I’m a 26-year-old with Postpartum Mood Disorder and a second kiddo on the way. As a lifelong anxious person, I’ve struggled with panic quite a bit in the past, and had to learn to cope with it over the years. That said, I’ve sorted through effective and ineffective techniques to calm myself, both instantly and slowly over time, so that you don’t have to. These tips are universally helpful — you don’t have to be a new parent, a worrywart, or anything else in order to learn self-soothing skills.
Here are the practices I’ve learned that quell panic — in the moment and in the long run.
Ten slow, deep breaths are all it takes to stimulate your vagus nerve — the nerve responsible for inducing the relaxation state within our bodies. You don’t even have to hold them for a certain length of time. Breathing techniques are a great option to tell the body to physically slow down, which will help the mind slow, too.
I can use this practice anywhere and around anyone. It soothes me in the moment, and by practicing deep breathing regularly, it helps me prevent future panic attacks.
There are an infinite number of visualization activities that you could try, but the one I use helps me retrain my brain to get out of the ruts it likes to get stuck in.
Whenever I feel myself getting worked up, I imagine a little puppy going off-course. I imagine gently guiding the puppy back to where I want it to go: back on the path. It may feel silly at first, but it’s a gentle reminder to be compassionate towards myself because training my mind to think in a different way takes time and commitment.
Physically release the energy
At some point, all of that energy building inside has to be released. Personally, I find singing to be the best energetic release that I’ve experienced, and I feel 20 pounds lighter afterward — shoutout to the band Heart for my tune of choice.
When that option isn’t available, I do jumping jacks, yoga, go for a walk, work out, write, or dance. Physical exertion helps release the tension that can build up to a panicky moment. Make sure it’s a positive release of energy (i.e. don’t throw anything!).
If journaling works for you, you have my deepest and most sincere congratulations. I feel boxed in by writing only about my feelings and my day. So instead, I do a free writing exercise where I time myself and just write without worrying about anything. Here are a few awesome writing prompts to help get your mind out of a loop when you find yourself getting worked up. Writing is one of the most therapeutic coping mechanisms that I’ve found for myself. It helps get thoughts out of my head out and into a safe space that I can both literally and metaphorically close and put away afterwards.
If you want to go a step further, I can’t begin to describe how much I recommend “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg for anyone who wants to get better at expressing themselves through writing.
Change your focus
After I’ve practiced one or all of the above, I have to consciously avert my attention. For me, that means making a grocery list, enjoying my family’s company, throwing on a movie, or cracking open a book.
Meditation has also been a life-changing practice for me and those around me. I like guided meditations like these. Similar to the puppy visualization, they’re a helpful technique to guide my mind and center myself.
Check out this article for a little more info on meditation, and be proud of yourself for even entertaining the idea of trying something new to feel better. You got this!