I’m going to start off with a little necessary disclaimer. The advice I’m about to give is not professional advice, nor is it meant to be taken as such. It’s advice based on my personal experience with panic disorder and with the incredibly not fun attacks that come with it.
I recently posted an article on my FaceBook page (@thewritingmom) about the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack. There are several differences between the two, some of the most basic being that anxiety attacks have triggers and panic attacks do not. Anxiety attacks build, panic attacks tap you on the shoulder and sucker punch you in the face when you turn around to see who it is.
When there are no triggers or precursors, it’s hard to know what to do to stop a panic attack. But there are things you can do when a panic attack hits.
Have People in your Corner
Panic attacks are terrifying things. Often times, people will think they’re having a heart attack or dying. I always think I’m about to pass out. One minute I’d be sitting there, working away at the computer with music bleeding through my headphones, the next tunnel vision would kick in. My pulse would slip into high gear, I’d feel both light headed and like I was being weighed down, my hands would start to tingle and I was hyper-aware of noise.
Because of how terrifying I find panic attacks to be when I’m the only one who knows what’s going on, wherever I work, I try to have a few “points of contact” or people who I trust to understand what’s going on, to support me when I’m dealing with panic attacks and to just be there while I’m dealing with it.
I remember one coming on at the end of the school year last year when I was doing absolutely nothing. The teacher was reading out loud and myself and another para I worked with at the time were hanging out in the back of the room.
Then, out of absolutely nowhere…boom…tunnel vision.
I leaned over, braced my elbows on my knees and leaned into an open palm. My co-worker leaned over and asked me if I was okay. I told her I was having a panic attack. She said a quick, “Gotcha. Let me know if you need me to do anything,” moved a little closer and was just the comforting presence that I needed.
I try to be around those people or people I’m comfortable with when I’m having a panic attack. It calms me to know that there’s someone there who has my back. Things are always less scary when you’re not alone.
Try Your Hardest not to Over Caffeinate
Caffeine doesn’t help anxiety. But damn, do I love my coffee. Even through my pregnancies, coffee was a hard habit to kick that I put next to no effort into.
All good things in moderation though, right?
Example…five cups of coffee with an excedrin chaser? Horrible idea. That’s WAY too much caffeine and is like inviting that anxiety and panic in through a wide open door. If you’re half a pot in, still dragging and have a pounding headache, avoid any over-the-counter painkillers with caffeine in them.
There’s a technique referred to as “grounding” that you can utilize when having a panic attack. I had my ten-year-old daughter go through it several times over until she was calm after How to Train Your Dragon 3 brought on a full blown panic attack. Spoiler alert, it’s sad. And my daughter simply couldn’t handle it. As I drove to the nearest Starbucks for a calming hot cocoa, I had her practice this grounding technique three times.
There are many different ways you can go about it but the basic idea is to take your mind off of what is happening and bring yourself back to focus. You look around and find something you can see, something you can hear, something you can touch, and something you can smell. Do this as many times as you need until you feel like you’re in a better place.
Four Square Breathing
Though I’m not a therapist, this one came from my therapist and is one of my go-to’s for both anxiety and panic attacks. It’s simple and again, helps bring you back into focus. Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, release your breath for four seconds and hold your breath for four seconds. Do it about four or five times at the very least.
I’ve done this when working in front of a computer, when sitting on the couch watching TV, when driving home.
It’s one of those things you can do literally anywhere that will help you reset.
Give Yourself Downtime after the Crash
Anxiety and Panic attacks can leave you feeling exhausted, shaky and disoriented once they’ve run their course. Basically…you crash.
Don’t try to pick right up where you left off and push on like nothing happened. Find a quiet place away from people, grab a bottle of water or a glass of water, go sit down or lie down and give yourself some time. What you’ve been through is traumatic and you need time to cope. Five…ten minutes if you can.
If your a stay at home mom…garage maybe? That would be a tricky one but it is possible.
I once laid on the floor in a mother’s room at work with the lights turned low and pulled up some spa music on YouTube.
Allow yourself the time to come down after the crash.
Don’t be Afraid to Get Help
Don’t be intimidated by the stigma attached to mental health. People are working tirelessly every day to break down that stigma. And when you’re dealing with something that has no triggers, that can sneak up on you out of nowhere, getting help beyond what you read online is not a bad thing at all.
I truly feel like I did myself a huge disservice by thinking I could take on my issues by myself. Years of ignoring symptoms, pushing past the anxiety and struggling when I could have been talking to someone, putting together a plan and having healthy coping mechanisms in place to fall back on when dealing with panic attacks.
And find a good therapist that you click with. The first few I worked with were duds. My third attempt and I found just the right person with the sarcasm and dry humor I needed.
Find who you need and do what you need to do to take your life back from panic.