Panic Attacks and Anxiety: my tips & tricks on coping
I may or may not have mentioned this before, but I suffer with anxiety, bi polar and have had battles with depression. I’ve suffered with anxiety since the age of 10 meaning it’s been about 11 years since my diagnosis and how long I’ve been coping with panic attacks and dealing with them.
For a long time I was totally oblivious to the fact that so many more people suffer with similar issues and the fact that 1 in 4 people suffer with a mental health issue. It was barely talked about and my peers during school made me out to be “the freak” and not normal. Times have changed and so many more people are admitting to the fact that they too have their own issues to deal with. There wasn’t much information for me to gain access to at a young age, unlike nowadays, but despite the fact that many people are speaking out about similar issues, I feel like instead of stepping back because there are many blogs like this one, that it’s important to still share my experiences and methods of coping because the more posts = the more chances of someone who needs help can get it, even if it’s just via a blog post.
I’ve had a lot of different methods suggested to me over the past decade but these are the ones that I tend to stick to most.
During a panic attack
During a panic attack it’s definitely not easy to think rational, but if you are familiar with your panic attacks (ie: how they feel, the triggers,etc.) then it’s easier to try and reach out to that tiny rational percentage of your brain to push yourself to do something to help yourself. I’m usually always with a member of my family or friend, so my first port of call would be to inform them of how I’m feeling. I then follow these steps to get myself to a somewhat calmer situation as quickly and hassle free as possible.
Take myself out of the situation – If I’m in public or a place I’m unfamiliar with, I try and take myself out of the situation. Whether it’s going to a public restroom or find a more spacious area. I find that having a panic attack in public / a crowded place makes the entire thing much more stressful and the addition of paranoia of people being able to see you. Back in school, I was given a pass by my head of year which excused me from lessons when I felt the verge of a panic attack so I could go to the toilets or just go outside and breathe and be myself. Some teachers were even kind enough to let me take a friend. If you’re in school then I would definitely recommend a parent/guardian-teacher meeting being arranged and discussing options such as this one. It helped me so much.
Water – I feel like water helps me a lot. My mouth dries and my hands clam up and even if I only have a sip of water, the cool sensation of the water against my hands somehow makes me feel that little bit calmer. I wouldn’t recommend any other form of drink because, for me personally, my senses are heightened during a panic attack and so I would be able to taste a flavour very strongly and with my stomach being in knots from the panic, it would make me feel sick. I try and make sure I have a bottle of water wherever I go not only for hydration reasons, but in case a panic attack is on the horizon,
Deep breathing – This can be difficult as I tend to hyperventilate and shake a lot but I will build up to a deep breath during hyperventilation by taking a slightly bigger breath each time until I feel I can take one big deep breath and then exhale. Once at that state, I try to mimic the breathing of CPR but instead of filling a casualty’s lungs, I fill my own to the brim and then slowly let it all out. This not only calms my breathing but lets my brain try and get back to more rational thoughts.
Letting myself panic – That may sound weird, but if I know I feel anxious and a panic attack is building up, I let it happen. To let all those intense emotions and feelings stay bottled up tends to make the situation worse. Of course, I try and avoid getting into the state altogether, but if I feel like I’m already at panic stage, I just let it happen. Panic attacks are not going to kill you so just let it happen and run its course as you try to handle it as best as you possibly can.
Post panic attack
The whole feeling after a panic attack feels like you are a walking wounded after a great war between yourself and your mind. It can be exhausting and overwhelming and it’s 100% normal to not feel okay straight away. When I reach back to a somewhat rational state of mind, I try and make sure that the aftercare is something I can make priority to prevent myself feeling so anxious again.
Hydration – I keep drinking the water because normally my mouth gets so dry that it takes a while to wet my whistle again. I keep drinking the water as part of relaxation and not to feel like I’m going to pass out. If I feel a little better I may opt for a weak cup of tea.
Sleep – I personally get exhausted after a panic attack and try to keep myself in a relaxed situation and try and get sleep as soon as possible. If I’m at home or able to get home quickly, one of the first things I do is go to sleep or if I don’t need to go back out, I put my PJs on and then go for an hour’s nap. If I have to stay out/have work to do I try and make compromises so if there’s anything that needs my input that it’s minimum and made easy or postpone whatever it is I need to do. Sometimes I need to just sit down and just think or listen to music or just close my eyes for a few minutes to regain normality around me. Putting myself in a busy situation straight after the incident tends to make my anxiety thrive again so I try and do as minimum as possible.
Talking – I normally need to talk out my reasons for feeling anxious and usually with a person I trust which is normally my mother. If not, I’ll find someone who I’m with (ie: a friend, someone at a course I could be on, a receptionist when I was at school) and just talk through my feelings and try to rationalise with myself with someone’s opinions and inputs.
There are various things that trigger my anxiety. Whether it’s public transportation, an appointment, going somewhere new, venturing out in a big location,etc. And I know that, especially on days where I don’t feel 100%, I need to have different things to keep myself in a calm situation.
Charged phone – Not because I’m crazily obsessed with technology (that’s another story) but if I need to get in contact with someone (ie: my mother or stepdad) to talk to me while I’m anxious or to get me out of the situation, then I need to have a charged phone. Sometimes I take my actual charger with me if I know there’s going to be a powerpoint at my destination. If not, I take a power bank which keeps my phone charged on the go.
Music –Especially on public transport, I feel like music is a must. Music I really like always makes me feel comfortable and at home and in a safe place. I don’t know why, but music is like a magical thing for many reasons. So I like to have a pair of earphones and my favourite artists lined up on my phone.
Medication – I have been prescribed medication by a psychiatrist and doctor, so I ensure to take this everyday. I know not everyone has anxiety to that level where it needs to be medicated by a professional, but there are over the counter medications such as Kalms which can help you feel more relaxed and not as anxious. Sometimes anxiety can be so mild for some people that all they need is some herbals such as herbal tea,etc. so I definitely recommend that first before trying medication. If you are prescribed medication, I know some people tend not to take it as they feel like it dehumanises you. I highly recommend you take any prescribed medication. You are a human. Anxiety is a chemical imbalance. You are merely restoring the correct amount of the right chemicals to make yourself feel better again. A diabetic takes insulin or medication. A person in pain takes a pain killer. You take these medications to make yourself feel better, whether it’s physically or mentally. If your medication makes you feel ill, please notify your GP and they may be able to help find a different medication which doesn’t make you feel so poorly.
Talking – Sometimes, on down days, I need to talk about how I feel. Whether you have a member of your family, a friend, a co-worker or even a charity. @Hope4MentalHelp on Twitter has a list of various helplines and charities around the world and if you’re based in the UK I highly recommend Mind charity for any advice and leaflets for information.
I really hope I have been able to help some people with this blog. Do you have any methods you swear by? Leave a comment blow.