Hidden Hurt Domestic Abuse Information

Coping with Panic Attacks

Learn some basic breathing techniques for coping with panic attacks and reducing anxiety.

When we are having a panic attack we hyperventilate (rapid breathing or over-breathing), the result of this is that we blow out too much carbon dioxide, which in turn means that it increases the acidity of the blood (which can cause confusion, dizziness, pins and needles etc) and increases the percentage of oxygen in the blood, which in turn means our heart has to work harder, causing the racing heart you describe. All that lot makes us feel even more panicky and so it gets worse! Learning how to regulate our breathing helps to break the cycle, so that we not only have a way of coping with a panic attack when it happens, but we can also learn how to recognise when we are getting more anxious and can even prevent an attack. Practising breathing techniques regularly means it is easier for us to use them when we need them.

If you are having a panic attack:

  • try to breathe slowly and deeply, making sure you are inhaling and exhaling for a long time, if possible, exhale for slightly longer than you inhale. Some people find that inhaling through the nose and exhaling through a slightly open mouth (as though you were cooling down a cuppa!) helps.
  • breathe into a paper bag if you have one handy, this means you are re-inhaling your own carbon dioxide which helps to redress the balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen in your blood

  • if you don't have a paper bag handy, try cupping your hands over your mouth and nose instead  :)

Breathing to calm

Breathing exercise to generally calm yourself down when you are feeling anxious:

    1. If possible, sit upright with the crown of the head uppermost, though you can do this in any position if needed. Close your eyes or keep them open. Relax your jaw.
    2. Inhale through your nose, as slowly, smoothly and deeply as you possibly can.
    3. Exhale through your nose as slowly, smoothly and completely as you can, focusing attention on your abdomen, near your navel.
    4. Before inhaling again, mentally count ‘one thousand’, ‘two thousand’.
    5. Keep repeating the inhaling and exhaling, until your breathing rate has become slower and you feel calm.

Slowing down breathing rate

Breathing exercise to slow down your breathing rate and thereby become more aware of your breathing:

    1. First, time your breathing rate by counting on your fingers each time you breathe in and out for a minute. 

    2. After a short rest, do the following breathing exercise for five minutes: 

    3. As you breath in through your nose say to yourself: "IN TWO THREE"

      As you breath out through your nose say to yourself: "RELAX TWO THREE"

    4. After another short rest, count your breathing rate again.

Practise this at least once a day and you will find yourself more aware of your breathing and better able to voluntarily slow it down.

The Pranayama

The Pranayama or deep breathing exercise is a breathing exercise/technique which is generally beneficial for us physically and mentally - supposedly (!) and I must confess that I have found it somehow makes me feel better in myself, though it is quite difficult at first and I don't understand why it should make any difference! Try starting with maybe a minute and build up slowly from there:

    1. Sit upright with your legs folded, either on your bed or on the ground. Keep your hands relaxed on your lap.

    2. Take in a deep breath very slowly.

    3. As you intake air pull your belly inwards while heaving out your chest. Your stomach muscles must be taut.

    4. Hold the breath and count five.

    5. Then gradually exhale and relax your abdominal muscle.

    6. Wait for two seconds and then repeat the whole exercise.

After you master this technique of deep breathing, you should also try breathing alternating between the left and right nostrils.

    1. Block the nostrils alternately using the thumb and the little finger of the right hand, while the remaining three fingers should rest gently between the eyebrows.

    2. First, breathe in deep through the right nostril and breathe out through the left. Very slowly. Make sure that your stomach muscles are flexed considerably.

    3. Then change the process - breathe in through the left and out through the right.

    4. Repeat the whole procedure for sometime, aiming toward 10 minutes eventually.

As strange as this exercise sounds, and as amused as bystanders might be when you are doing it (especially children!), it really does seem to help in reducing anxiety generally and coping with panic attacks!

Next: Awareness of the Self

© Hidden Hurt, 2011

Return from Coping with Panic Attacks to Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Depression

Recommended Reading:

It's My Life Now - Starting over after an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence by Meg Dugan and Roger R. Hock. has been found to be helpful by a number of people recovering from an abusive relationship. Have a look at the portions available online to decide whether it may be of help to you - recovery is a very personal issue.

Life after getting out of an abusive relationship often continues to be a struggle, and It's My Life Now offers guidance to overcoming common pitfalls, blending worksheets with insights on self exploration and ongoing growth. From handling feels of loss and guilt to overcoming feelings associated with having loved an abuser, this book continues to offer invaluable lessons and be a real source of help and strength:

To order in the US: It's My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence, 2nd Edition

To order in the UK: It's My Life Now

The Self-esteem Workbook by Glenn R. Schiraldi - recommended by workshop facilitators.

The Self-esteem Journal: Using a Journal to Build Self-esteem (Overcoming Common Problems) by Alison Waines - A very helpful work book with exercises to dip in and out of while recovering.

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