“I can’t do this.”
“I’m having a heart attack. I’m going to die.”
“I can’t breathe.”
“I’m freaking out.”
“Why is this happening to me?”
“Oh my God. Everyone is watching.”
“Please. Just make it stop.”
“I’m going crazy.”
I’m just going to say it… panic attacks suck. They are your bodies reaction to a threat either real or imagined. Sometimes they happen for no reason at all.
With the flood of adrenaline comes a flood of unwanted, negative thoughts.
These thoughts often increase the anxiety and extend the panic attack itself.
Then once we have a panic attack, we start to worry about having another one:
“What if it happens while I’m driving?”
“What if I’m around a bunch of people and can’t get out?”
“What if I pass out and no one is around to help? What if I hit my head?”
Thus the cycle of anxiety and panic continues until we’re so exhausted and terrified that we no longer want to leave the house.
The good news is that anxiety and panic are highly treatable.
Here are 5 things you can do to help you survive your next panic attack:
1. Know that it’s only temporary. Feeling panicked can seem to push the pause button on reality. Each second can feel like an eternity. No matter how long the panic attack lasts, it can’t last forever. Most panic attacks will resolve in about 10 minutes.
You will get through this. You will be okay again.
2. Deep breathing. Stretch your arms up into the air and take a few deep breaths. This will help reset your autonomic nervous system (the reptilian part of your brain).
I teach my clients more sophisticated techniques in my practice, but a basic deep breathing exercise is to breath in for three seconds, hold it for three, then breath out for a count of six.
3. Counter the negative thoughts. Working to change and overcome the negative thoughts can help bring down the anxiety. When you’re thinking about the worst possible scenario (catastrophizing), start by asking yourself just two questions:
1. How bad would it really be if it really happened?
2. How likely is it to really happen?
What you’ll likely find is that what you’re thinking either wouldn’t be that terrible if it did happen or that it’s really not that likely. Either way, it’s not as bad as you first thought.
4. Positive self-talk. When you experience a panic attack for the first time, you learn one thing- you survived. Give yourself credit.
“I can do this. I am strong. I can make it through.”
“This panic attack does not define me. I am better than my anxiety.”
“Nothing is wrong with me. I have anxiety, and that’s okay.”
You can even write down these affirmations and carry them with you.
5. Grounding techniques. Having a panic attack can feel surreal. You may even feel detached from your body. Bringing your attention back to the present can help to alleviate the panic.
Tap your foot on the floor. Wiggle your toes. Press your heels down into the ground.
Imagine your feet digging down into the ground like the roots of a tree.
Pick up an object and begin describing it to yourself in as much detail as you can. What does it feel like? Is there a particular texture or smell? If you were describing this object to someone who couldn’t see it, how would you do so?
During panic attacks your attention is often on bodily sensations, so pulling your attention out of yourself can be helpful.
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