I thought I’d talk a little bit about my experience with panic attacks today. I don’t know about you all, but the current environment is causing my health anxiety to flair pretty badly. So I wanted to assure you that you aren’t alone and share some things that have helped me.
For many years I suffered with high anxiety and anxiety/panic attacks. Panic attacks feel differently to everyone and I experienced a change in how my panic attacks manifested when I was on medication. Previously mine resulted in hysterical crying to the point of not being able to breathe, the feeling of rising terror and panic, and total lack of control. Whilst I was on medication however, my body was so wired to panic attacks that I started having physical body panic attacks that were detached from my mental state. I got a tight chest, heart palpitations, very sweaty and felt more like I was having a heart attack, but mentally I wasn’t panicking. Arguably this type of panic attack for me was scarier because I really thought there was something physically wrong with me.
I have learnt over the years different methods that help me either come out of a panic attack and calm my body, or break concentration and prevent my anxiety from turning into an attack. By developing a strategy that worked for me, it has given me back a little bit of control over my body and has reduced the frequency of these attacks. Firstly, being alone is not ideal. If I can, I find someone I trust and let them know what is happening. I get them to hug me and squeeze as tight as they can and force myself to breathe deeply to try and push their arms away from my chest. This type of pressure actually helps trigger your parasympathetic nervous system and lower adrenaline release, thereby actually inducing calm. Another thing I do is getting someone to hold their hands out and I try and squeeze their hands as hard as I can for 10 second intervals whilst focusing on my feet planted on the floor. Asking the person I am with to instruct me and talk me through breathing with them helps me to maintain focus. I never explain what’s wrong and if asked I just say this is what I need right now.
If I’m alone, the first thing I will do is immediately take a shower. The water falling on my face and the warmth helps distract my mind and helps calm my body. The other thing that helps is setting a timer – generally my panic attacks don’t often last longer than 20 minutes. Having a physical timers helps calm me as it’s something I can control and see how much longer I have to go.
If I can feel myself getting steadily more anxious, getting outside is the best thing. Combining physical activity and a change of environment can often break the spiralling thoughts in my head.
In the last 18 months I have had one panic attack. I used to have 2-3 a week.
As always, reach out if you want to chat.