Onstage Anxiety: 5 ways to Breathe your way out of a Panic Attack

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So the worst has happened, you’re having a panic attack onstage. You’re trapped in an open cage. The scariest part of this whole stampede on your body, is no matter how much you use your lungs, you just cannot breathe all the air you need, yet you’re drowning in it.

Now here’s the good news, the beginning and the end of a panic attack is in the breath. It’s as medieval a cure as they come; the antidote is the cause. Just as quickly as you put your breathing pattern out of whack, you can balance it out again.

Here’s 5 Top breathing exercises to breeze your way through a panic attack:

1.Paper Bag. 

It’s usually associated with 1960’s housewives who just found out Maureen got a three tier fondue set a week before they have managed to unveil their own. Ya know, “hysterical women”. But the truth is, it’s a rock solid cure. You will be hyperventilating quite rapidly mid flow of a panic attack. You need to get the carbon dioxide levels up in your body and the oxygen levels back to normal. That’s what’s making you feel like a dizzy duck. If you’re feeling funny before you even step onstage, take 12 breaths into a paper bag that goes around your mouth AND nose. Always have one somewhere safe in the wings. Sometimes even just knowing it’s close by is enough of a safety blanket.

2. Do the Turtle.

Get all them sniggers of ‘Turtle’s heads’ and ‘Teenage Mutant’ ones out the way. Better? This is actually a really useful exercise to learn. A simple exercise that you can do daily to get your ribs expanding properly and the air flowing correctly. Panic attacks are usually only the tip of the iceberg. All the underwater stress has been creeping into your daily life, leaving you feeling generally uneasy. By doing ‘The Turtle’ daily you can get ahead of the game.

Head to your chest and pushing your shoulders down you breathe in through your nose as much as you can, letting your lower abs release. When you’re full of air; try to take in a smidge more.

Then tuck your shoulders up to your ears and look up to the ceiling and breathe out through your mouth until there’s no air left and then push some more air out.

It’ll be quite loud, but roll with it. Do this 3 times and your breathing pattern and ribs should feel quite free and released afterwards.

3. Square breathing.

This technique is exceptionally helpful in the midst of chaos. I would like you to draw a square in your head. Count to 4 and breathe in to draw the first side, hold the air and count to 4 for the next side, out for 4 for the next and hold for 4 for the last side of the square. Excellent for focus and stabilizing your breath.

4. Breathe into your Philtrum.

I know it sounds like a villager from ‘Willow’ but it’s actually the groove of skin that connects your nose and mouth. Breathe out of your nose, you concentrate your breath onto your Philtrum and feel the slight breeze of the out breath. This is another smashing approach to focus your mind and regulate your breathing. It’s also very discreet so can be easily done in front of 2400 people whilst onstage.

5. Breathe OUT. 

This is the ultimate in getting you to flick that switch off. If you can learn to do this you will immediately feel some of the other physical sensations begin to dial down. Dizziness, nausea, stomach pains, shaky legs will ease a bit once you start getting some carbon dioxide back into your blood. Afterall, it’s that overload of oxygen giving you all the jittery feels. If there’s one thing you can remember to do onstage or off, it’s breathe out. You will feel when enough is enough and you can just begin to breathe normally again. Try bending forward when you breathe out too and you’ll be amazed at how much more air comes out. “Let it go, Let it go,” until you can’t “hold it back anymore”…. Elsa, Disney © 2013.

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The real reason you’re panicking
How to Survive a Panic Attack Onstage
How to Tame Audition Anxiety, For Good
5 Essential Habits for Happy Actors
How to ‘Werk it’ when you’re not Working. A performer’s Guide

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