You know the feeling well, you feel frozen in time but your heart is beating quicker than ever. Your hands are sweating, you are shaking and everything has become so incredibly overwhelming. You confirm to yourself, you are having a panic attack.
I have been there, so many times and I had no idea what to do. One time, my husband and I were shopping in London and I was having a great day, part of the busy throng of people in Piccadilly Circus chatting easily and effortlessly. We stopped to light a cigarette, moved to the side and smoked casually, still laughing about the overpriced milkshake we had enjoyed. Then it came to move on to our next destination, I noticed the shear number of people, how tightly packed they were, like a swirling torrent of rapid water. A tsunami of people, pinning me to the wall, no way to join the current. My wonderful husband was as helpful as he could be, and did eventually get us moving while I focused on nothing but his hand holding mine and my breath as it gradually slowed and deepened.
What I didn’t have then, and what my husband didn’t have, was some easy, quick techniques that would have stopped that overwhelming panic before it had even taken hold. I don’t want anyone to be in that position again, so here are some amazing techniques that have kept me panic free for over a year; without ruining my social life:
- Lie to yourself. The first thing you should do when you feel a panic attack coming is lie. Rather than the normal things that go through your head, “I’m having a panic attack”, “I hate this”, “This is really overwhelming” or even “Fuck, fuck, fuck…” tell yourself instead how exciting the situation is. How energised you are and how great your coping skills are. The mind doesn’t care if you are lying, it listens to the words and pictures you make for it. The more you say it, the more true it becomes until it IS your truth.
- Breath! When it feels like there isn’t enough air and you start to hyperventilate you increase the fight or flight response in your body, increase your levels of anxiety and worsen your panic attack. Instead, Breath in slowly and fully through your nose and into your belly. Notice how your body expands as you inhale and then slowly breath out all the negativity and tension from your body as your body softens and relaxes. Repeat this as a minimum of 5 times and for as many more as you need, and notice the changes this has on your body.
- If your body is starting to shake, increase it, shake more. Your body has stored energy for you to either fight or fly from the situation and this energy needs an outlet. Shake your hands, your arms – even run around your home if you feel the need to. Increase the feeling and then stop. You will see how you can control this feeling and if you can increase the shaking, your mind is powerful enough to decrease and stop it.
- Use the “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” method.
- Look at 5 separate objects around you and really notice them. Focus on the size, shape and colour.
- Listen for 4 distinct sounds, focus on what makes them different from each other and where the sound is coming from.
- Focus on 3 different things you can feel, notice the texture, the temperature and material.
- Identify 2 different things you can smell, can you smell your scent, your detergent or food around you. Try and find where they are coming from, and how they make you feel.
- Name 1 thing you can taste, whatever taste is in your mouth or have a sweet or some gum to savour.
- Finally, Remember this shall pass. Repeat it to yourself if you need to. Your success rate for overcoming panic is 100% and you are strong and capable.
If I had known these things through my life, or if someone close to me had this knowledge, I would have had a much easier time. I hope that by sharing these tips with you, you have the tools to overcome anxiety attacks when they strike and be the best you.