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August 08, 2023 1 Comment
Panic attacks stem from various places. There is not one root cause for every person. The commonality between all panic attacks, however, is that it stems from the compounding of anxiety. You experience situation X. You immediately respond with anxiety to that situation. As the anxiety compounds, physical symptoms begin to manifest and you catastrophize the anxiety you are feeling. The situation worsens until you enter a full blown panic attack.
So, you’ve experienced a situation similar to the one described above. Now what? Let’s dive into 5 ideas to better manage your panic attacks.
First, “what even is a panic attack?” Something I hear a lot is, I think I had a panic attack but I’m not sure. So, let’s talk about symptoms of panic attacks. It’s important to note that you don’t have to be experiencing all of these things. You may just be experiencing some. The key is that panic attacks come on suddenly and very severely. They are usually finite lived; subduing after a certain amount of time. Symptoms include:
The goal is NOT to avoid anxiety all the time. The goal is to learn how to control your anxiety when it comes. One step in being able to do this is by making space for your anxiety. Suppressing, hiding, numbing, or blocking out your anxiety will make the situation worse. The best thing you can do is first, allow yourself the space to feel your anxiety. You feel your symptoms and then make the decision to let go, move forward, and ride the wave.
Find the space to sit with the uncomfortable feeling. As you do this, take long and deep breaths. Notice where the anxiety is registering for you. Where in your body do you feel panic? How does it feel? What type of sensation is it? As you do this, notice without judgment or a feeling that you have to remove this feeling. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. After doing this for sometime, allow yourself to just let the sensations be, breath deeply, and allow yourself to let go. Let your anxiety pass.
You can also try this coping skill to ground yourself. Grounding is where you connect yourself to the present moment. You get out of your head and into the moment. One coping skill to try is called the 3:3:3. When you are caught in a panic attack, notice 3 different objects in your surroundings. Then, notice 3 different sounds in your environment. Lastly, move 3 different body parts. Try your absolute hardest to ground yourself and be present in that moment. By noticing what is around you, you are able to enter the present moment and let go of what is consuming you. This will allow yourself to first ground, experience the anxiety, and then let it pass.
You are gonna call me crazy but trust me. When you are having a full blown panic attack, I want you to lean into it. That’s right- embrace it! It can’t hurt you. No one has ever died from a panic attack. I want you to imagine you are a pilot flying a plane. You have a full plane of passengers and all the sudden the plane stalls and you begin to nose dive. What’s your instinct reaction? To pull up obviously. Here is the problem, when you do that the plane won’t go up. It will actually continue to nose dive. Why? Because there isn’t enough wind going over and under the wings to keep it up. So what do you do? As the pilot you first have to accelerate down; yes, the nose of the plane down. You then speed up, allowing the wings of the plane to get the wind they need and then you pull up.
The same thing happens when you are in a panic attack. You are going to lean into it. Say your heart is racing - try and make it race faster. You can’t, right? You literally can’t make your heart race faster without there being a cause. This is just like the plane analogy. When you embrace the anxiety and lean into it, the anxiety loses its power. You realize your anxiety can’t hurt you.
You have the upper hand on your anxiety. You may not think so… but you do. The thing most people don’t realize is that anxiety is showing you all of its cards upfront. Sure, the wording of the anxiety might change, but the message is still the same. Anxiety shows you all the worst possible fears and concerns you can think of in the beginning. It is the same message every time.
If the message doesn’t change, you can diffuse it, minimize it, and interact with it differently. For example, someone who has social anxiety thinks about how “stupid” they sounded after a social interaction. Instead of getting wrapped up in it, you can think: “oh there you are again, surprise surprise! You tell me this every time. I have yet to have dire consequences from a social interaction. I’ll survive this one too.” Call your anxiety out! Realize that it doesn’t have the power we sometimes give it. Realize that it is showing all of it’s cards upfront; it is telling you the same message it always has. You have survived all the anxious encounters up to this point and you will survive all the ones in the future.
What you do after your panic attack can lead to your ability to better manage future panic attacks. It is important that you try your best to engage in normal behavior once you’ve come down to a safe level. As you do this, you condition yourself to realize that your anxiety and the subsequent panic attack were not as big of a deal as they felt. It teaches your mind that the panic attack was not needed. It also puts you in the driver seat. We can’t always control what happens to us but we can always control how we respond to what happens to us.
Normal behavior can look different depending on the situation. The main thing here is to allow yourself to move forward and not wallow in the attack you just had. Take a moment to collect yourself. Drink some water, get outside, call a friend, or just get moving. If you can return to work, school, or some other task you were doing, do it. You are in control now. You are safe. You are okay. It is time to move forward from the panic attack.
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