Stop a Panic Attack in Less Than a Minute
This Hand on Heart exercise is my go-to for quick soothing support. Linda Graham, author of “Resilience,” claims this exercise can calm a panic attack in less than a minute, but you can also use it anytime you’re feeling emotionally distressed.
1. Place your hand on your heart & feel the warmth of your own touch (activating the release of oxytocin)
2. Breathe gently and deeply, breathing-in a sense of ease, safety and goodness into the area of your heart (activating the parasympathetic/ calming branch of your nervous system and restoring the heart’s coherent heart rate variability)
3. Call to mind a single instance when you felt safe, loved and cherished by someone. This could be a partner, child, close friend, spiritual figure, teacher or even a pet.
4. As you remember this moment, see if you can sense the feelings of safety, trust, love and warmth in your body. Savor the feelings and let the sensations wash through your body. Stay with these feelings for 20-30 seconds. Notice any deepening in a visceral sense of ease and safety.
According to Graham, recalling a memory of a single time we felt safe with someone is enough to release a dose of oxytocin, which is an immediate antidote for stress. It also activates the social vagus, which reassures us that we are safe and belong in the world. The combination of warm touch and remembering moments of connection and safety is enough to swiftly shift our stress response, and the best part is that these tools can be accessed any time we need it!
As with anything, it helps to approach these tools with an experimental attitude, and to practice, practice, practice so that you train your brain to this new response pattern!
You can listen to Graham’s recording here.