Only if you’ve ever had one before, do you truly know what it feels like to have the sensations of possible death. I know, it may sound “dramatic” or over-the-top, especially if you have no history of feeling, experiencing, or seeing one take place. I mean come on, it’s just a panic attack, it won’t actually kill you.
Easy to say when you’re not on the receiving end of one.
To some, it may feel like a light switch. There’s no time to prepare or think. It consumes you in a matter of a few seconds.
To others, it may feel like a slow fog rolling in. You can see it forming an ominous, thick blanket of dread in the near distance. With each breath you take it looms a little bit closer.
Allow me to give you a little sense of what it may feel like to some people.
Picture this. You are enjoying a drink out with some friends. Music is playing, people are laughing, the energy is fun and you feel good. Just as you’re noticing these feel-good things, you sense a random change in your heart rate and breathing… You have absolutely no control over this shift, and there is no escaping the feelings it begins to drown you with. They’re existing whether you like them or not. The next moment comes so quickly as you feel complete terror wash over your body like a massive wave that you didn’t see creeping up from behind you, leaving you with just the air you currently hold in your lungs. This rushed sensation leaves you feeling paralyzed with fear. You cant catch your breath, it feels like you’re choking. You could swear that you’re having a heart attack. You start to get nauseous, and your head feels like it’s spinning as your body trembles. You may even faint. Total and complete fear in a matter of seconds. This can last anywhere from ten to thirty minutes, but to you, it will feel like hours. It leaves you feeling completely drained, fatigued, and defeated once it runs its course.
The stigma on panic attacks has changed over the years as more and more people have come out, talking about their own experiences and how they cope. Celebrities, CEO’s, your friends, and maybe even your family. Nonetheless, after finally catching your breath and calming down from one, your immediate reaction is that of embarrassment and discouragement.
“Oh my God, I hope no one saw that.”
“I feel so ashamed, why am I like this?”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“Why do I feel so broken?”
Panic attacks can be triggered by many things. Experiencing more stress at work, in relationships, the loss of a loved one, a traumatic event, or simply just a change in brain chemistry. It’s important to remember- they can happen to anyone at any time.
To help you out when it comes to navigating the first steps in soothing yourself through an attack, I’ve compiled a list of steps to take to when you feel one coming on. Depending on whether or not an attack leaves you with just a few seconds to think, picking just one of these to practice through it can help.
- When you’re hit with a panic attack, the best first step you can take is to move yourself to a private space(if you can). No one wants to experience a panic attack in front of others, in fact, it can take you longer to recover if you add on being worried about what you look/sound/ feel like. By moving yourself to a private space, you will feel more comfortable to now manage and fight through this fear you’re feeling.
- Start with the 4–7–8 breathing technique. Sit down, lay down, or find something to hold onto. Close your mouth, inhale through your nose slowly for 4 seconds. Hold it in for 7 seconds. Slowly let it out for 8 seconds through your nose. Repeat until your breathing has calmed down. It might take a few minutes of repeating this breathing for it to start having a calming effect on you and your body. *This is also an awesome tool for when you can’t get to sleep!*
- Ground yourself. If you have had a panic attack before, then you can probably recognize the signs. Tell yourself out loud that you’re in a safe place, and that you’re experiencing a panic attack. Recognizing a panic attack for what it is can be helpful in decreasing the fear you feel towards it (because let’s be real; it can truly feel like you’re croaking at the moment). Grab onto an object, close your eyes, take another deep breath, and focus on how the object feels in your hands. Take another deep breath in and smell what’s around you. If you have a snack, take a bite, and focus on the flavors you’re tasting. Stimulate your brain in these ways to refocus on grounding yourself in that present moment.
- Say out loud some calming affirmations.
“I am safe.”
“I am going to be okay.”
“I recognize this as a panic attack and I know it will pass.”
“I am strong and will be calm through this.”
“This is not going to kill me.”
“I got this.”
- Visualize your safe space, I know you have one. (Mine is the ocean). Close your eyes. Breathe 4–7–8. You’re there. You hear the sounds of the waves crashing, kids laughing, seagulls squawking. You feel the ocean mist, the salt in the air, and the smell of sunblock. You feel the golden sun hit your skin while the soft sand moves between your feet. You’re there. Take a breath. You are safe.
When in doubt, if you feel like your symptoms are out of control and you need more help, reach out to your local therapy or psychiatric center.
It’s important to remember that just because you experience panic attacks, doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. You are not broken. You are not less than. You are human. We need to remind ourselves that the human experience is complex and deep. It leaves us with intricate, rich feelings and emotions, and there is no shame in seeking help to maneuver through those obstacles and sensations.
For more stories like this, check out the blog on my website: https://www.dynamicduocopy.com/