I just rode out the first panic attack I’ve had in almost two years.
(Yeah, I forgot how much they suck.)
As I was breathing through it, I tried to remind myself how lucky I am. After all, this used to be a daily occurrence but it’s now a once-in-a-blue-moon kinda thing.
In case you’re interested, here’s what I did to *reduce* the number of panic attacks I have:
- Regular therapy with a qualified mental health professional—CBT was particularly useful.
- Practicing yoga, mindfulness, and meditation on a daily basis.
- Practicing long, slow belly-breathing (I’ll talk about this more below).
- Quitting smoking, alcohol, and caffeine—quitting sugar would probably be helpful, too, but it’s the only vice I have left so I’m hangin’ on to it for dear life!
- Simplifying my schedule and saying ‘no’ more often, to prevent overwhelm.
Not being burdened by panic every day has made a huge difference to my well-being.
So why did it come back today? Who knows.
I suffered from severe burnout a few months ago, so it could be cumulative stress. It could be a reminder to slow down—maybe I’m moving too quickly into a more ‘regular’ pace of life. It could be that I’ve let my mindfulness practice slip a little over the past few weeks so old habits are returning.
I’m just grateful that when panic arises, I now have the tools to deal with them. If you don’t have those tools yet, this post is for you.
(Bear in mind that I’m not a mental health professional—just a fellow panicker who’s figured out what helps in the moment.)
Here’s how I ride out even the *worst* panic attacks:
- Recognise it for what it is. I tell myself, “I’m having a panic attack, I’ve had them before, and it will pass”. I remind myself it’s not permanent and I will survive.
- Remind myself I’m safe. My partner (who’s a therapist) told me it’s not physically possible to pass out when you’re having a panic attack, even though it can feel that way. I always remind myself of this in the midst of panic, especially if I’m driving.
- Place my feet on the floor and my hands on my body. I often feel numb and lightheaded when I have a panic attack, so grounding myself by connecting to my body is helpful. I like to place one hand on my belly and one hand on my heart. Sometimes, I tap my parts of my body, too.
- Get some fresh air. If I can easily stand up, I go outside and find a place to sit. If I can’t, I open a window and sit next to it to catch a cool breeze. Feeling the air helps me re-engage my senses.
- Then I start to breathe. Without putting too much pressure on myself, I try to breathe in through my nose for a count of 3 and out for a count of 6. I breathe right into my belly (rather than my chest). Sighing can help to release tension, too. I do this for as long as it takes to feel settled.
- Give myself space and time to rest. I’ve learned that jumping straight into a task is counterproductive. It can bring on another attack later. The kindest thing I can do for myself once a panic attack has subsided is keep breathing, drink some water or herbal tea, and give myself a break.
- Journal about the experience. Words are how I process pain. Journaling moves my attention away from my anxiety and on to the page. I write stream-of-consciousness style and let the words flow. 3 pages usually does the trick.
I’ve found that panic attacks pass quicker if I don’t resist them.
The more I resist it, ignore it, or wish it wasn’t happening, the longer it seems to go on. If I turn towards it, it seems to end quicker.
I also believe there’s wisdom to be found in my panic.
It’s a message from my body. My poor body is constantly trying to get my attention; telling me I need to rest, or stop putting so much pressure on myself, or care for myself a little better. If I haven’t been listening closely enough, a panic attack might be the only way the message gets through.