Dealing with Panic Attacks
If you’re in the midst of a full blown panic attack, please know that I sympathize. It can be very difficult in the moment to feel like there will ever be relief. Still, there are several ways you can bring your panic attack under control, shorting the duration and severity.
First step – understand that it’s going to be OK. What you are experiencing is real, but it’s not permanent, and you will get better.
Make a list of your feelings – When we’re in the midst of a panic attack, our thoughts and feelings start to get all jumbled up together. It can make you feel like you’re going crazy. Right now, take out a pen and paper and jot down how you feel and what you are thinking, as clearly as you can. Use complete sentences like “I feel like I’m going to die. My throat feels tight. My heart is racing.” Doing this helps you own the sensations, instead of feeling like they are owning you.
Breath – Deep, slow, rhythmic breathing is your first line of defense against panic attacks. Try the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise, recommended by Dr. Weil. You breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 7, and breath out for eight seconds. It will begin to calm you instantly, and give you a feeling of control over your body.
Stretch – Yoga and stretching is great for panic attacks. Your brain is sending fight and flight signals into your muscles (and your gut), gearing them up for action. Stretching helps override these signals and cuts off endless feedback loop of mental and physical symptoms.
Adjust your temperature – When we are full on fight of flight mode, our bodies tend to pull blood flow away from the extremities and into our cores. To interrupt this, splash some cold water on your face, and then wash your hands in very warm water. You can also try taking an alternating hot/cold shower (my favorite technique). Doing this will force your brain to re-regulate the body’s temperature and distract it from its worthless attempt to prepare you for a fictional battle.
Talk to a friend – You need a distraction, and talking to a trusted friends (even better if they have experienced panic attacks of their own) will reassure you that this will pass. It will also help you disrupt the disturbing mental thoughts. Don’t have a friend who’s available? Call a crisis hotline and chat with a helpful volunteer. They want to help you through this, so there’s no need to feel ashamed about talking about your experience.
Dance – Shake it off. Dancing is a great stress reliever, and it helps get your brain reconnected with your body. I know that when I have panic attacks, I often feel “dis-embodied” or like I’ve entered a dreamlike state. It’s very uncomfortable, and can make you feel like you’re going crazy. “Tribal” or “primitive” dancing to percussion music can help get you out of your head back into your body. Why? Probably because it forces your brain to allocate more resources to controlling the muscles, instead of obsessing over your panic.