Note: This article was previously published on a fantastic site, The Olive Fox. After it closed down, I decided to republish it here, to remind myself how to deal with panic attacks, and in the hope that it might help others.
Panic attacks are the worst. They seem to appear from nowhere, and can strike at anytime. The surge of anxiety and fear is horrible, and the physical symptoms can sometimes make you feel like you’re having a heart attack. I’ve suffered from panic attacks for years, and although they’re still unpleasant, I’ve accumulated some tips that make them seem more manageable. These tips have really helped me, during my attacks and also to recover from them more quickly.
This is probably the most important point. Not because panic attacks are always rocking back and forth and hyperventilating, but because focusing on breathing is a great starting point on coming down from a panic. In and out. Chest up and down. Slow and steady. Half the battle is getting your breath back to normal.
Light a candle:
This is one that seems silly, but is actually really effective once you get the hang of it. Basically, buy a candle of your choice, and post panic attack, light it. And do nothing. Get comfy, and just…do nothing. At first, you’ll be fidgety, but after a few minutes, I promise that your mind will clear, you’ll take in a few deep breaths and everything will seem just a little bit better. It’s a great way to put a panic attack on hold, to think things through. My candle is lavender scented, and now every time I smell lavender, my panic subsides.
Another one of my calming methods is by distracting myself, which is easier said than done. When I’m in the throes of a panic, sometimes the only way to calm down is to forget about my worries. There’s a couple of ways I do this depending on my mood. First of all, I watch reality TV. There’s just something about watching the fabulousness of Ru Paul’s Drag Race that brings me back from the brink. Secondly, I read. I am a HUGE book nerd, and escaping into a world so different from this world, nearly always calms me down. Thirdly, I game. When I was younger, I LOVED playing on my Game Boy (AHH, I’m so old), and so when I saw a second hand Nintendo 3DS on Ebay, I snapped it up. I play it almost every night, just for a couple of minutes. If some of these methods aren’t really up your street then find what works for you, whether it be a bath, or a walk, or a hug with your pooch. Distraction is the key.
Eat / Drink / Sleep:
Panic attacks are draining. Afterwards, you can feel a bit adrift and not quite there. The first thing I’d recommend is drinking something. Nothing fizzy or caffeinated that’ll make you jittery, just water, or a mug of decaf tea. If you’re hungry (I’m often STARVING after an attack), eat. Eat what you want, whether or not it’s healthy. And if you feel exhausted, have a nap. I often feel SO MUCH BETTER after a sleep, almost as if dreaming swept away the panic.
Know that how you’re feeling is temporary:
Panic attacks can feel all encompassing when they’re happening, almost like you’re stuck in a dark tunnel with no way out. It’s hard to see the light. One of the main things I think about during a panic attack is that it’s not forever. It’ll be over soon. And holding onto that thought, that this horrible feeling is only fleeting, has the ultimate calming effect on me.
I really, really hope these tips help you—they’ve certainly helped me. Panic attacks are horrendous, and during them it’s easy to feel like you’re the only person in the world who feels that way, but believe me, you are not alone. Panic attacks can happen to anyone. For more information on panic attacks, and what to do when they happen, see the MIND website.