5 simple tips to deal with panic attacks
Dealing with anxiety can be very debilitating. I know from personal experience. I suffered from anxiety attacks in my mid-twenties and when it happened for the first time was a very frightening experience to go through.
My first panic attack took place in a crowded restaurant with work colleagues. It was close to Christmas and everyone was chatting away, eating, drinking in a noisy atmosphere. There was one man at our table at the far end that continued to stare across at me. I had met him for the first time that night as he was part of a different department to mine. His continued staring at me left me uncomfortable. I started feeling more and more hemmed in and overwhelmed and then it happened....
My heart started racing, I started having tunnel vision, I felt hot and panicky and all I wanted to do was get away. I abruptly left the table and ran outside to gasp for cold air and to be alone while I tried to understand what had just happened. Slowly I recovered and started feeling normal again and a colleague of mine came and checked on me to make sure I was ok.
What followed from that point onwards were daily attacks, sometimes several times a day - always the same experience. I remember going home for Christmas a week later, bursting into tears and telling my parents that I thought I was going mad. I thought that these feelings would never go away and the more I worried the more often I would experience the attacks and so I entered a vicious circle.
When a local doctor diagnosed the panic attacks I had no idea what this meant - I had never heard of them before. He prescribed an anti-depressant and recommended I have counselling to find out the source of these attacks. This started me on my journey to find a counsellor and to get some help (more about this in another blog!).
First of all, I would like to share with you my personal recommendations for when you are dealing with a panic attack:
1. Remember - it won't last forever. I know it might feel that way but it's true. When you are going through a panic attack, try and remind yourself that it will pass, because it will.
2. Ground yourself. This is a simple grounding exercise that could help you to calm yourself:
1. Name 5 things you can see
2. 4 things you can feel
3. 3 things you can hear
4. 2 things you can smell
5. 1 thing you can taste
(It doesn't matter if you only remember two of these, it's not about 'getting it right', it's more about the distraction away from the attack that helps.)
3. Breathe! When we are going through the 'fight or flight' response we tend to breathe in a fast and shallow way.
Imagine a box in front of you and breathe up one side (in), breathe to the right of the box (out), breathe down the side of the box (in) and along the bottom side of the box (out). Keep doing this slowly and deliberately and your breathing will slow down and you will start feeling better.
4. It won't kill you. An anxiety attack will not kill you - I know it might feel at the time that you are dying. Many people feel the same way. When you are experiencing a panic attack and your body is in ‘fight or flight’ response, your whole body is responding to a perceived danger and is gearing up to either defend itself or run.
5. Get support. When you are going through this period suffering from panic attacks it helps to have support, be it family, friends or having some talking therapy. Dealing with anxiety on your own can leave you feeling isolated, alone and that something is 'wrong' with you. You'd be surprised at how many people suffer from anxiety and it is one of the most searched for google searches for counselling - it ranks as the number 1 search item.
Kirsty Birnstiel is a BACP registered counsellor based in West London. She works online and face to face from her practice in W5 5SL.
Please get in touch if you are interested in finding out more about my counselling services.