This pandemic has been cruel to our mental health raising anxiety in even the mellowest of souls. As a result we are getting more panic attacks some of us for the first time. We can feel totally overwhelmed. What can we do at that moment to ease the fear? Get a wet T-towel and wrap around enough ice to cover your face. Bash the ice with a hammer or rolling pin so it will mould to the contours of the face. Take a small breath and lean your head forward into the ice bag. Hold for 30 seconds then remove from your face. You can repeat this after a minute or two for several rounds.
The parts of the face to cover with the ice that are crucial are the eyelids, nose, inside of the nostrils and the upper lip.
This triggers a very old survival mechanism called the dive reflex. In aquatic mammals such as seals and dolphins this reflex is highly developed so they can survive long periods under water. The sensation of cold and wet travels along the 5th cranial or trigeminal nerve. In turn the sensation is relayed to the 10th cranial nerve or vagus nerve causing the heart rate to slow and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) to be activated. This is opposite to the sympathetic (fight or flight) that is triggered in the panic attack.
Running up and down the stairs hard for a few minutes is also effective. Breathing in for 3 counts and out for 6 also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. If your hands start to tingle during the attack you have blown off too much carbon dioxide. Get a paper bag, the kind you get from the liquor store or off-licence and breath in and out of it until it settles. This will raise the CO2 again and reverse the symptoms.
‘Don’t believe every worried thought you have. Worried thoughts are notoriously inaccurate’