Hi, I’m Rachel! I’ve struggled with panic attacks in the past, and at first wasn’t sure what to do about them, but I’ve since learned some tricks that I wanted to pass along, in sharing 5 Ways to Deal with Panic Attacks.
My first panic attack was when I was 22 years old. I had always been a tad claustrophobic, but it was a low-level enough anxiety that I could handle it. After my first panic attack sitting in the back of a van, I started to spiral downwards. I figured if I just avoided riding in the back of vans, then I’d be ok. Then it bled into other parts of my life–if I was safe not riding in the back of vans, then I should avoid buses and trains as well, right? It got to the point where even the thought of riding in the back of a vehicle, and being out of control, sent adrenaline coursing through my veins. I wanted to avoid that feeling of adrenaline at all cost.
I’m a stubborn one though. It took a few years, but I started to force myself to ride in these vehicles again. I didn’t want panic to be ruler of me. It doesn’t mean I still don’t get uncomfortable in small spaces, because I do, but I have the tools now to handle the situation much better. Hopefully these tips can help you or anyone who is dealing with any type of panic or anxiety
5 Ways to Deal with Panic Attacks
- Take a deep breath.
While experiencing a panic attack, place your hands on your belly and make sure that when you breathe, your belly is inflating. Hyperventilating is pretty common during a panic attack. I didn’t realize I was hyperventilating until my hands started to go numb. Sure sign I wasn’t breathing right!
If you feel like you can’t get a deep enough breath, breath out all of your air. This sounds completely counterintuitive, but it’s your body’s natural reaction to breathe in after you expel your air.
- Focus on increasing the symptoms.
Again, sounds counterintuitive right? I’m trying to avoid these symptoms during a panic attack! Why would I make them worse? But panic is exacerbated the more you tense up and try to stop the symptoms.
Take your two fists. Pretend your left fist is panic, and the right fist is you. Now push the left fist into the right fist. If your right fist is pressing back and giving resistance, the left fist will keep pushing harder and it prolongs the fight. But if your right fist ceases to provide resistance, the left fist pushes forward and with no resistance, and finds empty air to contend with. With no resistance the panic simply flows quickly and it’s gone. R. Reid Wilson says “We drain all the strength out of panic, because it requires our resistance in order to live.”
So however you experience panic, focus on that symptom and say “I’m not afraid of this feeling. I’m going to invite it come and increase in intensity.” For instance, if your heart is racing, tell it “Ok, heart. Keep racing. Beat faster!” all the while taking deep, belly breaths. You’ll find you aren’t scared of that feeling anymore and the the symptoms will quickly slow down and eventually go away completely.
- Remember that a panic attack is relatively short.
Your body simply can’t sustain full-on panic for that long. Usually it reaches its peak within 10 minutes and then subsides within 20 to 30 minutes. Mine are usually very quick (less than 10 minutes), especially if I don’t provide resistance. This gives me peace of mind even if my mind isn’t feeling that peaceful. “I won’t feel like this forever!”
- Practice relaxation techniques on a daily basis.
People who deal with panic tend to get over-vigilant, thinking if they maintain that sense of extra-awareness then they’ll be able to block another panic attack. But Wilson says “The unconscious is 99 percent brilliant in its ability to constantly direct the body toward health.” Your body and mind are amazing things! Routinely letting go of control through practices like meditation, yoga, deep-breathing exercises, etc. are good ways to remind yourself that you are in good hands–your own!
- Seek out medical help.
I went to a therapist for a year to help with my postpartum anxiety, when I was still learning about panic and didn’t know where to turn. I went to a psychiatrist who also did therapy, but you’ll find that oftentimes people have to go to two separate people (if you decide to go the medication route)–a psychiatrist for prescription maintenance, and a psychologist for therapy.
If you feel like antidepressants would help you, by all means listen to your body! For a long time I was too ashamed to even try them. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Are people ashamed of taking medication for their heart, their sinuses, or any other part of their body? No. But oftentimes there is a social stigma attached to antidepressants. If your body needs them, then seek a doctor and talk to him or her about it! I have found that I don’t like how I feel when taking medication for anxiety, so I stopped taking it (with the help of my doctor) a couple of years ago. But I know many people who have really benefited from taking medication for depression or anxiety.
**For further insight into panic attacks, check out Reid Wilson’s book, Don’t Panic. I have read it cover to cover, and it helped so much in my recovery and recognizing what the heck was going on! I’m happy to say that panic is something I don’t fear anymore.
I wanna know…
What are some tools you use to help with panic and/or anxiety? Comment below!