Disclaimer: the tips that follow are by no means based on medical expertise of any sort. They are based on my personal experience and years of dealing with anxiety and panic attacks. For your information, I still do have them from time to time: a panic attack doesn’t magically disappear. It takes work and it’s work you are going to do by yourself (but I’ll try to help a little :))
Your first panic attack
The first panic attack feels pretty much the same to everyone: whatever symptoms you might be experiencing, you feel like you’re going to die.
In the minutes, days, weeks that follow, you feel stunned and start fearing it will happen again. Which is exactly why it will happen again.
Breathing doesn’t always work
If you Google “how to stop a panic attack”, as I’m sure you might have, you’ll find a bunch of tricks and tips which involve a lot of breathing and mindfulness.
Personally, this has never worked for me. When I’m having a panic attack, I don’t have enough mental stability to just sit there and focus on my breathing. It usually ends up in me hyperventilating and feeling even worse.
The only breathing exercise that has actually worked for me when I’m feeling mildly anxious is this gif:
Of course, staring at gifs is the last thing on my mind when I’m on the verge of a mental breakdown or feel like I’m about to die.
Here are three things that have helped me overcome most of my panic attacks.
TIP 1: LET THE PANIC ATTACK HAPPEN.
Many anxious people also happen to be control freaks and their first instinct is to try and control their panic. Bad move. The more you try to stop a panic attack, the more power you give it.
You have to come to terms with the fact that you have zero control of the situation right now. All you can do is sit back and see what happens. Spoiler alert: you are not going to die.
Acknowledging a panic attack and letting it happen is by far the hardest thing to do because you are tricking yourself into believing that you need to fight back otherwise you’ll go insane (or die).
The thing is, there is nothing to fight there. It’s just you. It’s not some kind of insane heart attack or respiratory failure assaulting you out of nowhere. So, the more you fight, the more reasons you give your mind to think there is some kind of danger, when there isn’t.
TIP 2: CALL A TRUSTED FRIEND AND TELL THEM ABOUT THE PANIC ATTACK
You need to have a short list of friends who know about your anxiety and who you feel comfortable talking to. Make sure those are friends that will not let you wallow in self-pity. Call, say you are having an attack, and then ask them to engage in conversation. Have them ask you questions and make you talk about what you had for breakfast.
TIP 3: ACTIVATE YOUR BRAIN TO DEACTIVATE THE PANIC
Right now, your anxiety is steering the ship because it has taken over a part of your brain. The only way you can take control back is not by trying to fight it (you’ll lose), but by activating other parts of your brain.
- do a crossword puzzle or a sudoku
- try to memorise all the lyrics to Rap God by Eminem
- teach your dog a new trick
- take a badass picture for your blog
- try to do a winged eyeliner look
I tend to stay away from activities such as deep breathing, cleaning, passively listening to music or watching series or YouTube videos because they just don’t engage my brain enough. In a nutshell, I can still be doing those things while having a panic attack.
THINGS TO TELL YOURSELF WHEN YOU ARE HAVING A PANIC ATTACK
- no one has ever died of a panic attack
- it will pass, no matter how long it may last
- you are not the only one suffering from this
There are of course many other ways of dealing with a panic attack. Some people will want to go out for a walk, actually work on their breathing, or take medication (under their GP’s supervision).
I hope these three tips help you somehow. Bear in mind that seeing a therapist will help you in the long run.
Don’t hesitate to share your own tips in the comments below.
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