An anxiety or panic attack is an acute manifestation of unease. Often occurring without warning, it produces a range of physical and psychological symptoms: nausea, increased heart rate, shaking, feeling out of control, collapse…
It reaches a peak in around ten minutes before dissipating. Though such attacks primarily affect anxious individuals, the cause is not always identified.
For many of those affected, an anxiety attack is a traumatic ordeal: the mere prospect of repeating the experience creates apprehension which only perpetuates the problem (1).
The autonomic part of our brain is made up of two antagonistic pathways: the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The first prepares us for the ‘fight or flight’ response, while the second activates the ‘rest and digest’ response. These two pathways normally act in harmony.
During an anxiety attack, the sympathetic aspect predominates. ‘Cardiac coherence’ is a simple breathing exercise which corrects this imbalance by slowing down the respiratory and heart rates (2-3).
How is it done? Inhale deeply for 5 seconds, then breathe out slowly for 5 seconds. Continue for several minutes until your heart and brain return to normal.
To maintain a state of calm on a daily basis, some people practise the ‘365’ technique: 3 times a day, they repeat this breathing cycle 6 times per minute for 5 minutes.
During a panic attack, your thought flow is disrupted. Mindfulness re-focuses your attention on your immediate environment, thus deflecting your anxiety (4).
If you feel a panic attack coming on, try this >5-4-3-2-1 exercise to head it off. Look around you for:
Passion flower or passiflora (Passiflora incarnata) is a woody plant from central America.
Highly-prized by the Algonquin tribe, it helps induce a state of calm by reducing psychomotor agitation (the feeling of anxious restlessness). It also helps increase the body’s resistance to stress (5). To benefit from its properties, take a supplement based on passiflora extract (such as Stress Relief Formula).
If you have disturbed nights as a result of anxiety, passiflora can also help you get a good night’s sleep(6). It is often combined with other synergistic plant extracts (such as in the supplement Advanced Sleep Formula which contains hawthorn and valerian, a plant that promotes good mental health and helps fight insomnia).
Self-hypnosis involves picturing yourself in a peaceful place. Imagine a tranquil environment where you feel at ease. List all the pleasant sensations you feel: the scent of the flowers, the sound of the breeze ...
This technique becomes more effective with practice and seems to have a positive effect on managing stress (7).
Originating in Asia over 5000 years ago, acupressure stimulates specific areas of the body by pressing on key trigger points in order to restore physical and mental well-being (8).
If you feel overwhelmed with anxiety, perform acupressure on point L14: pinch the flesh between your thumb and index finger for 10 minutes, while breathing calmly.
When anxiety attacks persist over a long period, the body is put under considerable strain. This can lead to intense fatigue and reduced resistance to stress, perpetuating a vicious circle.
Variously known as the ‘queen of plants’, ‘matchless’ and ‘the mother medicine of nature’, tulsi is a key element of Ayurvedic medicine. This Indian ‘holy basil’ helps to counteract stress and encourage vitality (9).
To benefit from its properties, take a supplement containing this invaluable medicinal plant (such as Adrenal Support).
In 1928, convinced that emotional control and muscle tension were intrinsically related, American psychiatrist Edmund Jacobson devised a body relaxation method aimed at restoring a state of mental calm.
Jacobson’s Relaxation Technique consists of alternating between contracting and relaxing your muscles in order to gradually rid yourself of tension(10-11).
Lie on your back, legs uncrossed, with your arms by the side of your body. Squeeze your fists for 5 seconds, then relax. Do the same with your biceps, forehead, glutes, hamstrings, calf muscles and feet. Continue the exercise by rounding your back, and then pulling your shoulders back.
When stress levels remain high for a long period, the body’s magnesium reserves become depleted. But this is an important mineral which plays a key role in ensuring normal nervous system and psychological function (12).
To ensure a good dietary intake, eat plenty of almonds, bananas, cocoa and wholegrain rice. To boost your levels, you can also take a course of magnesium supplements (such as Optimag or Magnesium Threonate, a state-of-the-art magnesium supplement).
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