If you’re having a panic attack right now, my heart goes out to you. When I’m mid panic attack I search furiously for solutions how to stop the attack straight away, so I’ve compiled the below tips to help soothe you and hopefully start the slow descent back down to earth.
First, take a deep breath
Your breath is your best friend. Close your eyes and feel the air move through your nose, in and out. Try and breathe in for 4 and out for 4 (my favourite visualisation is smelling strawberries and blowing out birthday candles), gradually adding one count to in and out breath until you are up to 8.
This will help get your breathing under control and soften any tightness you’re experiencing.
Can you get outside?
I personally find walking really helpful but I recognise it can make some people worse. If you are feeling up to it, put your headphones in (I play no music, but having the muffled quiet helps my racing thoughts) and walk around your house/your work. The change in setting can help sidetrack your mind and give you new things to focus on. If being outside is too much, try another room, making sure that there’s no one in there/it’s quiet.
If going outside isn’t for you, you can catch your breath by sitting with your back against a wall, with your feet on the floor, knees up and your arms resting on top of your knees in a fire log position. This pose will open up your chest and help you breathe, plus will stop you feeling dizzy as your blood doesn’t have so far to travel.
Play Candy Crush, seriously
Any repetitive game like Candy Crush helps me so much when I’m in the middle of the panic attack. I don’t know if it’s the concentration that takes my mind off panicking or what, but it de-escalated a pretty bad episode I had recently and helped bring my heart rate back under control. Try this or any other puzzle game.
Sing a pop song to yourself, twice over
My favourites are ‘Ironic’ by Alanis Morisette and ‘I’m With You’ by Avril Lavigne (throwback, I know). I sing these to myself over and over, hearing the harmonies and guitar in the background. It’s just another way to focus your mind and bring you out of the racing thought and onto one subject – focus = calming down.
Understand you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety
It may not feel like it, but what you are experiencing is a symptom of anxiety. You might have a racing heart, be disassociating or be struggling to breathe – you are not dying, you are experiencing anxiety. This does not trivialise your experience, it’s fucking horrible, but you will be ok and this will pass. What you are experiencing may last for a couple of hours but it will go.
Let someone know what is happening
I have a colleague who has had a lot of experience with anxiety attacks and I felt comfortable opening up to her about my situation. If I feel myself going, I let her know quietly and slip out. This way, I’m not adding worrying about work to my anxiety because somebody there knows where I am. Even though it may be hard to say, just in telling someone you are having a panic attack can lift the grip. It could also help highlight any issues (if they happen regularly at work, for example) you are having with support/workload. It can be intimidating and frightening but it will benefit you in the long run. The only things we are fully in control of is how we treat ourselves, so treat yourself with kindness and tell someone what is happening to you.
Be kind to yourself
Don’t be cross at yourself for this happening. Whether it’s your first panic attack or your hundred and first panic attack this year alone, it’s not your fault. You aren’t actively deciding that this is something you want to do – it’s a bodily reaction to an adrenaline/cortisol spike. Typically, your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and calms your body down, but if it isn’t working properly your stress/anxiety/fear kicks up a notch and into a full panic attack. This isn’t because you are ‘weak’ or not ‘dealing properly’, you are dealing exactly how you are dealing and being unkind to yourself is another problem that you don’t need right now. Make sure afterwards you take quiet time, eat something small, avoid caffeine and get to bed early.
I know reading this could be overwhelming, so try one or none of the above but just know that you are loved, you are safe and this will pass.
Take the attack as a suggestion, an alarm bell ringing outside your house telling you something is wrong. Put yourself first, look after yourself and see what changes you can make to alleviate the stress you have been experiencing.
I hope that this has helped, but if in doubt please do reach out to me through email or Instagram – I’m here to help wherever I can.
So much love, always.