Understanding ways to manage brain discomfort
In deep sleep, at 4 in the morning, JM de Guzman suddenly woke up undergoing intense waves of emotions. His heart rapidly beating, he felt like he was about to pass out or die. He shared this experience on Instagram and, without minding what people would think, he bravely posted a video on how he coped with the panic attack.
In his video he applied ice to calm down. He used cloth to hold some ice he gathered in a basin, gently pressing it on his closed eyes and then leaving it to melt on the crown of his head and nape for a couple of minutes.
To those in the same condition, he recommended the same technique, putting ice on face, hand, and head.
“Just pray and do deep breaths. And make the people around you understand your condition. Tell them to stop asking questions and to just be there so the attack will subside quicker rather than further triggered. Tell yourself, ‘It’ll be over after 30 or 40 minutes and you’ll be fine.’ Keep telling this to yourself so that’s the only thing running in your mind. It’s just a little exhausting,” JM says.
Netizens who commented on the post praised JM for sharing the video. Some followers expressed their care and also shared their own panic attack experience and treatments. Two of them, with usernames dyzaleal12 and leiny79, revealed that smelling essential oil, specifically lavender, helped calm them down.
The web has many suggestions on managing panic attacks. Among them are the ice technique, deep breathing, praying, and positive self-talk. They all worked for JM, but maybe not for others.
According to Dr. Gia Sison, an occupational physician, a panic attack can cause a lot of physical symptoms and other medical conditions should be ruled out before recommending any kind of grounding or treatments. For instance, the ice cube hack is not recommendable for those who have cold allergies. “Deep breathing highly helps. Also, naming things you see, like five things you can hear and five things you can touch, is an examples of grounding all patients can try,” she says.
Most of those who opened up on JM’s post would rely on deep breathing. But one solution stood out among all those mentioned. “Try the ‘flooding’ technique by Dr. Harry Barry. The flooding technique is to experience all the symptoms of a panic attack and not to resist them. It is very uncomfortable but not dangerous. The more you resist the symptoms, the more they will persist and last longer,” Instagramer mrsmariajune says.
Dr. Barry, an Irish medic and author of numerous books about mental health, shares that we need to understand the enemy, before we can eliminate it. In his video Zeminar, Banish Panic Attack for Life on YouTube, he explains that what happens in a panic attack is that the stress system is dumping a large amount of adrenaline, a.k.a epinephrine, into your bloodstream which is caused by amygdala, part of the emotional brain that responds to danger, or what he coined ‘gunslinger.’ Its job is to look for danger and fire without warning, activating your fear hormones.
Symptoms include rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, mouth drying, sweating, shaking, abdominal cramping, headache, dizziness, a sense of impending danger, a feeling of unreality, and the fear of death. According to him, after experiencing these intense physical symptoms, the gunslinger gets the patient ready to run.
“So believe it or not, the very simple way of reshaping the gunslinger is to put manners on it. You use a very simple technique called ‘flooding.’ So when you get a panic attack you visualize that you’re stuck to the seat. You can’t move, can’t do anything, and the next five to eight minutes you’re going to have this adrenaline rush, which is very uncomfortable but it’s not dangerous. What it does is turn the gunslinger memory down. So the next time you use the same technique the gunslinger turns its memory down again and eventually after three to four [episodes], it turns it off altogether. So you can get rid of panic attacks for life,” says Dr. Barry.
For all patients, he stresses that the more you stop the gunslinger the more it fires, the more you go with it the more it calms down. He assures you that you will not die even if you feel you are dying. So when you have a panic attack, maybe it’s easier than done, but don’t panic. Embrace your fear to normalize everything.
Filipino YouTuber and doctor Willie Ong has the same piece of advice. “Just sit or lie down. Do nothing and wait until the epinephrine goes off. You will sweat a lot and get exhausted afterward, but you’ll definitely be okay,” he says.