If You Can't Calm Down When Panicking, Here's What To Try Instead

It's called the '10 second protocol'.
Ivan Pantic via Getty Images

Whenever I’m in a panic, all I want to do is feel calm again.

As my heart is pounding and my breath is quickening, I try to take deep breaths. Sometimes I even mutter ‘you’re safe, you’re safe, you’re safe’ to myself.

But the thing is, like many people with anxiety, this doesn’t always work. I know that I’m safe, I know that my body is responding to a danger that isn’t present – but trying to meet it with the logic of ‘you’re safe’ and attempting to trick it into calming down isn’t enough.

Until recently, I figured that this would always be my life with anxiety. Not only experiencing these anxious moments, but tolerating them until they eventually pass.

It turns out, though, that there is a way to meet these moments of panic with something other than desperately trying (and failing) to calm down or gritting your teeth until they’re done with.

Instead of trying to calm yourself, try this

According to Dr Lee C. Cordell, a nurse practitioner and CEO of the Institute for Trauma & Psychological Safety, there is a ‘protocol’ for people like me that struggle to escape anxiety spirals using calming techniques.

According to what she calls the ‘10 second protocol’, instead of meeting anxiety with calming methodology, we should meet it with tension.

The health expert suggests if we first try to tense and then try to relax, we’re more likely to help our brains to relax and we don’t need to mumble to ourselves or fight against ourselves to ‘just calm down’.

The ‘10 second protocol’ for anxiety

It’s just five small steps to get your body back to stability, though you may have to repeat the protocol two or three times before it feels effective.

  1. Inhale.
  2. Squeeze your body from your toes to the crown of your head (or selectively squeeze any part you desire) and count to five. This is the part where you’re responding with tension.
  3. Exhale while relaxing all tensed body parts. Count to five.
  4. Take three slow breaths while moving your body in whichever way feels good. (Roll head, stretch neck, circle hips). Notice if any thoughts or emotions come up as you do this.
  5. Repeat as many times as needed to feel your body stay relaxed.

Hopefully, this leads to calmer days ahead.