By: Leah Hovey
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt so panicked, stressed, and upset that your whole body felt like it was shutting down? Your mind started racing a thousand miles a minute, sweat started pooling all over your body as you realized you could not stop shaking uncontrollably, and suddenly it felt as though someone was pushing your chest down to the point where even taking a single breath became hard to do? Maybe this has happened once before, perhaps you experience panic attacks on a regular basis, or maybe you’ve never felt this. Having anxiety attacks can make you feel as though you might not make it through them. It is your body’s response to stressful situations, and as someone who experiences frequent panic attacks, I know it can make you feel completely defeated as a human being.
So, what do we do when one comes upon us?
This week, mindfulness is the key component to our discussion on mental health. Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing an individual’s attention to what is happening in the present moment. It is a tool that many health professionals use to help their clients reduce anxiety and focus completely on what is happening around them. Throughout the years, there have been various mindfulness programs individuals practice in order to live a more balanced and calm life-style while reducing stress (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Tang, Tang & Posner, 2016). Some popular mindfulness programs include mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, mindfulness-based dialectical behaviour therapy, and mindfulness meditation therapy.
Using breathing techniques as well as mind-focusing exercises can help clients focus on what is happening in the moment as opposed to worrying about the past or other stressors in their lives. Using mindfulness on a daily basis can improve a person’s well-being and help them through life’s challenging obstacles. The Conscious Counselling team is providing help with mindfulness as well by introducing Mindfulness Meditation classes!
So, how can we use mindfulness to help us through our panic attacks in the moment? While it can be challenging to focus on the present while your body is in that state of collapse, there is a mindfulness-based technique one can use to help calm an individual who is experiencing these attacks. Personally, I have used this method various times by myself or with a friend guiding me through it, and I find this is one of the best ways to come down from an anxiety attack. This is called the "5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique" (PEIRSAC, 2018).
Counting down from 5, an individual will use these numbers to help guide themselves out of their panic and into what is going on around them. The goal is to focus on the physical surroundings instead of focusing on your anxiety symptoms. Here is how it goes:
Count FIVE things you see around you. This may be trees, grass, objects in your room, or even small objects within the environment. It doesn’t matter what it is; just focus on finding five of them.
Count FOUR things you can touch. This may be your hair, your legs, the ground beneath you, or objects that are within reach such as a blanket or phone.
Count THREE things you can hear. The sounds you hear will be external sounds as opposed to your thoughts in your head. Examples are cars passing by, the rustling of papers from other students around you (if you are in a classroom setting), the ticking of clocks, or the voices of other people.
Count TWO things you can smell. While this may be challenging if you are not in a busy environment, this really requires your attention to detail. This may mean thinking of what smells are in the air at the moment or possibly searching for something to smell. An example of something I used once was my hair. I could smell my shampoo in my hair, so I tried to focus on that scent.
Count ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like? Are you chewing or can you chew some gum at that moment? Can you taste what you had for lunch? Can you drink something and focus on the taste of that? Whatever it may be, focus on it.
When completing these steps, try to focus on saying each item out loud and remembering to breathe deeply as you go through the steps. Even if you have to repeat steps, start over, or go through the exercise multiple times, using this technique is a mindfulness practice that can really help you out of those frightening panic-induced situations.
To learn more about mindfulness and to gain help practicing coping techniques such as the one above, check out the Conscious Counselling website for more help and information.
Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(4), 822. Grounding Techniques - PEIRSAC. (n.d.). Retrieved September 7, 2018, from https://www.peirsac.org/peirsacui/er/educational_resources10.pdf
Shrayber, M. (2018, February 06). A Mindfulness Trick Called 5-4-3-2-1 Can Help Ease Anxiety Immediately. Retrieved from https://tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/9kzw78/a- mindfulness-trick-called-5-4-3-2-1-can-help-ease-anxiety-immediately
Tang, Y. Y., Tang, R., & Posner, M. I. (2016). Mindfulness meditation improves emotion regulation and reduces drug abuse. Drug and alcohol dependence, 163, S13-S18.