Panic attacks: traumatizing.
Panic attacks in front of others: the bane of my existence.
I spent the better part my early 20s doing anything and everything to avoid having a panic attack – to avoid my fire-truck-red face, the obvious hives crawling up my chest and neck, the super-sweaty palms, and the shortness of breath. It is all-consuming. It is exhausting.
When I felt a panic attack building up, I used to try doodling on the nearest piece of paper I could find, drinking water every few seconds, writing positive affirmations down, breathing techniques … Literally, I would try anything I could to distract myself from actually having a panic attack; specifically, I’d try to avoid having them in a social setting. I didn’t ever want to put myself or others in that uncomfortable situation.
Unfortunately, the tactics I used when trying to avoid an attack never really worked for me. Eventually, I realized that I just had to let them happen sometimes.
So, through some lengthy trial-and-error (this included carrying lavender essential oil with me … yes, really) and implementing tips from my therapist, I have learned how to get through and overcome the traumatizing event of a panic attack.
- Expressing myself: For me, this means literally getting one word out of my mouth. Talking gets me out of my head and into a conversation. The second I begin to express what I’m feeling is the second I start to pull myself out of the attack and come back to reality. Words save me.
- Owning it: I used to be embarrassed to own my issues, but that changed one day in college … I’ll never forget a guest speaker in one of my classes started off her presentation with, “Hi. I have extreme stomach issues and can get a bout of diarrhea at any given moment. If I run out of the lecture hall, I promise I’m OK and will be back shortly. Alright … now onto the lesson!” Yes, I’m 100 percent serious that this actually happened. We all giggled a little bit, but honestly, the rest of her presentation was SO. GOOD. I’m convinced that owning her irregular bodily functions helped her to relax and get through her lecture successfully. I took note from her, and now if I ever feel a panic attack coming on (or God forbid I have one) in front of others, I simply tell someone. “Hey, I’m feeling some anxiety coming on. Bear with me for a few minutes.” I’ve never (not once!) had anyone be anything but supportive once I’ve said those words. It always helps.
- Finding comfort: Pretty sure panic attacks are the most uncomfortable thing ever. You’re basically having an out-of-body experience that you’ll do anything to stop. I’m pretty sure that’s why anxiety-ridden people tend to stick to their comfort zones (or at least why I do) – to avoid those inevitably uncomfortable moments. When I’m nervous about an upcoming event or a certain situation, I bring some form of comfort with me. Usually, that’s having a bottle of water to sip on if I feel short of breath or bringing a notepad and pen just in case I need to keep my mind busy.
- Remind myself that I’ll be OK: Once you suffer a panic attack and learn what the heck it is, you at least know not to think the worst. Even during a panic attack, I remind myself that I will be OK. I just have to get through the next few moments and everything will be OK.
Living life with anxiety and panic disorder is always two steps forward, one step back. I usually label a panic attack as that “one step back,” knowing that I learn and grow from each of them. A setback does not erase all the progress I’ve made in my mental health journey.
While I haven’t discovered a way to ensure I’ll never have an attack again, I have learned how to deal with them and how to not allow them to feel bigger than me.
Do you suffer from anxiety and/or panic attacks? How do you work through them? I’d love to learn from you!
Please note that I am not a mental health professional. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition.