Frozen By Panic

Coping skills are something I’ve been familiar with long before my training and clinical work. Growing up, I had a lot of anxiety that I was trying to cope with. It started at a very young age, but was at its worst when I was in high school.

At one point, I was having panic attacks every single day. So, I had to try to learn to calm myself down, especially if high anxiety or panic arose while I was sitting in class. I had to try a lot of different options to find out what worked best for me. Looking back, I wish I had known about more crisis survival skills. I believe I would have been more effective dealing with my panic if I had known about TIPP. I can say that with confidence because when the occasional panic comes up, I now get to use my DBT knowledge to face it.

Every once in a while, I will get too overwhelmed about a problem I’m going through or having too much on my to-do list, and I will get frozen from anxiety. Then nausea will occur and I will have trouble breathing, along with other physical symptoms. If it continues after I’ve tried to ground myself with mindfulness and also trying self-soothe or distract, I will use TIPP.

Frozen By Panic

The part that I use most often is intense exercise. Normally, when I work out, I lift weights, which does raise my heart rate but since that’s in my regular routine, I try to do a different kind of workout. So, when using TIPP, I do a cardio exercise to change my body chemistry more, my heart rate raises and I sweat more (maybe because I’m out of shape when it comes to running or other cardio) and it’s very effective. It doesn’t have to be cardio, pick whatever type of workout feels best for your body!! I noticed, once I start the workout, all of my physical symptoms that occur from anxiety stop, and by the end of the workout, my mind feels much quieter. I no longer feel frozen by panic. I begin to feel more like myself, and then I am normally calm enough to handle the situation or face whatever had feeling so emotional.

If exercise isn’t for you, that’s okay!! TIPP has options for when emotions are very high. Temperature, is another useful option that is very fast and effective. Temperature involves putting your face in a bowl of cold water for 30 seconds. The water will help reset your body chemistry, and put you back in the window of tolerance. I personally have only used this once or twice. Since it requires a lot of water and a space to perform this, it can difficult unless you have the time and access to the needed pieces. However, if it is an option for you, during the time of distress, it is a great one to use! Alternatives that I have used for temperature is sensations which includes putting ice and cold water on my wrists or neck to cool my body down when I feel worked up.

Paced breathing is one that can be done in many more circumstances! If you are at work, or school, or a social setting where you don’t have the access or time to work out or use the water, this is something you can absolutely do on your own! By focusing our full attention on the breath, it begins to bring our mind off the emotion we are currently feeling. By breathing in for less than your exhale it also allows our heart rate to regulate since we are actively using a breathing technique. This is one that I would use frequently when I was younger. I would have panic attacks during school, and I would try to keep in mind that my breath was something that I could control, and I would be able to calm down or let it pass if I could just think about my breath and manage it. For me, this is one that took some time and practice. When I learned more about DBT skills, I was able to get a better understanding about how and why focusing on breathing is so effective.

High levels of anxiety or any emotion can be really scary, and TIPP can help bring that emotion down to a more manageable level. Don’t be afraid to use it or other distress tolerance skills if you are in a situation that is out of your window of emotional tolerance.

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