Life Without Panic Attacks
Panic attacks can be a distressing and debilitating experience for sufferers. Most of us have experienced the odd bout of anxiety and in the current climate many of us may be experiencing heightened anxiety or panic for the first time and feel overwhelmed and unable to cope.
Anyone who has suffered a panic attack will know that they can strike suddenly, often for no particular reason, and can be very frightening indeed. Symptoms include sudden and unexpected feelings of fear, rapid breathing, a rapid heart beat, chest pains, dizziness sweating, ringing in the ears and hot and cold flushes and feeling sick or faint.
Help is at hand and here I outline some helpful strategies and advice that can help keep this distressing condition at bay or help when you are experiencing an attack.
Be open and try as many of the different ideas as possible – some will work for you better than others, but they won’t necessarily be the ones you fancy most. When you have some go-to strategies, keep a note of them perhaps on a credit sized card that you can keep in your wallet or purse.
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Know your early warning signs
Anxiety and panic affects people differently; what does it feel like for you? What are the thoughts and feelings that warn you that your anxiety is rising and might become hard to manage?
If you recognise the onset of an attack, do something about it right away – like, now. giving yourself five minutes can often save you time later. You don’t even have to go anywhere – lots of the ideas below can be done wherever you are, without anyone even knowing you’re doing them.
Breathe. Breathe deep and pure and smooth. Concentrate on it. Breathing is the pace you set your life at. It’s the rhythm of the song of you. It’s how to get back to the centre of things and stay grounded. When the world wants to take you in every other direction. It was the first thing you learned to do when you were born. The most essential and simple thing you can do. To be aware of breath is to remember you are alive. For more ideas to improve your breathing read my blog here.
Declutter your mind. Panic is the product of overload. In an overloaded world, we need to have a filter. We need to simplify things. We need to disconnect sometimes. We need to stop staring at our phones. To have moments of not thinking about work.
Listen to calm noise; things that aren’t as stimulating as music. Think waves, your own breath, a breeze through the leaves, the purr of a cat, and best of all: rain.
Carry a survival kit
Just as we wouldn’t trek up a mountain without food and water, so you might like to put together a little survival kit to help you when experiencing a panic attack or trying to prevent one. Just a couple of small items that will keep you calm and focussed. Here are some suggestions:
- A bottle of still water
- Tissues – helpful if anxiety makes you perspire
- A hand fan – handy if you often get flushed and warm
- Mints – sucking sweets such as polos can prevent dry mouth
- Bach’s Flower Rescue Remedy – this comes as gum or pastilles (from all good Chemists)
- Earphones – listening to music or a meditation CD can provide welcome distraction
- Having some mantras or affirmations that you can repeat to yourself to help you focus (eg. I’ve Got This, I am Calm etc)
- A pebble or stone in your pocket (see the Happy Place tip)
We all know the benefits of drinking water and keeping hydrated. There are strong links between our mood and hydration levels. This is a useful exercise to help you pause and take a moment to reduce anxiety. So give yourself permission to stop for a moment and get a drink of water. Then find somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed and take a moment to ground yourself. Think about the feel of your feet on the floor and the chair against your back and bottom. Slowly drink the water. Notice the glass beginning to drain. Feel the coolness of the water flood your throat and spread across the inner surface of your chest. Notice the feel and taste. Try to focus in on the process of drinking. Be aware of the action of swallowing. Do it slowly, deliberately. Allow other thoughts to pass by. Acknowledge other thoughts that come to mind, but don’t dwell on them. Keep bringing your attention back to sipping water. Imagine your anxiety draining away. As the water level in the glass decreases, imagine that the anxiety that was filling you just moments ago is also decreasing.
Stretch and exercise. Panic is physical as well as mental. Often when you experience panic there is an overriding feeling of wanting to escape or to run, to run from the fear. Taking time to practice yoga or meditation can help.
Countdown from five
This is a wonderful exercise to put in place when you feel panic rising as it helps distract you from the panic attack taking hold by grounding yourself and observing your surroundings.
What FIVE things can you see?
What FOUR things can you hear?
What THREE things can you smell?
What TWO things can you touch?
Take ONE big deep breath.
A tactile exercise that’s good for the times when focussing on your breath feels a bit beyond you. By running the finger of one hand along the edge of your other hand you are putting the focus on a specific sensation instead of letting your mind race. Try to keep your breathing at the same pace as your finger as it moves up and down. Using a soft touch can prompt you to soften the breath quite naturally.
Hold one hand up in front of you. Have the fingers nice and relaxed, so they are a bit curled and a little bit open. Place the first finger of the other hand on the base of your thumb. Slowly move your finger up the side of the thumb as you breathe in. Pause briefly when you get to the tip. Then trace your finger down the other side, then pause when you get to the fold between the thumb and next finger. Continue in the same way round the rest of the fingers and repeat on the other hand.
Find your happy place
Go somewhere you won’t be interrupted. Close your eyes and imagine a place where you feel happy, grounded, warm and looked after. Picture it with as much detail as possible, what colours do you notice, what sounds do you hear, what can you smell, how your body feels. Spend a few minutes there, inside your imagination, sit or lie down, walk around, explore. You can use your happy place proactively, to help you feel calm ahead of a potentially stressful situation. I usually recommend to clients that they have a pebble or stone and hold this whilst they imagine their happy place, and then take that stone with them and when the have feelings of anxiety or panic, hold the stone and think of their happy place.
Count the colours
This is an exercise you can do absolutely anywhere and with any colour. It flicks you out of stress-head mode and into your surroundings. So pick a colour, now look for things in your surroundings that are that colour, big things, little things, someones jacket, a front door, a piece of rubbish. Keep count.
If you are experiencing anxiety or panic attacks then having a safe supportive space to talk about it can help. I offer a free 20 minute consultation to look at ways I can help beat anxiety and panic for good. Get in touch.
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