Panic attacks can be really debilitating. You can be having the best day of your life, then out of nowhere, the dark clouds of panic descend over you. I had my first panic attack at the start of my teen years, and they progressively got worse at the age of 17. Over the years I’ve come to understand them pretty well. I used my moment of poor mental health as an opportunity to stop, analyze my emotions, and come to understand them so I could take action to get better.
Today, I’m giving you the whole package on panic attacks. I’m giving you my very own personal list I use to stop a panic attack when it starts, as well as tips on how you can prevent one before it starts, and how you can manage your emotional health to ensure a future of healthy wellbeing. 🙂
Questions For Better Understanding
The first step to improve your panic attacks is to have a good understanding of your panic. Asking yourself the following questions can help:
1. How often do I get panic attacks in a week/month/year on average?
2. What environment do I experience panic attacks in the most?
3. Who am I with when I have panic attacks? (By myself? Around strangers? Family? Specific Friends or people?)
4. Where was the first time I had a panic attack?
5. What triggered my first panic attack?
6. What is the most common thing that triggers my panic attacks?
7. What am I wanting to run from when I have a panic attack?
8. How do I respond to myself when I have a panic attack? (do I respond with compassion, respond with shame, etc.)
9. Do I experience panic attacks at a specific time of the day or random? If specific, what time?
10. What am I resisting during panic attacks?
11. Do panic attacks interfere with my daily life to the point where I can’t function properly and do the things I need to do?
12. What would I rate my panic on a scale of 1 (great, barely there) to 10 (severe, happens on a daily basis, scared to leave the house).
All these questions help you develop a deeper understanding of your panic attacks – What triggers them, how you’re communicating with yourself when you get them, and why they’re being triggered. When we have a deeper understanding, we’re able to move forward into healing more effectively.
How To Stop a Panic Attack When It Starts
- First thing to do always, stop everything and focus on your breathing. Make your breathing long, deep, controlled, and slow.
- Relax all muscles in your body. Make sure you’re not tense anywhere (shoulders down, jaw unclenched, chest relaxed and open).
- Don’t fight it (fighting it is the worst you can do – like pouring gasoline on fire). Surrender to your panic, let go, and let your body get it out of your system – It won’t last and won’t hurt you even though it feels hard in the moment.
- Get out of your head (focus on what’s before you. The colour of your shoes, your nail polish, the apple on the counter, etc.)
- Realize the situation is safe, and you are safe. (Literally say in your head, or out loud given you’re in an appropriate environment, I am safe).
- Tell yourself it’s okay to be afraid and feel vulnerable (accept if for what it is).
- Respond with compassion (aggression fuels it, compassion calms it. We’re kind of like giant babies. By getting aggressive and shaming our inner child for how he or she feels, it only makes the child more upset. If you respond with compassion and an intention to soothe, our inner child is more likely to calm down and feel safe.
- Remind yourself it’ll be over soon.
Important Points to Remember
The most important thing to remember is, the list above is a mindset which affects your behaviour. Training your mind to respond differently to your panic attacks affects how the panic attack plays out. I really recommend writing the list out on cue cards and reviewing it often, practicing the steps, going through the motions of steadying the breath, relaxing the body, responding with compassion, etc. Then when you actually do experience a panic attack, you’re somewhat prepared and can implement them. I crafted this list after a few years of panic attacks and it really helped me, so I hope it helps you as well. 🙂
Also, I start with the breath because it plays a vital role in our autonomic nervous system. Within the autonomic nervous system, there is the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Both systems regulate how our bodies deal with stress. The sympathetic nervous system triggers fight or flight when we experience a stressful or dangerous situation, which causes the adrenal glands to secrete hormones that increase blood pressure and heart rate. On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system, triggers our bodies to secrete hormones that decrease blood pressure and heart rate, which induces a relaxation response. The parasympathetic nervous system is activated by mindful deep breathing, yoga and a number of different techniques. Therefore, it’s important to make sure we take care of our breath.
How To Prevent Panic Attacks
1. Be Mindful of Your Thoughts: Your thoughts influence how you feel, which influence your behaviour. At the height of my panic attacks, what did I think about all the time? Panic attacks, of course. Instead of focusing on not wanting to have a panic attack, we need to focus on:
2. Cultivating Calm: Perspective is a game changer for our minds. Instead of focusing on “I don’t want to have a panic attack,” instead focus on, “I am calm, I am relaxed, I am at peace.” It gets us focusing on the positive and less on the negative.
3. Self-Love: Humans strongly associate love to safety. Back when we were newborns, if our mothers didn’t love and care for us, naturally we’d suffer because there’s no way for us to care for ourselves, which would cause a stress response from the brain. Very much like adults and anxiety, if we lack love in our lives, specifically from ourselves, our response is to feel unsafe, which results in the stress receptors in our brains to act out. Giving love to ourselves on a daily basis suppresses the release of stress from our brains, and makes us feel safer and happier. Therefore, it’s important to instill self-love in our lives, so we feel comforted, safe, and can manage our anxiety in a healthy, positive way.
4. Keep In Touch with Your Emotions: Journal writing (or for non-writers – typing in your notes on your laptop is an easier alternative) is an amazing exercise to understand what you’re feeling each day, and why you had a panic attack on a specific day. We have roughly 60,000 thoughts per day, a lot of which are thought subconsciously. So it’s important to keep in check with what your thinking on a daily basis, and how those thoughts are playing a role in our anxiety.
Important Points To Remember
~As soon as you feel a panic attack come on, the worse things you can do is freak out with it and make a big deal out of it. You’re basically driving it when you do this. You need to comfort and soothe yourself.
~Panic attacks are not chronic, and can be treated and managed. (Woohoo! Jumps for joy). So if you feel caged by them, please understand there is hope. 🙂
~Panic attacks will not injure or hurt you, although it may feel like it in the moment. They are much like waves in an ocean – they wash in then out.
~Don’t strive for perfection, strive to get through it with ease. I think the hardest part about panic attacks is when we have a relapse, we turn to beating ourselves up and feeling like we’ve failed in our journey to overcome them. We shouldn’t strive to never have a panic attack again, because sometimes stuff happens and we can have a quick relapse, and that’s okay. I’ve been there many times myself. Instead we should strive to manage them and care for ourselves in the healthiest way possible – simply do the best we can. When doing so, we don’t have these high expectations for ourselves, which could end up leading us to feeling disappointed in ourselves. When we don’t strive for perfection, and come to accept our panic, we take the pressure off ourselves.
~Gratitude. When you are grateful for something, it makes enduring that something much easier. Look for the positive in your anxiety. This was very hard for me to do, and I think it’s hard for a lot of people with anxiety, but there are most definitely positives. Our anxiety has kept us alive up to this point, has kept us safe, has taken us on a mental health journey to get to know ourselves better. I’ve always found people with anxiety are deeper and more empathetic – we’re not people who stick to the surface, and there’s something special about that. For me personally, it encouraged me to get into yoga, meditation, and spirituality – all of which I use to define myself today. If I didn’t have anxiety, my interests would be completely different, and my personality as a whole would be entirely different. Look for the good in your anxiety, and maybe you’ll dread it just a little less.
~Lastly, remember, a lot of healing starts with mindset. And lucky for us, there’s this little word I love called neuroplasticity that exists, meaning our minds are not rigidly fixed to a certain way of thinking and feeling. Our minds change as our experiences in life do. It is up to us how we choose to respond to these changes as they occur. I encourage making the most of it. 🙂
Where to now, huh? Checkout some of my other blog posts: