Feelings of anxiety and panic: traumatizing.
Physical anxiety and panic attacks: traumatizing … and 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.
Therapy, medication, an overall healthy lifestyle, and a solid support system all help, but you can throw most of that out the window once panic sets in. To all my fellow panic-attack survivors, ya feel me?
At the height of my anxious days, when I felt a panic attack building up, I would start to doodle on the nearest piece of paper I could find, take small sips of water every few seconds, write positive affirmations down, start the 4-7-8 breathing technique … 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 front of others. 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.
Through experiencing my fair share of panic attacks, some lengthy trial-and-error (this included carrying lavender essential oil with me … yes, I really did that), and implementing tips from my therapist, I have learned how to get through and overcome the traumatizing event of a panic attack.
… And you can, too!
- Express yourself: 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. Expression saves me.
- Own it: I used to be embarrassed to acknowledge 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. The class 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 – UGH!) in front of others, I simply say, “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 voice what I’m dealing with. It always helps.
- Find 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 assuming that’s a reason why anxiety-ridden people are known for sticking to their comfort zones (or at least why I do) – to avoid those unbearable 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. This won’t necessarily stop a panic attack, but it definitely helps to slow my body and thoughts down in order to work through it.
- Remind yourself that you’ll be okay: Once you’ve had a panic attack and learn what the hell is happening to you, you know not to think the worst (i.e. am I having a heart attack?!). Even during one, I remind myself that I have gotten through these in the past, and will get through this one, too … That I just have to get through the next few moments and everything will be okay. A positive mantra to repeat that has helped me is: I am safe.
Living life with an anxiety disorder(s) 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 – and the same goes for you!
While I have not gotten to the point where I’m confident I’ll never suffer from a panic 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 panic attacks? How do you work through them? I’d love to learn from you all, too!
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.