Panic attacks are awful, no matter how or when you have them. What people often forget is that we can bring ourselves out of them. We can even prevent them.
My Panic Attacks
I’ve been pretty open about my anxiety on my blog but haven’t really gone into panic attacks. Mine always start with a racing heart. From there my knees and hands go numb and then I start to feel sick. Before I know it I’m shaking like a leaf and can’t get any words out. They’re something I’ve had to study for a while to fully understand what is happening to me. Now I know the routine, I can do something about it.
I’ve suffered from severe panic disorder and agoraphobia for 2 years now and panic attacks have become a regular thing. One thing I have learned is the more we avoid them, the less chance we have of recovery. You have to be strong through the anxiety and panic attacks to come out the other side. There are a few things I do to help myself overcome the feeling of anxiety or a panic attack which you may find helpful.
1 – See, Hear, Feel
This is one of this exercises that has helped me a lot. It seems really simple but it’s effective. While you’re panicking or feeling anxious look around you. In your head, or on your phone or even paper, whichever you prefer, make a list. List 15 things you can see, 10 things you can hear and 5 things you can feel. Some people prefer not to write what they can feel because they write anxiety. The point is to concentrate on something else. So, if you’re outside, maybe you can feel the wind on your face or the ground under your feet? A great exercise for bringing you back into a normal state and out of panic attacks.
2 – Breathe, Hold, Let Go
Simple breathing exercises can be helpful but not everyone gets on with them. I know sometimes they don’t work for me and can make me more aware of my nausea as I’m engaging my stomach while deep breathing. Sometimes they’re great to get my breath back and they’re great to do in public as no one really notices. I understand some people are uncomfortable with exercises as they feel it can draw attention to them. I wrote about how anxiety is sort of a fear of embarrassment but, you should never feel like you can’t do something to make you more comfortable. No matter where you are! Take a deep breath using your stomach, not chest. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 8 seconds, exhale slowly and gently for 6 seconds. Breathing exercises are something you should practise so you get used to them. Some people may feel a little light headed the first few times they adopt them, not to worry! You’re fine, just keep practising.
3 – Tell Yourself You’re OK
It sounds simple but we often forget to reassure ourselves. I just like to give myself a gentle reminder that this feeling is temporary and it is just that, a feeling. I know panic attacks are debilitating, scary and extremely uncomfortable. You have to remember that you always get through a panic attack and that you are going to be absolutely fine. Panic attacks are not a threat, they aren’t dangerous, they are just a temporary overwhelming feeling. The best thing to tell yourself is that it will end, you’re going to feel fine as soon as it finishes and the calmer you are the less likely you are to have a panic attack. It sounds like it wouldn’t make a difference but, it does!
4 – Don’t Fight With It
I can feel you all staring at this and feeling confused. I know it sound’s impossible, the first thing you want to do when you’re about to burst out into a panic attack is fighting it. People also try and hold them in. The truth is, the only reason we’re doing that is because panic attacks are uncomfortable and we don’t want to feel them. The only way you’ll get over panic attacks is living through them, accepting them and realising they are nothing to be scared of. Holding panic attacks in causes more stress and tension in our bodies which eventually, leads to more anxiety. There is nothing wrong with having a panic attack, let it happen, take some time out if possible and needed. Go to your car, a toilet, a quiet space wherever you can find if you need to be out of the way. Just let it pass and I promise, after, you’ll feel a huge sense of relief and realise you can totally get these under control!
5 – Journal It
If you can carry a panic attack journal around with you, it’s a great idea! As soon as you feel a panic attack coming on take out the journal. Write down the following things:
- Rate your anxiety on a scale from 1-10
- What symptoms do you currently have?
- Where are you?
- What are you doing/on your way to do?
- What can you see around you?
- Pick an item such as windows, chairs or even plug sockets. Write down how many you can see.
- What are you wearing?
- What did you eat yesterday?
- Rate your anxiety again on a scale from 1-10. If it hasn’t reduced, repeat the above steps or introduce some breathing exercises.
This particular exercise takes your mind off your fear and channels it into something else. The best part about writing in a notebook is that you can do it anywhere. On a train, bus, at home, at the shop, at work. You can use this absolutely anywhere. It’s also great if you’re currently going through CBT. If you are in therapy, you may have been asked to do something similar. Monitoring your panic attacks can help you find common patterns and make sense of why you’re panicking.
You’re Not Alone
Panic attacks are in fact, very common. Although in that moment when you feel like you can’t breathe or are going to pass out you feel alone, you aren’t. Using these exercises may not completely cure you of your anxiety and panic attacks but they’re sure to help you when you desperately need it. There are so many more things you can do but these are my 5 personal favourites.