It's estimated that panic disorder affects six million adults in America, and sadly, it's a condition that's becoming more and more common. Not only are panic attacks scary, but they also zap your energy and wreak havoc on your internal systems. So often, those who suffer focus on the mental rebound needed to do after these episodes, which is certainly important, but what about the physical rebound?
Panic attacks tax nearly every system in the body. "During a panic attack, your heart rate increases, and your body produces a surge of adrenaline and cortisol,” says Vinay Saranga, MD, a psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry. “It's as if the body is preparing to do battle.”
Making matters worse, your breathing becomes shallow, which immediately moves the brain into flight-or-fight mode. This mode inhibits relaxation, spikes blood pressure, decreases digestion, and slows blood flow to your limbs. It can take your body days or even weeks to recover from this kind of ordeal.
That’s why it’s important to take care of both your mind and body post episode. Here are a few doctor-approved ways to help the body recover from a panic attack.
Try breathing techniques
I know, there is nothing more annoying after a panic attack than when someone tells you to breathe. But there's more to it than merely re-framing your mindset. During panic attacks, you often hyperventilate or don't get enough oxygen, so regulating the flow of air is crucial to helping the system rebound. "Slow, deep belly breaths that focus on a longer exhalation bring oxygen to the body, reminding it that you are alive and safe,” says Kristin Townsend, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Longer exhalations will activate the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing you to exit survival mode and enter a state of relaxation."
Refocus with a mantra
Once you refocus the mind, the body can start to recover from a panic attack. "When the thinking brain isn't working at its best capacity, it becomes overwhelmed by the overstimulation of the body,” says Townsend. "Because affirmations occupy your negative mind and shift your thought process into something more positive, it’s helpful to have one that doesn't require any active thinking ready to repeat.” She suggests something like, “I am safe” or “I am in control of my peace.”
Do low-impact movement
Many studies show that low-impact movement helps the body readjust by regulating blood flow, lowering blood pressure, and helping the nervous system. The positive effects of yoga on anxiety are extremely well documented. Conscious focus on breath and movement moves you out of the flight-or-fight response and activates the parasympathetic nervous system where you can finally relax. Yoga nidra is unbelievably beneficial for the system, bringing stillness back into the body and helping your mind surrender. You can find yoga nidra meditation recordings online to help your system restore.
Panic attacks take a lot of energy and can do so much damage to your nervous system. Take it easy for a few days after an attack to give your system time to recover. Napping or resting in darkness is a productive way to recover from an episode, but you can also use self-care practices like taking a bath, getting a massage or spending time in an infrared sauna to help the body recuperate. The most important thing you can do to recover from a panic attack is listen to your body and what it needs.
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