Tomorrow is the annual holiday few are officially aware of though millions celebrate unknowingly. International Panic Day, a celebration of all things anxiety, aims to create greater awareness of the unexpected and episodic freak-outs so many of us experience during our lives. Lives like the frantic Siberian prison guard who forgot to lock the main gate, the dude who just smoked too much hydro in Amsterdam, and the guy in Vegas currently spending his last soggy dollar at the Golden Nugget. When it comes to combating the crippling effects of panic, whatever you do…don’t panic. Before you kick your heels up on the shrink’s couch or pop a Xanax, here are five easy ways to keep your cool:
Many panic attacks involve a feeling of tightness in the chest or constriction in the throat, which can cause hyperventilation. By slowing down the breath while lengthening your exhales, you can quiet down the body’s nervous system pretty quickly. Just five to ten breaths can make all the difference. Try closing your eyes as you breathe deeply (this especially comes in handy if your panic has been caused by the charging grizzly bear that’s about rip your face off).
Catch those tasty waves
A panic attack may last one minute or one hour, but in either case that mighty unpleasant feeling is going to pass. If you can recognize those freaky sensations as more of a wave that will eventually crash to the shore, you can become the surfer that Sean Penn’s character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High only dreamed of. It might take a little bit of practice, but identifying the panic (and the thoughts that ignite it) will keep you feeling far more in control when it surges through you. Learn to ride it out rather than wiping out.
I’ll take decaf, please
Caffeine might be a great idea if you’re having a rough morning, but the stimulant can shake you up rather than wake you up. Those who are already prone to jitters and anxiety might find that coffee can actually contribute to a panic episode. And if you’re trapped on a crowded subway that has mysteriously stopped in the tunnel for more than three minutes, that venti Blonde Roast could spell trouble (as most blondes do). While it might be unrealistic to completely cut out coffee from your sleep-deprived existence, dialing it back might prevent an attack altogether.
It’s a stretch
Much like breathing slowly can relax the muscles and mind, so can stretching. Yoga, anyone? Physical tension is a common symptom for sufferers of panic and anxiety, and opening the body with some stretching can absolutely help to relieve stress. Chances are, you won’t be experiencing your panic attack on the comfort and convenience of your own yoga mat, but should you feel one creeping up, roll the shoulders and neck and twist the torso a bit. Think of these movements like a refreshing splash of cool water on your face, if your face is the terrified inner child buried beneath your deepest fears.
Drink up, Buttercup
Though it’s all too easy to drink a beer or three to take the edge off, alcohol and anxiety aren’t the greatest pair. Just like with the coffee, abstaining altogether sucks, but it’s best to at least be aware of your consumption and how it may relate to your panic-prone ways. So what is the one magical beverage that is perfect for celebrating International Panic Day? Water. Boring, lame H2O. But hear me out! When we have water efficiently coursing though our systems, bio-chemicals, hormones, and nutrients are delivered properly in the body, reducing the risk of you know what.
Barbara Purcell is a NYC-based yoga instructor with anger issues. In addition to breathing well, she specializes in Pilates, yoga, and minor meltdowns. She has been featured on Tyra Banks, Playboy Radio, and Cosmo Radio, empowering others to put the “ho” in holistic. Check out her website here.