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Have you ever had a panic attack?
I sure have. And let me tell you, they are NOT fun.
Of course there’s the general shakiness, sweating, and the intense fear that seemingly comes out of nowhere. But mine also keep me from speaking properly and affect my body movements. I feel like I could faint at any moment.
The fear of “losing control” is all I can think of.
And the more I think about it, the more I panic. It’s like being trapped in a dark cave with the walls closing in by the second.
I get more and more panicked until, as quickly as it came, the attack is over. My heart rate slows to near normal and my thoughts stop racing.
All is suddenly well again…..until the next panic attack.
What Is A Panic Attack?
(This is just a brief explanation, please check out this excellent website for more details on panic attacks and panic disorders : https://www.anxieties.com/7/panic-intro)
If my experience sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. At least a million Americans experience panic attack symptoms each month according to Psychology Today.
But just what is a panic attack and why do they affect so many people?
In short, it’s the hyperarousal of your brain caused by a perceived threat. This hypearousal is actually a natural response humans have developed as a species to avoid danger. This is why so many of us struggle with this particular anxiety symptom.
Panic attacks are often caused by triggers: external or internal factors that activate our “fight or flight” response in the Amygdala. Repeated attacks are an indication of a larger Panic Disorder that may be related to anxiety, depression, PTSD, or times of extreme stress.
What Can you Do about Panic Attacks?
So I’m diagnosed with PD, meaning I have recurrent panic attacks that have significant impact on my daily life.
PD can be hard to live with sometimes. The attacks are disruptive, exhausting, and even physically painful. But through that struggle, I’ve learned a ton of awesome ways to make it more manageable.
So today, I’m going to share 4 of my favorite coping tools with you! I hope they help you as much as they have helped me 🙂
Know Your Triggers
Triggers are what usually kick off a panic attack so it’s important to know what they are for you.
Triggers can be anything from a person to a place to a certain feeling. It’s really anything that reminds your body of a threat. For me it’s mostly auditory (cell phone sounds) and sometimes situational (work stress).
If you struggle with panic attacks often, It’s really helpful to start a trigger diary.
Try marking down the time of your attack as well as your surroundings, the people you’re with, and what thoughts are going through your head.
This should help you start to see the patterns of your triggers so you can avoid them or be better prepared for them.
Change your physical state
Changing your physical state is key to combating a panic attack in the moment. Breathing, changing your core temperature, and using mindfulness are going to be your best tools here.
If you find yourself taking quick, short breaths from above your diaphragm, you might be having a panic attack.
If that’s the case, it’s important to slow that breath down! You can do this by going to a quiet place (for me it was the bathroom or walk in freezer at work) and take ten huge breaths.
Be mindful of the tickle of the air going in and out of your nostrils or the feeling of your chest rising and falling. This will aid you to focus better on the exercise instead of just on your panic. I find it extra helpful to place a hand on my sternum and count out loud.
Change your core temperature:
A really quick and easy way to change your state is by rapidly adjusting your core temperature. For some people that looks like taking a cold shower or wrapping themselves in a warm blanket.
The sudden temp change can shock your brain juuust enough to make it break the panic cycle, making it that much easier to calm down.
Doing a quick round of extreme cardio like jumping jacks, burpees or sprints can also break cycle of overthinking and fear in your mind.
Sometimes just going for a walk works for me. Honestly, any kind of mindful movement is a good way to change your state during a panic attack.
Panic attacks have you worrying about things in the past and the future, so it’s extremely helpful here to reconnect yourself with the present. Emotional Grounding is a great way to do this.
If you’re curious, here’s a list of 30 more grounding methods! https://www.healthline.com/health/grounding-techniques
It’s really strange, sometimes when I’m having an attack – I am certain the world is ENDING. I also believe that everyone else can clearly see how panicked I am.
Both cases are rarely, if ever, true. A lot of times in fact, I have to tell my husband that I’m having a panic attack because I’ve gotten so good at masking them to get along with daily life.
For the most part, I used to suffer in silence because I thought it made me seem weak. But I’ve learned that it’s really helpful to tell the people around me what’s happening for a couple reasons: first because it explains any odd behavior and second because it gives people a chance to help me.
Now when I’m having an attack around my husband I let him know and he holds me until it’s over. If i’m at work, I let the person in charge know I might be indisposed for 5 minutes or so.
This takes the anxiety of trying to hide my anxiety away so I can focus on, you guessed it, my anxiety 😛
Listen to Your Body’s Needs
Have you ever seen a toddler have a tantrum? One moment they’re okay, the next they’re screaming and crying for no reason at all. Most of the time it’s because they’re hungry, tired, stressed or a combo of the three.
And it’s pretty much the same with you too.
I know for a fact, my panic attacks are directly linked to stress and hunger. The less I take care of myself, the more likely I am to panic.
So it’s essential to pay attention to your basic needs like hunger, safety, shelter and hydration. Some good ways to do this are:
- Check in with yourself frequently by asking do “I need food? Do I need water? Etc.
- Bring a bite to eat wherever you go, snacks are critical!
- Start the day with a protein rich breakfast (very important for those of us with anxiety)
- Take a water bottle with you to work, fill it up every hour whether it’s empty or not
- Make sure you’re taking breaks to recenter, recharge energy
- Get at least 6 hours of quality sleep if you can
And there you have it folks! 4 plus ways to get through a panic attack!
It’s good to remember that none of these tools can actually stop a panic attack once it’s begun. They can only help you manage the symptoms and shorten the attack’s life span.
If you’re dealing with recurrent panic attacks that take up 3-4 hours or more of your day, it’s a good idea to consult a professional. You might have a deeper issue that needs to be attended to.
Until next time!
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