The feeling that you’re having a heart attack. An increased heartbeat, shallow breathing, a feeling of being smothered. Numbness, a sense that things aren’t quite real, and impending doom.These and other symptoms of a panic attack can literally leave you breathless.
How do you deal with panic attacks? While anxiety and panic is a necessary survival mechanism to deal with danger, for a lot of people, it spirals out of control. Are you looking for certain methods to help rein in your anxiety and get on with your life?
Millions of people suffer from panic attacks. The good news is, it can be controlled. I used to suffer from panic attacks. I felt nauseous, and the room was spinning. I felt like I was leaving my body, and I thought I was in the process of dying. As suddenly as it came on, it ended.But three weeks later, it happened again, and increased to the point where I started to fear leaving the house.
This went on for two years.
Sound familiar? Luckily, I did a lot of research, mainly asking “why.” Why was I getting them? Why at certain times? I was too ashamed to go to a psychiatrist (and I didn’t have insurance for it, in any case), and I didn’t want to take prescription pills.
Luckily, with the availability of the Internet, I could begin to research the causes. The problem, of course, is the availability of the Internet! With so much (mis)information and supposed quick fixes, I went down a couple wrong paths. But soon, I found some strategies to deal with my anxiety.
Before searching for a long term treatment, I had to find ways to stop panic attacks after they began. Here are some things to try:
Realize you are having an anxiety attack – This is easier said than done. When in the middle of an attack, all you can think about is either running away or collapsing into a ball and dying. It took a few times for me to realize, “Hey, this is not normal. I’m having an episode. Now to stop it.”
Realize that you are not in danger – Have you been on a roller coaster? The emotions you feel while on it and panicking is similar (at least for me). However, the important difference is that you know you are not in any real danger while on the ride. Try to observe what is happening to you. Does your heart always begin to race? Remember this. Pretend it’s an old friend. Once you recognize the symptoms, you can start the process of being a cool, calm observer knowing that you are not in any real danger.
Don’t fight the attack. Work with it. Push it. – Once you realize the symptoms, and that you’re not really in danger, actually try to make it worse. If you’re shaking, tell your body to shake more. Say, “Is this the best you got?”
If you do this correctly, you’re almost laughing inside (but don’t try this until you’ve mastered the realization that you’re not in danger. Otherwise this really will make things worse.)
This is a technique I learned as a child – I had a lot of nightmares. It got to the point where I actually started enjoying them and trying to push my dreams to be even scarier. Once I did that, the nightmares completely ended. It’s as if my mind knew it was all an illusion. It’s the same thing with a panic attack.
This is, of course, very simplified techniques. There’s a lot you have to do first before you try to manage your attacks. A lot of the above techniques I learned from the guide Panic Away.
You can check out my review here.
There’s several drug-free techniques and treatments to help you long-term with your anxiety. Here’s a couple that worked for me, and that I recommend you start with:
Develop a set of successful mental strategies – When a panic attack comes on, you want to develop some mental techniques to lessen the severity. When you fight it in desperation, your adrenaline and heart beat increases even more, and your fear of losing control actually feeds into your panic. Instead, when you train your mind to accept your anxiety and observe it, you can trust yourself more, and each episode will become shorter and shorter.
Breathing Exercises – This is physical as well as mental. While you control your breathing, you need to visualize the air entering your body, melting this big block of ice inside you. The key is to exhale longer than you inhale.
Diet and Minerals – There is a lot of research that may equate higher stress with an imbalance in your diet. I started with vitamin B12, magnesium citrate and flaxseed oil (for omega 3 fatty acids) – talk to your doctor first, because magnesium can have some side effects, and may interfere with any drugs you are taking. I also made sure to eat better and exercise more.
Though everybody tells you to be more healthy, in the case on anxiety, I had more energy during the day. More energy means feeling more positive during the day – I believe that bouts of depression and being tired contributed to my attacks. I also removed coffee and soda from my diet, and became a tea drinker.
There’s a couple more techniques that helped, such as Thought Field Therapy (I don’t know if this really helped, but it was interesting), having a routine before bed, and volunteering at a local park once a week to engage with people and keep my mind off my problems.
I did go to a therapist a few times, but it was mainly to help me get through the really low points. I do recommend one, as you can talk to somebody who knows what you’re going through. My friends and family couldn’t really help much. They all meant well, but I could tell they just wanted to say “Snap out of it!” It’s very difficult for somebody who hasn’t gone through anxiety attacks to really understand how debilitating it is.
I highly recommend the guide I used, which really helped me on my road to recovery. You can read about it here:
I wish you all the best in your recovery, and hope you find what you are looking for. Please leave me a comment below, and I will do my best to answer your questions.