There will be people out there who know all too well what a panic attack is, learning from experience how frightening and awful these can be. But, like me, there will be people who only know the bad of a panic attack without knowing the full details.
This post is to offer an honest but experienced view (my own and not professional) of what a panic attack is, what it means, and what can help you to overcome it.
So what is a panic attack? A panic attack is a build up of physical feelings that come naturally to the human body. When thrown into a situation we feel frightened of, threatened by, or uncomfortable with, our body has a set of physical feelings which help prepare us for that situation. For example, if you were out walking and a bear jumped out at you, a ‘fight or flight’ response comes into play. This is your body’s way of saying ‘ok how will I deal with this?’. Your breathing increases to get oxygen around your body and increase your heart rate, Your heart races to get the blood flowing around your body, you go hot and sweat as a way to cool your body down ready to run, your muscles tense ready to go into action. These among other symptoms are what we expect your body to do in a situation like this. When it becomes a panic attack is when these symptoms arise in a situation that isn’t threatening and you become very aware of these often scary symptoms.
Some people feel like they’re going to have a heart attack, some people feel like they can’t breathe, I often feel light headed like I may faint. But the reality is, your body is just doing what comes natural to you. Your body is getting ready to fight or flight, and as soon as you understand this, I find that’s the first step to beating anxiety and panic attacks. You’re not having a heart attack. You won’t faint (fainting happens when your blood pressure drops, but during panic your blood pressure is high, so it’s almost impossible). The only thing that comes at the end of a panic attack is just that – the end.
What helps me is to challenge the thoughts. Below is a scenario that often occurs for me and ways I challenge it:
If I’m in a meeting, the feeling of being restricted can bring on a panic attack. I begin to feel agitated, my legs feel jelly and I ‘need’ to shake them or tense them. Then thoughts flood through my mind bringing in a warm and sick feeling. My heart begins to race, and I begin to breathe faster. From this, I begin to get light headed and at this point I am in full panic. But as a way to overcome it, I begin to challenge it one at a time – starting with my breathing. Regulating your breathing is very important, as panic is driven by fast breathing. If you breathe slowly, your panic WILL reduce. Once you do this, you’ll notice the light headedness will subside and you heart rate will begin to slow down. From here your panic is reduced further, and the symptoms don’t seem so scary anymore.
This is all easier said than done, and doing it takes so much time and strength as you’ll be challenging yourself intensely, but so rewarding. If you think this can help and feel comfortable to do so, Below is a tip to start you off:
Have a think of something/somewhere that causes mild panic, something not too stressful but you know will make you feel uncomfortable. You’ll have small symptoms that you can learn to challenge which will show you what these skills can do to panic. Regulate your breathing, feel your heart rate stabilise, and feel your panic slowly reduce.
It won’t be easy, it won’t be quick, but it will help if you persevere.
Hope this post helps