Center ® at (818) 351-3511 or visit us at traumaandbeyondcenter.com.