If you have ever experienced an anxiety or panic attack before I have the greatest empathy for you. It is an ordeal, to say the least. I suffer panic attacks myself, and over the last few years of having them, I have found ways that have helped me to relief my symptoms.
For those unfamiliar with the term ‘panic attacks,’ it is when a sudden onset of intense anxiety is experienced. They can have physical symptoms such as shaking, rapid heartbeats, sweating and hyperventilating. The symptoms usually peak within 10 minutes, and the attack can last anything between 5 minutes up to half an hour. Biologically speaking, the attack is created by the fight or flight response that happens when you are presented with a life or death situation, thus, lots of adrenaline is released in your body. Now, whilst this response was super helpful during caveman days when it was needed to survive – it can be a nuisance in modern times. What your body has perceived as a ‘threat’ during an attack could be an everyday situation that raises your stress levels, for example being late to work or university.
I find myself in a negative thinking tangent when a situation like this appears, “I’m late so I am going to miss this lecture, then by missing lectures I’ll fall behind on coursework, then I’ll fail my exam and get kicked out of university,” and by thinking like this I’ll get into a panic. I mean, who wouldn’t?! My first tip in a situation like this is to take it apart piece-by-piece to calm yourself down. In the example I have given above, being late to university one time will not mean that I have to drop out. Logically I know this, but when I am super stressed and in the mindset I can jump to this conclusion. Instead, I now try to think “what can I do to fix this?” Simple solution: Late to university;get lecture notes online and email lecturer if struggling to understand a specific slide.
But quite often stopping yourself before the panic attack starts is not so easy. My next tip is to recognise your symptoms. If you are aware of what is going to happen next can make the attack easier to deal with. I found that knowing there will be a peak of the anxiety, then a drop-off point somewhat comforting. The frightening feeling will pass.
My next pointer is finding a safe place to calm down gradually. It can be rather distressing having an attack in public and feeling trapped won’t help. A terrifying experience I have had was having a panic attack whilst driving. I had to simultaneously sort my breathing and concentrate on driving before I could find a safe place to park. The point I’m trying to make is that I got through it, and anybody else having a panic attack will get through it too. Just find a place to sit or get fresh air, and try to breathe.
When you feel panicked and hyperventilate it is horrible. I know it feel likes your throat is about to close up and that you can’t breathe. But you can. Try to breathe in and hold your breath for 5 seconds, then breath out. This will tackle the excessive breathing, having a friend around is helpful when using the breathing technique. My advice for people that have loved ones that suffer frequent panic attacks is to try the breathing technique with them whilst holding their hand, or just let them know that you are there. Please don’t try and hug them, or crowd someone having an attack as this could worsen it. (Imagine feeling impending doom then lots of people crowd round you. Not good)
Lastly, try not to panic (the not-so-funny irony). I know this will be really difficult, but if you have racing thoughts whilst having an attack this won’t let it pass quickly. It is especially hard when you aren’t sure of what is going on. But try to tell yourself “right, I’m having a panic attack. This has happened before and I got through it, I need to sit (or stand outside) and try to breathe. I can do this.”It really can help. Understandably having people tell you to ‘calm down,’ does not help, probably because it is frustrating as that is what you are trying to do. But personally, I think telling myself that I am okay, and that I will get through it eases off the attack quicker.
I hope this is helpful to anyone out there that experiences panic attacks, and if you would any advice feel free to message me!