10 Tips for Battling Your Next Panic Attack
"I had people saying 'It's all in your head.' Do you honestly think I want to feel this way?" -Sonia Estrada
Anxiety: the most common dual diagnosis among alcoholics and addicts; the most common response when you take our drugs and alcohol away; the completely debilitating sensation that makes you want to literally crawl out of your skin to escape it all; the short circuit thoughts that take over your mind: "I am going to die," "I am going to feel like this forever," "I want this to stop. I need this to stop. If it doesn't stop, I don't know what I'm going to do."
Chances are, if you are reading this article, you've experienced anxiety and panic at some point in your life. Or, maybe you're a family member or friend of someone who suffers from anxiety, and you want to learn tools to help them through their next panic attack or anxiety episode.
To those of you with an anxiety disorder, and to the family and friends of those who suffer from this disorder, let me both express my empathy and clarify the severity of a panic attack respectively:
It starts with a burning sensation in your chest paired with shallow breathing; no amount of oxygen seems to repair your lungs to their proper function. The nausea kicks in shortly after; you feel the acid corroding your insides, with an overwhelming urge to run to the bathroom and vomit. Your body starts to tingle, and you may or may not start shaking violently. Your head is convinced you're dying and your body feels like it's about to shut down, which projects you further into a panic. Every fear you've ever had comes to the forefront of your mind, overwhelming your consciousness, and it feels like there is nothing you can do...
I wouldn't wish a panic attack on my worst enemy, yet at times I wish people knew exactly how I felt so they would understand the severity of this disorder; you can't make this stuff up.
Curling up in a ball, isolating, crying, and lying in bed in sheer exhaustion sound appealing at this point. The last thing on my mind is actually doing something, but when I have battled my anxiety with action in the past, the results have been great; I experience panic for a shorter period of time, and I avoid a string of attacks.
These 10 tips for battling a panic attack are tried and true. No matter how much you don't feel like doing anything during your panic attack, try as hard as you can to get yourself out of bed or up off the couch. The longer you sit in your panic, the harder it will be to pull yourself out.
10 Tips for Battling a Panic Attack
Feel free to save these images to your desktop, your iPhone photo album, or share them on your Pinterest boards. The more you see them, the easier it will be to remember what to do next time you feel a panic coming on.
When you're experiencing a panic attack, your body has elevated into its 'flight or fight' mode, which means there's a lot of unnecessary adrenalin pumping through your body. The best way to cope with this surge of anxiety is to get up and walk around. Whether you walk around your room, go for a walk outside, or get on your running shoes and go for a run, you are helping your body work through the surge of adrenalin. It's ALL good!
This may seem like a silly suggestion, but it's helped me battle many panic attacks. There's something so refreshing and calming about drinking a glass of ice cold water; but there are added health benefits, too! Cold water helps to regulate your body temperature and slow down your heart rate, which are both elevated during a panic attack.
This is a fairly new remedy in my world. A lot of the times during a panic attack, I experience what feels like heart burn and acid reflux. Tums help to neutralize the excess gastric acid in the stomach, helping to settle both my stomach and my chest pain during a panic attack. Plus, I have convinced myself mentally that Tums will help with the panic attack pain, so I experience what seems like a Pavlovian response to taking a Tums.
During a panic attack, we feel relatively 'out of control,' and helpless in our own bodies, which is why pulling out your calendar is the best way to regain that control. Write down all of your responsibilities for the next couple of weeks including: bills, appointments, school, work, and more. Then, take some time to research fun activities you would like to try, and put them in your calendar, too. Not only do you feel better, but you have your next couple of weeks planned.
This is one of my favorite anxiety remedies of all time. I am quite a pessimist when it comes to coping with my panic attacks and anxiety, which is why I believed this would never work. But, Pandora offers a myriad of clips from the best comedians in the US, just short enough to keep your attention and distract you from your thoughts. You can't help but laugh at some of the crazy things these guys & girls say! Hearing our own laughter brings us back into our body, and helps us regain control.
Cooking is very therapeutic. Whether you like to bake, cook, or microwave most of your food, getting your hands dirty in the kitchen is a great solution to your anxiety. Baking, for me, is a very safe place; it forces me to read a recipe and calculate ingredient measurements, which is perfect during a panic episode. Yummy batter and a complete dessert at the end of my efforts is worth the work in the end.
There's always a genre of music that makes you want to get up and dance, or at least move your body a bit. For me, that's salsa music. When I'm feeling anxious, I put on some salsa music and let the music infect my body. 9 times out of 10 I find myself getting out of my seat for a little salsa dancing; that 1 time I don't actually get up and dance, I still move my hips in my chair. Music is infectious. I definitely suggest against sad or angry music; when you're already sad and anxious, propelling those feelings is not the best idea.
"The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety" -Deepak Chopra
Often times, people who suffer with anxiety are creatives, whether they like to express themselves through painting, poetry, fiction writing, drawing, making music, sculpting, decorating, or something I haven't listed. Imagination, if used positively, creates beautiful art. Imagination, if used negatively, creates anxiety and depression.
Next time you're feeling anxious, choose your favorite art medium and let yourself get lost in the excitement of creating something beautiful. Creating poetry and drawing are my favorite art mediums; the more I engage in these activities, the better I feel. I encourage you to do the same!
Whether you're a boy or a girl, a man or a woman, Pinterest is a great tool for anxiety. Below the surface of Pinterest's fashion, food, and DIY pins, there are a lot of really great tools for anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. Every time I feel panic, I open up my Pinterest app and search 'anxiety help.' There are thousands of pins with tips for coping with anxiety, including articles and infographic with tools to manage your anxiety. I recommend pinning the ones you feel work best onto an 'anxiety' board, so you can use them in the future.
This idea of 'looking for the tiger in the room' was suggested to me by a friend a year or so ago. Just the other week, I was able to use this way of thinking to talk myself down from the midst of a panic attack.
The way it works: our anxiety is triggered by either a known or unknown event, which sends us into 'flight or fight' mode pushing adrenalin, fear, and panic through our bodies.
Why this works: we feel like our anxiety is real, like our body is physically preparing to die or send us to the hospital. The only reason our bodies should experience a 'flight or fight' response is if there is a real tiger in the room; then we would actually be in danger. When you look for the tiger in the room, and you can't find one, you know that your body is only physically experiencing anxiety and your fears are not real or present.
Next time you're experiencing a panic attack, look around the room and ask yourself: "Is there a tiger in the room?" If you can't find one, work on your breathing. Breathe in for 8 seconds, hold your breath for 10 seconds, and let it out for 12. Keep your self-talk positive and persuasive, not negative and questionable. You will make it through this panic; you have before.