Perhaps the most common advice given to a person having a panic attack is to ‘breathe’ but unfortunately, when you are in the midst of panic, this is perhaps the hardest thing to do. Breathing is something we only ever think about when we can’t do it, and for this reason, very few of us know how to make ourselves breathe deliberately! Below are three breathing exercises which I find helpful when I’m in the middle of a panic attack, they are also useful for helping someone else whose struggling to breathe as you can talk them through the process and help to keep the calm.
Breathe out more then you breathe in
Think back to your breathing at other times of your life. When you are surprised or shocked by something (for example a massive spider) you may find that you take a large inhale or gasp echoing your fear. In contrast, when you are relaxed or relieved you often exhale, flopping down on the sofa or breathing a sigh of relief. These practices can be implemented during a panic attack. If you can concentrate on breathing out for twice as long as you breathe in then you can often help yourself calm down much sooner. At first this can seem counterproductive as the natural response to the thought “I can’t breathe” is to inhale as much oxygen as possible – but trust me – this is a much better option.
This is quite a common breathing exercise and you may well have heard of this one before. Square breathing requires you to visualise or view a square (for example a plug socket or floor tile) and concentrate on it as you breathe. The idea is that you picture the four sides of a square and match your breathing accordingly… it looks a bit like this:
Breathe through your Nose.
Personally this is my least favourite of the three exercises I’ve listed here. However, I’ve heard from many people who regularly use this technique so I’ve decided to include it here for you to try. This exercise is again intended to prevent hyperventilation by slowing your breathing down. Simply close your mouth and focus entirely on breathing out of your nose, imaging your breath traveling in and out of your lungs until you feel you can breathe regularly again.
Its important to remember that even if you don’t always manage to successfully employ these techniques your panic attack will eventually pass. Just keep reminding yourself that this is just PANIC and no matter how scared you may feel, you are in no immediate danger. Try and relax into your panic and wait for it to end. There is more advice on coping with a panic attack here.
Does anyone have any other breathing techniques they would suggest? Have you tried any of these before?