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Thread: How to calm down

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Posts
    21

    How to calm down

    Sometimes I'll notice my heart racing even if I haven't felt particularly anxious about something obvious at that time. I'm kind of attributing this to the overall hellish year 2020 has been - my general anxiety and spikes of panicky feelings have gotten a lot more common. I don't think I'm having a true panic attack - I had one six years ago and luckily haven't had one since, but it was clear to me how much more significant that was than what I'm feeling now. What I feel now is heart racing, jittery and shaky almost like I've just had a bunch of coffee and haven't eaten enough. It's an unpleasant feeling, for sure, and it makes it kind of hard for me to focus on anything.

    My question is - when this happened to me this week, I tried to use some relaxation methods to bring my heart rate down, make myself less jittery. But they kind of backfired. I tried to do quiet breathing exercises to slow down my breathing/prevent shallow hyperventilation, etc. But I literally couldn't do them for more than a minute or two because my heart racing was so prominent and it was the only thing I could pay attention to no matter how hard I tried to focus on breathing. Then I tried progressive muscle relaxation - same thing, I just focused entirely on hearing my heart beating so fast. I took my pulse and it was just under 100, and knowing that made it race even faster as I keep thinking "oh no, when is it going to slow down? how long can it go on beating this fast? what can I even do?"

    I know I have some work to do in how I'm interpreting the fast heart beat, what I'm telling myself, etc. But I'm looking for ideas on what people find helpful when you start to notice the rapid heart rate starting. I thought sitting and slowing my breath would help but it honestly made it worse because it allowed me to hear/feel my heart beating even more clearly than before. Should I do some kind of exercise when I notice the fast heart rate? Or is that just amping things up even more? Any tips or advice are greatly appreciated!!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2020
    Posts
    50

    Re: How to calm down

    Hi bg222, have you heard of the deep dive reflex? Often it is done by placing one's face inside a bucket of ice-cold water for 60 seconds (or less if the individual isn't able to hold it for that long) and repeating the procedure 3 times. However, the easiest way to do it is by simply having a cold shower.

    I used to intern at a private psychiatric hospital in Australia, and I have seen this technique used effectively so many times by psychiatrists/psychologists/nurses to calm patients with high anxiety/panic attacks. Their heart rates slow down considerably and their anxiety levels decrease immediately. This website describes the science behind it quite well:

    https://www.breatheology.com/mammalian-dive-response/

    Hope the above helps and all the best

  3. #3

    Re: How to calm down

    Quote Originally Posted by invisible.monster View Post
    Hi bg222, have you heard of the deep dive reflex? Often it is done by placing one's face inside a bucket of ice-cold water for 60 seconds (or less if the individual isn't able to hold it for that long) and repeating the procedure 3 times. However, the easiest way to do it is by simply having a cold shower.

    I used to intern at a private psychiatric hospital in Australia, and I have seen this technique used effectively so many times by psychiatrists/psychologists/nurses to calm patients with high anxiety/panic attacks. Their heart rates slow down considerably and their anxiety levels decrease immediately. This website describes the science behind it quite well:

    https://www.breatheology.com/mammalian-dive-response/

    Hope the above helps and all the best
    I might do this as well. Sometimes I got really anxious and moody. Does this works even if I do it once a day? Will it do best before sleep or anytime when you feel you the anxiety?

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Posts
    1,785

    Re: How to calm down

    Quote Originally Posted by bg222 View Post
    My question is - when this happened to me this week, I tried to use some relaxation methods to bring my heart rate down, make myself less jittery. But they kind of backfired. I tried to do quiet breathing exercises to slow down my breathing/prevent shallow hyperventilation, etc. But I literally couldn't do them for more than a minute or two because my heart racing was so prominent and it was the only thing I could pay attention to no matter how hard I tried to focus on breathing. Then I tried progressive muscle relaxation - same thing, I just focused entirely on hearing my heart beating so fast. I took my pulse and it was just under 100, and knowing that made it race even faster as I keep thinking "oh no, when is it going to slow down? how long can it go on beating this fast? what can I even do?"
    When my heart races - first thing I always do is to take in a deep breath and hold it, and then I take a very long out-breath. In doing this I can literally feel my heart slow down. Then I do some deep breathing. Then, I go and do something to burn off the adrenalin etc...

    My heart goes up to 145 plus when I have panic attacks, and I know this because I've had ECGs which recorded my heart rate.

    Stop taking your pulse. If you are using a monitor - don't. Put it away. Give it away. Whatever. All this will do is keep you focused on your heartrate which will make you anxious and keep the cycle going..

    You need to understand that this symptom that you're fearing, as in racing heart, is absolutely normal. It's the stress response (fight or flight) and it's an automatic (and necessary) response to danger - which in this case are your thoughts. The brain doesn't know the difference between real or imagined danger.
    __________________
    I'm not afraid of death because I don't believe in it. It's just getting out of one car, and into another. ~ John Lennon

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2020
    Posts
    50

    Re: How to calm down

    Hi Solarbind, no worries at all, happy to share I wouldn't recommend doing it once a day just for the sake of it, it is most effective when your anxiety is heightened (e.g. when you feel your heart is racing or you're so mentally overwhelmed that nothing much can distract you).

    All the best and let me know how it goes for you!
    Last edited by invisible.monster; 30-11-20 at 10:01.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Posts
    4,196

    Re: How to calm down

    Quote Originally Posted by bg222 View Post
    Sometimes I'll notice my heart racing even if I haven't felt particularly anxious about something obvious at that time. I'm kind of attributing this to the overall hellish year 2020 has been - my general anxiety and spikes of panicky feelings have gotten a lot more common. I don't think I'm having a true panic attack - I had one six years ago and luckily haven't had one since, but it was clear to me how much more significant that was than what I'm feeling now. What I feel now is heart racing, jittery and shaky almost like I've just had a bunch of coffee and haven't eaten enough. It's an unpleasant feeling, for sure, and it makes it kind of hard for me to focus on anything.

    My question is - when this happened to me this week, I tried to use some relaxation methods to bring my heart rate down, make myself less jittery. But they kind of backfired. I tried to do quiet breathing exercises to slow down my breathing/prevent shallow hyperventilation, etc. But I literally couldn't do them for more than a minute or two because my heart racing was so prominent and it was the only thing I could pay attention to no matter how hard I tried to focus on breathing. Then I tried progressive muscle relaxation - same thing, I just focused entirely on hearing my heart beating so fast. I took my pulse and it was just under 100, and knowing that made it race even faster as I keep thinking "oh no, when is it going to slow down? how long can it go on beating this fast? what can I even do?"

    I know I have some work to do in how I'm interpreting the fast heart beat, what I'm telling myself, etc. But I'm looking for ideas on what people find helpful when you start to notice the rapid heart rate starting. I thought sitting and slowing my breath would help but it honestly made it worse because it allowed me to hear/feel my heart beating even more clearly than before. Should I do some kind of exercise when I notice the fast heart rate? Or is that just amping things up even more? Any tips or advice are greatly appreciated!!

    You've already identified a lot of good things here, such as not focusing on the heart rate and how you're interpreting it. It's 100% true that you need to work on your subconscious interpretation of the faster heart rate.

    On top of the advice already given here, I'd like to add that it's probably taken you several months of stress and anxiety to get you into this physiological state, and your body won't want to calm down quickly. It has assumed there is a threat, and has been pumping you with adrenaline for a while now.

    Absolutely do not get into the habit of checking your pulse, it will make things worse 100% of the time.

    I would work on the self mantra that the fast heart rate is not dangerous and cannot harm you. It's a pretty benign symptom in itself. However....it's worth getting it checked at the GP as even something as simple as an electrolyte imbalance can affect your heart rate pretty significantly. Once you have the all clear, then you can really work on your mantra's and relaxation techniques with a clear mind. An electrolyte imbalance can make you feel incredibly jittery too, as your body releases a lot of cortisol to compensate.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Posts
    21

    Re: How to calm down

    Thanks all for the replies. I've worked with a therapist in the past here and there and just recently found one again who I really like, so I'm glad to have that resource. I'm also really familiar with CBT techniques and have had success with really digging into this type of approach in the past. Ankietyjoe - totally agree that the pulse checking is a horrible idea; I don't have a monitor and really don't check it compulsively but appreciate the reminder from you and others. I did have a general physical done in June when I was having similar symptoms that cropped up (big surprise) as the pandemic really got underway. They checked thyroid, vitamin D, regular bloodwork, etc. and everything was fine. I guess something *could* have changed since then but I have a STRONG suspicion it's again the cumulative effect of anxiety - this year has really felt like psychological trial after trial for me and although there was no obvious trigger when I noticed the increased heart rate, I would 100% believe my nervous system is just so primed at this point that it almost didn't need any trigger for the adrenaline to reach a tipping point.

    I have found Seth Gillihan's DIY CBT book very helpful in the past and have recently been working my way through Edmund Bourne's Anxiety and Phobia Workbook (highly recommend). I woke up in the middle of the night last night and immediately noticed the rapid heartrate and my mind starting to head down the familiar old path of "oh no, what's going on, why is my heart beating so fast." I was able to use some of the "coping statements" from the book to help myself calm down a little and get back to sleep. Some of the most helpful ones were things like "it's just a burst of adrenaline in my body that's making my heart do this, there's no danger, there's nothing I need to actively do or respond to, I can just let this play out and when things settle down I'll fall back asleep." I've also found other statements to be helpful like "I can't control what sensations I feel in my body but I can control how much attention I give them and how I respond to them."

    Many years ago when I had a panic attack and a sudden realization of how much anxiety I had, I sunk into an anxiety/depression spiral that lasted about 6 months. I found it helpful then to remind myself constantly that it took a long time to get to that low point of mental health (like my whole life of 20-some years?) and it was not realistic to expect that anything would "just work" immediately to get me out of it. I am trying to remind myself of the same thing now. This year has really, really been a hard one and it's going to take a lot of commitment and practice to work my way back to feeling relaxed and resilient.

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