Yoga Techniques for Panic Attacks

Woman calmed by looking at the sea
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What makes you feel panicked? Public speaking? Enclosed spaces? Crowds? Air travel? Exams? Presidential elections? Even if you can't identify the cause, you're familiar with the symptoms: mind racing, pulse elevated, mouth dry, difficulty breathing, nausea, faintness. 

While many panic disorders are treated with prescription medications and therapy, it's also useful to have some coping techniques in your arsenal. Things like deep breathing and moving your body can stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps your body calm itself down. 

1. Breathing

Focusing on your breath works on both the mental and physical level. Taking full, deep inhales and exhales while concentrating exclusively on this task can help relieve the mind of the crush of thoughts that feeds anxiety. When we move into panic mode, the breath usually becomes rapid and shallow and the heart races. Making a conscious effort to regulate the breath has a calming effect on the physical body, counteracting the onset of anxiety.

What to Do: Breathe in and out through your nose, filling your lungs completely on each inhale and emptying them on each exhale. Focus on the coolness of your breath on your upper lip on the inhales and the warmth on the exhales. If you mind wanders from this project and wants to return to its self-generated frenzy, try to guide it back to your breath. This is actually the seed of a meditation practice. It gets easier if you make a habit of it, so meditating regularly may benefit you greatly. 

2. Mantra

Repeating a word or phrase with each inhale can also help take your mind off your anxiety. People often feel intimidated by the mantra technique because they think they need to use Sanskrit words or a mantra that is somehow "official." While this is an option if you know one, a mantra can be any word or phrase that pops into your head at the moment.

What to Do: If you're using the above breathing technique, "cool air" is a nice mantra. It just describes the sensation of inhaling in a soothing, neutral way that keeps your focus on the present moment. "Just one more" (in reference to the breath) is another mantra to try. It helps move you incrementally toward the end of the time during which you feel panicked.

3. Stretches

Anxiety causes you to lock down and clench, holding tension in your body. Working in reverse, if you can take away the physical response that panic provokes, you can also relieve the panic itself. If you are in a situation where you can move around, a few basic stretches will loosen your body and stop you from tensing up.

What to Do: This series of yoga stretches that you can do at your desk addresses the major areas of the body that hold tension, such as your neck and shoulders. If you feel panic creeping up, you can do a few of these stretches almost anywhere. For a simpler approach, just roll your neck around and your shoulders up to your ears and then down your back. Lip flutters and Micheal Phelps-style arm swings are also good ways to move tension out of your body.

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