There’s no doubt that the Christmas season can be stressful. It’s easy to become overwhelmed from buying gifts, entertaining guests, standing in long lines in crowded stores, cooking meals and attending parties. If left unchecked, these numerous responsibilities can build and lead to a panic attack.

As defined by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a panic attack is an abrupt feeling of fear or overwhelming anxiety that normally causes chest pain, trembling or shaking, difficulty breathing, nausea, sweating, and an accelerated heart rate. These attacks usually reach their peak in 10 minutes, after which they slowly subside. Pairing holiday shopping or a family reunion with one of these only doubles the feeling of helplessness. Ho-ho-ho becomes woe-woe-woe.

Whereas it seems impossible to get shaking hands and quickening breath under control in the moment, it can be done. Here are four simple ways to combat the feeling of panic and restlessness.
Take control of your breath.

Panic attacks are often coupled with the feeling of breathlessness. While taking short, quick breaths to get more air into the lungs might feel like a solution, it’s really causing more harm than good. Instead, by taking more controlled and slower breaths, you can combat the symptom of hyperventilation. First, inhale through your nose for about five to seven seconds. Then, hold the breath for three or four seconds. Finally, exhale through your mouth for about seven to nine seconds. Repeat this exercise about ten times, or until you feel calmed down.
Use self-affirmation.

During a panic attack, your thoughts can spin out of control, usually taking a negative idea or phrase and repeating it over and over in a vicious cycle (“I’ll never get it all done…I’m way behind schedule”). It’s easy for your mind to blow things out of proportion and truly believe the world is ending. However, if you take the time to acknowledge what you’re experiencing is temporary, you can remind yourself that it will pass. The feeling of impending doom can be replaced with a simple reminder that everything will eventually fall into place (“My relatives are coming to be with me, not to criticize my housekeeping…Okay, I can buy some cookies if there isn’t time to make them”).

Find a focus object.

One technique to slow down your rapid thoughts is to find an object in the room and to focus all your attention on that object. Think about the color, the shape, and size as compared to yourself. If possible, touch the object and take note of its texture and how heavy it feels in your hand. By using all of your senses, you can recalibrate yourself, and your anxiety will slowly subside.

Talk to a friend.

While admitting to someone else that you’re not okay is frightening, it’s important to have the support of someone you love to help calm you down. Whether it’s shooting a quick text or making a quick call, asking for help is never a bad thing. Talk to the person ahead of time and give him or her a list of ways you know will help pacify you, such as physical touch or repeating a phrase to you or sharing something humorous. By doing this beforehand, the person will know exactly what to say or do to help you through your crisis.

The holiday season can be challenging in more ways than one, but by knowing how to help yourself, challenging situations can become manageable. Remember that you’re not alone, and you can get through this. Seriously…Merry Christmas, okay? Take a breather.

Chrysa Keenon of Huntington, Indiana is a professional writing major at Taylor University and an editor of the school newspaper, The Echo.

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Chrysa Keenon

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