When panic sets in and roots itself there often isn’t much time before it grows into an uncontrollable all consuming nightmare. I’ve faced more anxiety induced panic attacks than I’ve ever really discussed here. I poke fun and occasionally joke about having panic attacks but I take anxiety very seriously. Anxiety has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. Though it isn’t as much of a problem for me as it was in high school and college over the past year there have been a handful of times I’ve found myself crippled by the physically crushing feeling of impending doom. I can’t speak to anxiety as a medic or a psychological source of authority but rather from my own experience. I’ve recognized that when I find myself at the apex of a panic attack there is little I can do to stop it or prevent myself from spiraling out of control.
When I’ve reached the height of anxiety I am usually so overwhelmed that I act recklessly and irrationally. I become so overcome by emotions that controlling myself or my emotions in a composed manner feels impossible. I haven’t given up on a solution to controlling these powerful emotions but I haven’t found one that works yet. When I reach this dark place I want to scream in a dark closet, I want to smash every last dish and wine glass on the kitchen floor and throw myself to the ground among the bits and pieces of broken glass. It feels as if there is a raging storm of sadness and terror inside me but I’m forced to sit still and act as if nothing is happening. Since I haven’t determined a solution to controlling or eliminating panic when it sets in I’ve instead discovered a few tactics that have helped me to manage a panic attack before it reaches the violent storm of internal emotions described above.
If I find myself creeping towards that dark place early on enough it is incredibly helpful to act as rationally and proactively as possible to avoid allowing panic to overtake me.
1| Communicate your bad feelings:
For me the first step to managing panic is getting my bad feelings out! A release for my emotion can feel calming if I am feeling controlled enough to sit down and write, I will vent my frustrations and concerns. It doesn’t really matter if your feelings are articulated beautifully or incomprehensibly. You can scrawl out your woes in a notebook, with a paintbrush or typed out neatly on your computer. I’ve found that by writing about my anxieties, anger and sadness I can validate my own feelings and bring order to what seems chaotic. Though writing my feelings rarely completely solves the problem this sense of relief can ease my anxiety to a more mild and controllable level. As an added bonus I am able to reread my writing later and further decipher the items in life that are causing me the most panic!
2| Get some fresh air:
If sitting still and expressing yourself seems nearly impossible you may need to get out and move. I find that a change of setting and rush of endorphins can help calm me. When my mind is racing and my thoughts feel a bit manic I like to throw on a pair of running shoes and head out the door. If time permits I run until I no longer feel like my mind is moving faster than my body…sometimes that means I’m running for a really long time. If running isn’t your activity of choice you can hit a punching bag (honestly this is probably the most fulfilling), elliptical it out, or use whatever fitness activity brings you relief. Even a walk in nature can provide a sense of serenity to an anxious mind.
3| Talk to someone you trust:
A friend or family member who is willing to listen to you vent can be an invaluable resource pre-panic attack. It can be difficult opening up about the issues affecting you, admitting you have anxiety can feel vulnerable especially since it often stems from other underlying issues. Still, knowing that a friend is there to listen can help you feel less alone in the process. In my life anxiety has been a very isolating emotion-learning to talk to others about panic has been difficult. Overall the scary feelings of vulnerability is worth it when you find yourself later supported in your anxiety battle.
4| Take a shower & cry:
Sometimes a splash of cold water is a great reminder you are getting worked up, other times sitting on the floor and crying out the bad feelings while the hot water gently massages your skin is therapeutic. Hopping in the shower can act as a mental reset. Not only are you giving yourself space to think and feel (great for those of us who feel shame or embarrassment over panic attacks) but you’re physically stimulating your body in a different environment. I’ve found that running a hot shower and letting myself sob for a few minutes can help me reemerge as a new person! I’m not usually 100% ready to party post a panic-induced shower but I am usually much calmer and ready to sleep or rest rather than continue into the cycle of an anxiety attack.
5|Be still and breathe:
Sometimes you won’t be able to prevent the onset of a panic attack. When possible allow yourself to be still and just breathe. Remember that these feelings of doom (as well as the physical symptoms) though powerful are temporary . The world may seem like it is ending right now but there is hope to be found! Riding out panic isn’t fun but forcing yourself to wait and relax will help to subside your attack and will allow you to deal with its affects more rationally.
Panic (whether in the form of a panic attack or not) is a big and scary feeling. I’m certainly no expert and know that panic attacks affect all people differently on both a physical and mental level. I can’t promise that my tactics will work flawlessly for you but have found that they do help me. Of course I am not a doctor and you should always seek professional medical advice when possible. There is no shame in talking to a doctor or therapist about anxiety.