Updated: Jan 31
Anxiety and panic attacks can be distressing, and we can feel unsure why we feel this way, especially in a situation or environment that seems perfectly safe.
When our nervous system determines a threat, it reacts and gets us ready for action. We may cognitively know that we are safe, however part of our brain doesn’t agree. This might be because it is trying to protect us following unsafe experiences from the past.
Although we may not realise that all of this is going on within us, we are likely to feel the physical effects, which we associate with panic. These symptoms are our brain and bodies way of gearing us up to fight, flight or freeze (such as nutrients and oxygen being sent to our muscles, causing them to tense, dilated pupils so we can see more clearly, rapid breathing and tunnel vision so we can focus on the threat. We may also have digestion issues, as this tends not to be an essential process when in emergency mode, causing issues such as IBS). This is all done out of our awareness, faster than we are able to think about the situation. All of these symptoms are normal and we need them in the event of a real threat.
When we experience these anxious feelings in the absence of threat, there are things we can do to help the nervous system calm down:
Ground ourselves and come into the present moment - notice our environment and surroundings. this helps to feel safe. notice what you see, smell, hear, taste and feel.
Breathe deeply - this can help our body relax and get in touch with the part of our nervous system that calms us down. Meditation is a great tool for this as well as yoga, which which brings awareness to our minds and bodies and how they connect.
Remember that we are safe! These are all normal reactions, and our body has our back!
Talk it out - counselling may help us explore the experiences and thoughts that contribute to the anxiety and feelings of danger. It can take time for our nervous system to believe that no threat is present, and talking to a therapist can help with this.