Panic can grip us at the most unexpected of times and when you experience a panic attack in public it can be doubly distressing. You have to battle the physical symptoms - not being able to breathe, the chest pains, the dizziness and the wobbly legs – and then the mental symptoms of feeling the world closing in on you into a pit of darkness and fear. But you are also stressed out by bringing unwanted attention to yourself and having a bunch of strangers peering at you and misguidedly ringing ambulances because they think you’re having a heart attack.
I had my first panic attack on a crowded tube train. Trying to come to terms with heart-break and grief whilst stuck on a sealed pod speeding through a dark tunnel was a recipe for disaster in terms of my mental health. Fortunately for me, the tube stopped soon afterwards at an overground station where I could stumble out and breathe the cold winter air and escape the stares of my fellow passengers. (This was in London by the way, so no one got out to help me because god forbid they break their busy schedule to actually help a stranger in need.)
This was many years ago when mental health issues weren’t the hot topic they are now, so unfortunately I had no idea what had just happened to me or how to prevent it happening again. Luckily times have changed and there is now lots of expert advice out there to help people who have experienced a debilitating panic attack.
My favourite technique that I always use during moments of fear and panic is the ‘Anchoring Technique.’ It’s about using a physical sensation (normally pressing on an acupressure point on your body) to concentrate on and anchor your thoughts and feelings on that point while you wait for the feelings of panic to subside and your breathing to return to normal.
The easiest and most effective acupressure point to use is the webbed area on your hand in between your thumb and your first finger. Use the thumb from your other hand and just massage deep into the muscly part of the hand where your thumb and first finger meet. In Japanese shiatsu, this acupressure point is a high energy point that can release feelings of relaxation when pressed.
You can also use a word while you massage the point to focus your thoughts. It can be something simple like ‘Relax’ or you could use a phrase that a loved one has used in the past to calm you down. (I use the phrase ‘Easy Tiger’ as it’s something a good mate of mine would say to me whenever I was getting stressed out.)
So to demonstrate the anchoring technique, we made a short guided meditation practise to help you get into the practise of using this method. It really works.
NB: I used the technique recently when I was asked to record a podcast with fellow LightHearter and NHS psychiatric nurse Liz Axham for National Stress Awareness Day with the fabulous women from Standard Issue – a fantastic resource of information and entertainment run by comedian Sarah Millican and her team Mickey Noonan, Jen Offord and Hannah Dunleavy. I was quite panicky about doing the public speaking thing and massaged my hand so hard I almost put a hole through it. But I managed to beat my panic and actually spoke for quite a while despite not having one drop of saliva in my mouth. (For extra support I wore my favourite Tiger jumper - pictured - to remind me to take it easy.) You can listen to the podcast here: https://www.acast.com/standardissuespodcast/simep49chops12-goonstress-doone-
So for anyone who needs a bit of help during those fearful and panicky times, below is a demonstration of the Anchoring Technique to try. You can also find it as part of our free online mental health course along with lots of other meditations, tip sheets and solid advice for anyone suffering from anxiety or low mood. Let us know how you got on with the technique or the course by pinging us a tweet @LightHeartsUK. So until the next time, go easy tigers…
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