Peer to Peer – In the Belly of the Beast: 8 Tips to Battle Panic Attacks
It starts suddenly and hits hard, like a 100-pound weight has been placed on my chest. My stomach spins like a ballet dancer gone mad. Irrational thoughts start marching through my mind, one after the other, each more
terrifying than the next. I am suddenly convinced that every bad thing I ever imagined is about to come true. My breath quickens, my chest heaves, I begin to sweat uncontrollably; my body betrays me. I succumb to the inescapable truth: I feel helpless to defend myself against the monster that is anxiety. I take a deep breath hoping it will steady me. The room appears to darken and close in on me as my vision narrows. I shut my eyes trying to escape the feeling that I am about to disappear. I splash cold water on my face, looking for some small semblance of relief. My body trembles and my knees grow weak. Thump, thump, thump… my heart beats so loudly in my ears it drowns out every sound except for its desperate racing. My hands and legs begin to tingle like thousands of tiny needles besieging my extremities. Desperate now, I run a cool bath and submerge myself completely. I start counting to 100; slowly, methodically, and despairingly. I hold my breath so long my lungs burn in agony. I will accept any feeling over the one that currently grips me. Unable to find relief, I get out of the bath and stumble to my bed. I curl myself into a tight ball, pull my blankets around me and rock myself gently. I breathe in 5 seconds, hold for 5, then out 5. I begin to cry, letting tears run uninhibited down my face. The breathing peels off a layer of desperation and I decide to play sounds of the ocean on my phone. I visualize what it feels like to plunge my toes into the sand and watch the waves erase the evidence of my footsteps. “Give it to the ocean,” I say to myself over and over again. “Be at peace.”
I don’t know how long I laid curled in a ball on my bed. 20 minutes? 20 hours? No matter. The feeling is beginning to pass. I am overwhelmed with gratitude as the panic leaves my body. I stay in my visualization of the ocean. In my mind I write words in the sand and watch them wash away; anxiety, helplessness, dread – the ocean takes them all. Anxiety/Panic attacks can be triggered suddenly and powerfully. They can release feelings of helplessness, or even fear that you are going to die. Knowing what to do can diminish their severity and help stop them in their tracks. Try the following:
1. Talk to your doctor Some folks have panic attacks so severe that they can benefit from prescription medicine. It’s important to talk with your doctor fir to determine if medicating is right for you. Some medications prescribed for panic attacks are highly addictive and should only be used as prescribed. Panic attacks can resemble other serious health problems, such as having a heart attack. It’s important to be evaluated by your doctor if you are unsure of what is causing your symptoms.
2. Try therapy Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has proven to be an effective therapy for treating anxiety. CBT works to teach you skills to address your symptoms as you slowly reintegrate activities you’ve averted doing because of your anxiety. It can also include exposure therapy, where you slowly encounter the source of your anxiety, building up confidence that you can handle the situation and manage your symptoms. CBT works well for a wide variety of anxiety disorders and is definitely worth investigating as a tool for your mental health recovery. To schedule some time to see a Recovery Ways of Idaho therapist, dial (208) 505-8505.
3. Discover your triggers Oftentimes your panic attacks are caused by similar situations or things such as crowded spaces, social events, caffeine, or stress. Monitoring what’s going on around you can help you find ways to avoid those triggers or diminish the intensity of your panic attack. A simple Google search for “anxiety triggers worksheet” can produce useful worksheets to help you identify your triggers.
4. Deep Breathing Breathing in deeply, slowly, and consciously can help bring your panic attack under control. Some people find it useful to count to five when you inhale and exhale. Panic attacks are usually accompanied by rapid breathing, which can exasperate them. Have a deep breathing exercise planned that works best for you.
5. Repeat a mantra Find a word, phrase, or sound that can help you focus and guide you through your anxiety. Something that fills you with strength and comfort. Mine is, “Give it to the ocean. Be at peace.” Focusing on a mantra can cause your physical symptoms to diminish, giving you space to regulate your breathing and relax your body.
6. Visualize your happy place Visualizing a place where I feel secure, safe, and relaxed has been a huge help in controlling my anxiety attacks. When I feel one coming on, I immediately find a quiet place where I can close my eyes and visualize that I am in the ocean, curling my feet on the beach, writing my worries in the sand, and watching them wash away. The more detailed your visualization, the more effective it will be. So really dive in and try to stimulate your senses.
7. Exercise My natural instinct is to curl into a ball and wait for the panic to pass, but lately, I have been forcing myself to take a walk if I’m able. The rhythmic sound of my feet on the ground helps me regulate my breathing and calm my anxiety. Movement in your body also releases hormones called endorphins that relax the body and improve your mood. Regular exercise can reduce the number of panic attacks you have over time and decrease their severity.
8. Find a friend or helper If you find your panic attacks generally happen in the same space, such as socially, or in a work environment, it can be helpful to tell someone about them so that they can help guide you through one if they occur. Communicating with someone you trust about how they can help you (like finding a quiet space away from people for you) can really help when your panic attack occurs.
Battling panic attacks can sometimes demand all of you. What tips or tricks have you tried to vanquish your anxiety?
If you have a suggestion, contribution, or topic you would like to see covered in this blog, please email Shannon at ShannonM@IdahoBehavior.com. If you or someone you know is in crisis, dial 988 for the Suicide or Crisis Lifeline. Or you can chat at 988Lifeline.org