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Dealing with panic attacks

Although unpleasant and scary, both panic attacks and panic disorder (what recurrent panic attacks could lead to if left untreated) can be successfully dealt with. Here are the basics on addressing panic attacks.

1) Educate yourself about panic attacks. There are 4 key points you need to know:
*The majority of people will have at least one panic attack throughout their life.

*Panic attacks result from stress, usually accumulated or unconscious. Although you might not be feeling stressed at the very moment a panic attack occurs, there is underlying stress that the body detects.

*The physical symptoms are due to the fact that the body prepares itself to protect you against a perceived danger.

*Having one panic attack doesn’t imply that more will follow. Having more panic attacks following the first does not mean this will be a lifelong condition.

2) Learn the diaphragmatic breathing technique. Practice pairing it with thoughts like “I will get through it and be fine”, “It will soon be over”, “I am not dying nor having a heart attack, I will soon be okay”. The practice should take place when you are in a calm state, so that you can master the technique. Slow deep diaphragmatic breathing, paired with the thoughts, is what you will concentrate on while having an actual panic attack. It will be a very useful tool to help you through it.

3) Ask for professional help if the panic attacks persist, if you worry a lot about a potential next panic attack, or if you start avoiding certain behaviors, situations or places due to fear of a panic attack.

They might not go away overnight, but following the right steps can certainly aid in overcoming them!


The simple breathing exercise you can practice anywhere

Are you nervous before a presentation? Are you feeling upset but need to stay calm? Are you having difficulty concentrating due to stress, feeling sweaty or having a rapid heart rate? Does it feel hard to relax after a long day? Whatever the circumstance and wherever you are, it only takes as little as 3 minutes of controlled breathing for you to feel calmer and be able to carry on.

Controlled breathing may be the most powerful tool we have to prevent our brain from keeping us in a state of stress, thus preventing subsequent negative effects due to high stress levels.

How does it work? Although there are several breathing exercises one can use, the common mechanism is more or less the same. Breathing exercises reduce emotional arousal and stress by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the one that slows down many physical functions and relaxes the body) while turning down the sympathetic nervous system (the one that prepares the body for physical activity and quick responses). This reduces the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, and lowers the heart rate and blood pressure. Deep breathing also aims at full oxygen exchange; more oxygen enters the body and more carbon dioxide exits.

Here’s a simple breathing exercise you can use anywhere:

  • Get comfortable, either sitting or standing; let your shoulders and the muscles of your upper body relax.
  • Place the one hand on the chest and the other on the abdomen. Let your hands be your guide; to maximize oxygen intake you need to notice your abdomen -and not your chest- inflating and deflating as you breathe in and out.
  • Take a deep breath in through the nose counting to 5.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth counting to 7. Exhaling for a longer time than inhaling is very important. The goal is to slow down your breathing to an average of 5 to 6 breath cycles per minute.
  • As you get familiar with the exercise, you may want to try pairing a thought with your exhaling. For instance, while you breathe out slowly you might repeat to yourself statements such as: “It will pass”, “I can make it”, “I have control over the situation”, “I will manage, whatever happens” and so on, depending on the situation you are in. Pairing the breathing with effective self-statements adds to the breathing effectiveness and increases the positive outcomes.
  • Repeat for a minimum of 10 times. 3 to 5 minutes of deep controlled breathing would be the optimal exercise.

Mastering the breathing exercise might take some time. If you consistently practice it, you will soon notice an increase in its effectiveness. At some stage you will also notice that practicing it will come naturally when needed, without you having to make any effort whatsoever.


Hani, Syrian refugee

A beautiful human who represents what living positively is about.

Cyprus, 3 days before Christmas. My car breaks down on my way to work. Many people offer their help. Hani, the man in the picture, is one of them. He doesn't only help at that very moment though; he soon comes back to check whether the roadside service has come and whether I'll get into trouble for being late. As we spend some time talking, I see more than a kind person. It’s not only about his positive energy and tranquility; Hani has this constant smile on his face, the purest and most genuine I've ever seen on a grown-up. I ask him where he is from; "Syria" he replies. I know already that there's a lot more to admire behind this smile.

A couple of weeks later Hani, along with his wife and 4 children, opens his door to me and journalist M.Louvari to share his story, with us and with anyone who would be interested in as much as we were.

Hani is a mosaic maker, following his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. Up until 5 years ago he was a man enjoying his business, family and life. "I loved joy, I loved my friends, I loved my life". Hani saw his whole life changing radically when the war in his country started. Like millions of people, he experienced everything war brings with it: Fear for his own and loved ones’ safety, agony, incarceration, hardships, struggle for survival. The pain was already indescribable when 1.5 years ago Hani faced a devastating loss; a bomb hit the house he had proudly built for all his family to live in, killing about 20 family members. “I don’t know what to tell my children when they ask me where our family is”.

All of what had been considered given was gone. War might have taken almost everything away, but there was one thing Hani kept intact: His hope.

Describing his way to Turkey, as well as the difficulties he faced and the help he received until he managed to come to Cyprus with his family, Hani keeps using one phrase: "Do good and good will come to you." His new life in Cyprus is profoundly different than the life he used to live all these years before the war hit.  However, Hani sees this from a different perspective: Cyprus is his second home, and even though a big part is missing, "I am lucky that I left, I don't live under anxiety anymore". I point out how adjusting to a new country is still not easy and give the example of learning a new language which he has done very well, but Hani says: "We all have strength, there is no one who cannot find strength within them; it all depends on how much you want something".

His children -aged 16, 14, 6 and 2- are gradually adapting to the new environment. It is easier for the younger than it is for the older ones, although his 6-year old girl still gets agitated upon hearing a loud noise. Hani explains she still thinks that loud noises mean that bombs are falling. I can see the concern on his face, but he smiles at her as he tells me: "She is strong. If she got over the nightmares after watching her friends getting killed next to her, I know she will get over this too".

As I look at his sweet, so unique, smile throughout the interview I realize that what’s special about this man is not his strength –he is right, we all have incredible strength within us. It’s rather his positive attitude during all he’s been through that’s so admirable.

What is it that keeps you smiling, Hani?”

As long as my kids are alive and there's food on the table for them I feel like a king. I see what tomorrow brings; I focus on what I have today”.

"I see what tomorrow brings. I focus on what I have today."


Wishing happy new year?

If I could sum up my own and many of my clients’ experience over the past year, in terms of happiness and what can make a lasting positive impact on life, that would be:

*Trust life, trust the journey.
Let go of the idea of perfect life. Accept and appreciate life for what it is, instead. See the value behind and allow yourself to grow through mistakes made, bad events, bad periods in life. Let life show you why you should be thankful that things did work out the way you planned or wanted to. Let your wrong choices lead you to the right ones and then let yourself be thankful for them.

*Work on loving yourself.
No, it’s not about admiring yourself in the mirror. It’s about valuing yourself for who you are, sticking to your values, attending to your needs, taking care of yourself, and not settling for less than what makes you feel good.

*Dream. Own your dreams.
Realize your dreams, believe you can reach them, follow and work towards them. Be careful not to get caught up in others’ dreams. Your dreams should fill YOU up with passion, make YOU feel alive, make YOU feel fulfilled. It doesn’t matter what these dreams are and how they change over time; just make sure you own them.

Experiencing happiness doesn’t actually have to do with a certain time in life, certain things or certain external conditions. It’s within us, and we’ve got every minute of our life to work on our self, change our perspective and start fresh!