Madelaine Petsch Shared the Easy and Effective Way She Alleviates Panic Attacks
At least 11 percent of American adults experience a panic attack each year, according to the Merck Manual. And Madelaine Petsch is one of them. While the Riverdale star has been open about her mental health in the past, she recently got even more candid on the topic, talking about suffering from a panic attack on Instagram just minutes after it happened IRL.
On Wednesday, Petsch posted a selfie from a plane seat on her Instagram Story revealing, "My anxiety was so bad today I almost couldn't get on my flight. I had a breakdown in the middle of the airport for no reason and had to pull it together to focus on my senses."
In the subsequent slide, the 27-year-old actress shared an infographic about the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique, a mindfulness technique commonly used by behavioral therapists that aims to use all five senses to bring you back to the present moment and help dissipate anxious thoughts. Not only is it fairly easy to execute but it can also be done anywhere, anytime, says Terri Bacow, Ph.D., a New York City-based licensed clinical psychologist and author of Goodbye, Anxiety: A Guided Journal for Overcoming Worry. (Related: Signs of a Panic Attack That Everyone Should Know)
So, what does the 5-4-3-2-1 technique involve exactly? When you feel yourself overcome with panic or anxiety, you simply begin by taking a few deep, slow breaths to help ground yourself, says Bacow. Pausing to catch your breath is crucial, especially if you're hyperventilating or experiencing shortness of breath as is common amid acute anxiety. Doing so "helps soothe your nervous system, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps allow oxygen to be flow freely throughout your body," says Bacow. "When we are anxious, we take short shallow breaths which increases our intake of carbon dioxide. In contrast, breathing fully and slowly allows more oxygen to enter our system which is helpful for regulating that 'fight-or-flight response.'" (Quick refresher: Fight or flight is essentially when your body is flooded with hormones in response to a perceived threat.)
Then, "stop what you are doing, relax, and try to adjust your posture (e.g. uncross your legs, unclench your fists). You can also loosen your clothing if needed. This will set the stage for doing a mindfulness exercise such as the 5-4-3-2-1 technique," adds Bacow. From there, you'll want to acknowledge — either by speaking out loud, jotting down, or just noting to yourself — five things you can see around you (e.g. something out the window, something on your desk, etc.) and then four things you can touch (e.g. your hands, hair, shirt, etc.). (Read more: How to Tap Into Your 5 Senses to Find Peace and Be Present)
Next, acknowledge three things you can hear, such as the sound of cars outside, the sounds of your coworker typing, so on and so forth. Then, if you can, acknowledge two things you can smell, which might be trickier if you're not outside, but can include your fragrance, some hand sanitizer nearby, etc. Lastly, acknowledge one thing you can taste, such as the meal or snack you last ate, the beverage you last drank, or even the minty toothpaste or floss you use daily. Once you've completed this acknowledging portion, you'll end with another long, slow breath.
Although it sounds rather simple, this mindfulness technique — which Bacow also calls a "coping strategy" — is actually quite powerful, as it interrupts thought patterns to ease anxiety. "The 5-4-3-2-1 technique encourages us to specifically notice experiences we are having in each of our five senses (taste, touch, smell, sound, vision) and direct our focus and attention towards these," she explains. "It is a lovely way to shift attention away from stress and anxiety...[and] provides a soothing, grounding attentional shift that calms the nervous system."
Just take it from Petsch, who was able to move past her mid-travel "breakdown" thanks to this anti-anxiety technique. "If you haven't used this method before and you struggle with anxiety like me I highly recommend you give it a try," she wrote on Instagram. "It was the only thing that could help me today." (Related: Tracee Ellis Ross Shared a Breathing Technique She Uses to Ground Herself During Stressful Times)