Content in this post contains information and discussions of infant loss, trauma, mental illness and mental health crises, which some readers may find triggering. If you need support at any time, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK, or the National Postpartum Depression Hotline at 1-800-PPD-MOMS.
In times of turmoil and stress, it can feel difficult to remain positive and calm, particularly given the global health crisis we are currently experiencing.
Normal tasks can suddenly feel overwhelming and our emotions can become more heightened, meaning that we find ourselves reacting to situations differently to how we might usually.
Many people will experience a panic attack or anxiety at some stage in their lives. Anxiety and panic are a result of prolonged stress in the body, triggered by unresolved trauma or emotions that can get trapped in our cells, tissues, or muscles. Without warning, our nervous system becomes engaged by a situation and goes into fight or flight mode as a default safety mechanism.
Experiencing Anxiety and Panic Attacks
I remember the first panic attack I experienced and how extreme it felt.
I had recently experienced the devastating loss of my full-term baby and found myself suffering physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
It was, however, not until about six months later, when I was caring for my sick mother, that the panic hit hard. I was crossing the road to get my car to drive my mother to the hospital when I collapsed in the middle of the road.
At that moment, I thought I was having a stroke. I lost feeling down my arms and legs but it turned out, it was a major panic attack. It got me when I was vulnerable and unprepared.
This was the first of many panic attacks and they restricted my life in a massive way for a long time. Eventually I learnt how to manage anxiety and panic, and have proven to myself that - although an array of physical changes take place in the body - a large amount of panic comes from the mind.
A panic attack can “feel like you’re dying, even when you’re really in no danger.” It can present as an increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, nausea, dizziness, and other physical symptoms when the body’s fight or flight response is activated1.
Like all animals, human beings have evolved ways to protect ourselves from dangerous, life-threatening situations. When you feel under threat your body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which help physically prepare you to either “fight the danger” or “run away from it”, also known as the fight or flight response2.
In our modern world, we do not normally face situations where we need to fight or run away from something quickly as our ancestors did, however, our bodies response to feeling threatened is still the same. This can mean that we end up with a surge of the same hormones due to a stressful situation, like an unexpected bill or deadline, but without the need to physically fight or run. When these chemicals flood into our body, but have nowhere to go, they can lead to panic and anxiety.
Unexpected Stress During a Global Pandemic
Many situations can cause panic and unexpected stress, including a global pandemic that our survival system has no point of reference to know how to handle. Many people may be experiencing a state of anxiety, even when they and their loved ones are safe at home, but there are many reasons why we might not be coping as well as we think we should be right now.
For some, there is stress around money, health, or not knowing when this will be over. Some may also be experiencing a fear of being confined or alone. This can be difficult for some people to cope with, which can make them feel isolated and claustrophobic.
Claustrophobia can cause panic in many people and, although it can make individuals feel tense and fearful in an enclosed space, it may also affect people who are confined to their home, such as many people are facing in our current situation.
So how do you know if your body is feeling stressed or panicked?
People can experience different symptoms including breathlessness, racing heart, difficulty swallowing, nausea, loss of feeling in limbs, dizziness, restlessness, and racing thoughts - the list goes on.
These symptoms can also be related to other, more chronic or serious health conditions, but they can also be related to panic, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
It’s also interesting to observe how panic can arise from the mind going into overdrive with future tripping and the thought process of “what if...?”
Our thoughts will often take the path of least resistance, looping thoughts around and around. Sometimes the dread of the panic attack can actually trigger the panic attack itself.
Whilst we can’t always control the chemical imbalances in our bodies during times of stress and panic, we can observe and change the negative, fearful thoughts into positive, calm thought patterns.
Negative thoughts can lead to panic and fear, so learning to challenge these thoughts and find ways to put a positive spin on them, or ask a powerful question, can make a world of difference to our mental wellbeing.
Negative - “What does that person think of me? Why are they staring at me?”
Positive - “That person is looking at me but that's okay. I’m ok to be seen...”
Negative - “What if I am stuck in my home for another 6 weeks - I can’t cope”
Positive - “If I’m at home for the next six weeks, what can I do that I don’t normally get the chance to do?”
Negative - “I should have studied that piece more.”
Positive - “How would I feel if I trusted myself and what I know?”
Changing certain words and thoughts with a new thought or a question can help change the course of a negative thought and open our minds up to new possibilities. As we curiously explore our own thoughts, we may find ourselves reducing panic and stress.
If you are feeling stressed and challenged at this time, here are a few things you can do to help dampen down the panic and feel more relaxed and reassured about your situation.
How can you curiously observe what’s going on by stepping back from your situation and wondering what’s possible. It's not an issue unless it does happen and your mind will go to work finding solutions.
Ten Affirmations For Reducing Stress
- I shall NOT try to be all things to all people
- I shall sometimes leave things undone that ought to be done
- I shall NOT spread thy self too thin
- I shall learn to say NO
- I shall schedule time for myself and my supportive network
- I shall switch OFF and do nothing regularly
- I shall be boring and untidy at times
- I shall NOT feel guilty
- I shall NOT be my own worst enemy but be my best friend
- I shall NOT be perfect nor even try to be
“Remember that today is tomorrow you worried about yesterday” - Dale Carnegie
If you’re not coping with your day-to-day the way you normally would, that’s because we are not in a normal situation. This is a time to be gentle with yourself and do what you can to take care of yourself, manage your stress, and find simple ways to boost your self care.
About the Author - Michelle Brass ND
With over 25 years of experience in the natural health industry, Michelle has dedicated her life to helping others embrace the therapeutic benefits of nature. Throughout her time as a health practitioner, she has used and recommended countless traditional and conventional treatments to her clients - as she believes an integrative approach to health and wellness is very important. Michelle is passionate about using and promoting essential oils and, in particular, Kunzea Oil, as she has seen them help thousands of people over the years. She knows that using essential oils in your daily life can help bring balance to the mind, body and soul. She is constantly trialling and testing new products with her loyal clients.
- Web MD Medical Reference. What Happens During A Panic Attack. https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/panic-attack-happening. Accessed 26 April 2020
- Mental Health Foundation. Anxiety and How To Handle It. https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/assets/A-Z/Downloads/Anxiety-and-How-to-Handle-it.pdf. Accessed 26 April 2020.
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