Our minds come with alarm systems, just like those of houses and cars. These protective mechanisms have been working like clockwork for millennia, because our ancestors had to face mortal dangers on a daily basis - wild animals, troublesome neighbours, hungry gods and what not. And in modern society as soon as our brain responds to those primordial signals we feel like we'd better take some action. Though today there are not so many things to fear, our answer is still the same - panic.
Only recently have neuroscientists begun to link the human panic behaviour to brain chemistry. When exposed to danger, our sympathetic nervous system switches on and we get ready for action. Then the parasympathetic nervous system comes into play calming down our body and mind. If the parasympathetic system fails, a person ends up a little messed up.
There are two very uncomfortable things about panic. It usually starts just out of the blue and without whatsoever reasons which could be excluded beforehand. But the most unpleasant feature of panic attacks consists in their slippery and evasive nature. Let us take as an example a person attacked by a gunman. A victim clearly sees the aggressor and definitely will do whatever it takes to change that situation: fleeing, fighting, crying or begging for mercy. But when a panic sets in, it is extremely difficult to spot and identify the attacker and attacked. Perhaps they are just the same. Our personal mental self-defence. In other words if you think you are dying, suffocating or going crazy it is all about little chemical demons in your brain which you created by yourself. Fortunately it is possible to beat the demons even without performing an exorcism:
One of the most powerful tools to overcome panic is visualisation. Imagery is very beneficial since it allows us to divorce ourselves from our “personal panic agents”. My favorite technique is called “the Egyptian mummy”. The routine is simple though it takes certain imagination: Close your eyes. Imagine that you are already dead, bandaged like an Egyptian mummy, and put into a coffin. Submit to these circumstances and stick to them for a minute or two. Then roll out of the coffin, stand up and rip your dress into shreds. Ball up the shreds and throw the ball into a deep-purple cloud, which you created in the sky. Watch the ball reach the center of the cloud and explode it. Let the rain wash the mud of your panic away. Open your eyes, enjoy your free self.
Start counting backwards from 666. Try to smooth down your breath. Count in your mind or out loud. Your task consists in deconstructing the evil step by step. As you descend the scale, your panic abates. Your breathing improves. Your heart-rate normalizes. Do this countdown until the focus of your mind shifts to a different mode.
Recent researches have shown that panics are linked to the choking reflex, which normally can be triggered by low oxygen concentration. Once the extra oxygen is fed to your brain it sends a signal to your body to switch off its “alarm button”. The technique runs as follows: inhale until your lungs cannot take in any more air. Hold your breath for 30 seconds. Exhale very slowly, gradually releasing the air until your lungs are empty. Try doing that no less than five times. If after this exercise you are still feel panicky just move on to the next technique.
Take a paper bag, start breathing slowly through it. When you inhale in such a way the extra carbon dioxide is fed to your brain. Doing so will calm your mind and distract your body from spasms and stiffness.
Grab a pencil and diligently write down everything that comes to your head (“God in heaven, whatever shall I do? I’m losing my mind,” etc.). Once these thoughts appear on the paper you start to feel detached. From being a sufferer you will be transformed into an observer. When the peak of a crisis is over you may proceed to write down less emotional sentences ( “I have the most complicated panic in the world,” “My doctor said he will study my panic in his scientific research”).
Lay down on your back, stretch your hand perpendicularly. Grab onto imaginary knob. Start rotating the knob as if it were attached to a wheel into a plane, perpendicular to your body. Ancient Toltecs believed that this routine could annihilate the anxiety, fear, panic or some other unpleasant sensations. This exercise implies rotating the “wheel” until you really feel some counter-acting power. In about 10-15 minutes your hand will plunge into a sort of invisible dense substance, which eventually will prevent the hand from moving. The irrational power - panic -becomes tangible and a person gets an opportunity to cope with it.