Kick Off a Good Day

If your morning starts off with the news, like mine does, a barrage of negative headlines can inch
your body toward panic without your even being aware of it. The weather reports a storm heading
your way, someone was murdered, and somewhere a war has broken out. Chronic bad news can
have profound effects on your body—your neck and shoulders tighten, your stomach churns, and
your whole being goes on heightened alert.

You don’t have to give up your daily dose of morning news, but we recommend that you start each morning with the following version of the S.T.O.P. practice, in order that you might have more balance and ease in your body as your day begins.
1. Upon waking, with your eyes open, take this moment to stop and pause. You can be lying in your
bed, sitting up, or standing. In the pause, just let your body relax and be still. Give yourself
permission to just be here, floating adrift for a minute or two, before you rush into your hectic
day of endless to-dos.
2. If you’re experiencing panic at this time, take a breath. Tune in to your breathing. If you’re
holding your breath, take this time to gradually let the air flow freely in and out of your belly.
Notice the air in your nose, in your chest, and in your abdomen. When your mind starts to drift,
return to your breath again, and be mindful of each inhalation and exhalation—the rhythm, flow,
sound, and sensation in your body.
3. Observe your body and whatever feelings or sensations are stirring in it. Where are you feeling
tension or tightness? Where are you feeling relaxed and at ease? Where are you feeling panic?
Take this time to acknowledge what you notice. Whatever your body is feeling—tension,
stiffness, dry mouth, shortness of breath—let it just be. Pay attention to your body’s experience.
4. Discover what you may need right now to take better care of your body and connect more fully
with your life. You may need a drink of water. You may need a morning of music or silence
instead of grim news. You may need a longer shower than usual. Think of how you can gain a
sense of inner balance and anchor yourself in this balance throughout the rest of your day.
5. Proceed with your morning and be present. Remember to reflect on what came up for you during
this application of mindfulness and what you learned about your body.
Feel free to repeat daily or at any time to help you maintain balance and ease in your body.

How to Practice Mindful Breathing

Give yourself the gift of formally practicing this meditation every day, even for a
short period. It might be helpful to start off practicing mindful breathing for five minutes
once a day and build it up from there. Maybe you’ll find that you can add a second or
even a third five-minute session, practicing mindful breathing at different times of your
day. You can get additional benefit if you gradually extend your mindful breathing to
ten, fifteen, twenty, or even thirty minutes at least once a day.

Let this be a part of your practice of mindfulness that you look forward to doing, a special time for you to center
yourself and “return home” to your being. Feel free to use an alarm clock or timer; you
can download free meditation timers from the Insight Meditation Center
(http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/meditation-timers/) that feature a pleasant sound.
Like other meditations offered in this book, mindful breathing can be incorporated
into your daily activities too. As far as where to practice informally, just about anywhere
works. Take a few minutes at home, at work, at the doctor’s office, at the bus stop, or
even while waiting in line to bring a little mindful breathing into your life. You can also
make it a habit to take a few mindful breaths right after you wake up, when you take a
morning break, at lunchtime, in the afternoon, at night, or right before you go to sleep.
Once you’ve practiced mindful breathing at these times, you can experiment with using it
when you’re feeling some angst, to help you calm the rush of panic in your body.

Wash Away Your Panic

Have you ever had a panic attack in your sleep? One woman told us that on many mornings she’d
wake up trembling in a cold sweat. On these occasions she ached for a long, hot bath before
starting her day, but she never had the time.
Few people have time for a long soak in the bath before work. A brisk shower is the best most of
us can hope for to wash away sleep and pull ourselves together for the long day ahead. And sadly,
showers can also be another part of a mindless routine, a task that we do simply to get it over
with and get on with our day.

Everyday activities are perfect opportunities for cultivating
mindfulness. Perhaps you might consider each shower as a cleansing ritual, approaching it as a
symbolic act of washing away the panicky sensations trapped in your mind and body. In this next
practice you’ll do just that, step by step, breath by breath.

1. Before you run the water or get in the shower, take a few breaths. Each breath links you closer to
the present moment, right here and now.

2. Set your intentions for this mindful practice. You may say aloud or to yourself: May this shower
bring me into my body. May this shower help me be with things as they are and ease my body and
mind.

3. Once the water temperature is set to your liking, step carefully and slowly into the shower.
Experience this moment with all your senses—touch, taste, sound, smell, and sight. What does
the water feel like on your face, arms, chest, back, and legs? What sounds are coming from the
water? What fragrances do you notice from your soap, shampoo, or shaving cream? Notice the
steam collecting on the curtain, mirror, or glass surfaces.

4. Remember to tune in to your breathing while you continue to shower.

5. On your next inhale, recognize any feelings that your body is trying to relay to you. You may
experience fear tightening your throat, making it hard to swallow. If so, allow the water to wash
over your neck and be conscious of your intentions from step 2. You may experience anxiety
making your lower back tense. If so, take this moment to let the warm water wash over and
loosen those aching muscles as you breathe out.

6. For the rest of your shower, continue to pay attention to your body in this mindful and attentive
manner, listening in on what your body needs. By doing so, you’re fostering a new kind of
relationship with your body and your body’s experience of panic.
Let morning showers be your special time for you to mindfully check in with yourself, each
warm droplet of water replenishing and healing to your mind and body.

Calming the Rush of Panic in Your Body

Your body, emotions, and thoughts all play a role in panic. Learning how to work with
them can help you stay centered and calm. In this chapter we look at ways that you can
reduce the panic in your body. We will introduce you to two mindfulness meditations
that focus on the body.

The first is mindful breathing, and the second is the body scan.
For each meditation, we provide a script you can follow, as well as a URL so you can
download an audio track to guide you. Then we discuss the mindful practice called
S.T.O.P. Finally we offer some practical applications of mindfulness for you to try, to
help you feel more confident and comfortable in your own skin.
So that you feel safe, before you begin we’d like to offer some gentle suggestions
regarding all of the meditations and other practices in this book: Please tread lightly.

The meditations, informal practices, and applied practices are meant not to create more panic
or pressure in your life but as a way to help you practice engaging with panic in safe and
relatively comfortable surroundings. Know that you can stop at any time. Please take care
of yourself in the best way you need to. Remember: easy does it; one step at a time.
Slowly and gradually you can learn to live with more ease.

The Many Causes of Panic

As stated, research has demonstrated that mindfulness-based stress reduction can be
extremely beneficial in decreasing panic. We’re sure that you too can use these mindful
practices to live better with panic and decrease the challenges you face.
Before you get started, you should know that although most cases of panic stem
from the psyche, there are some cases in which it derives from physiological sources.
Although mindfulness training may help you regardless of the cause of your panic, you
may also need to consult a health care professional to investigate whether there’s any
biological reason you feel panicky. In addition, if your panic attacks are frequent or
severe, it’s best if you take steps to address your panic under the guidance and
supervision of a health care professional.
Sometimes a very active thyroid (hyperthyroidism), low blood sugar
(hypoglycemia), heart arrhythmia, or other physiological conditions can lead you to
panic. Some medications and herbs may have side effects that make you susceptible to
panic. You may also want to look at diet as a contributing factor, especially if you
consume lots of caffeine or highly refined carbs and sugary foods.