5 Things My Panic Attacks Tell Me
Panic attacks are the absolute worst. They can make you feel like the world is closing in on you. You are most likely reading this because you struggle with them, or you don’t understand them. Everyone is different, but these are five things I hear or experience during a panic attack and how I cope with them.
1. “You can’t do it.”
This phrase is one that skips through my thoughts at least once or twice a day. The voice, driven by anxiety, will remind me of this at any moment, with no explanation. It can start as soon as I wake up until I am able to fall asleep. There are even times I hear it so much that it wakes me from a deep sleep and sends me spiraling into a panic attack. What is it that I can’t do? Why can’t I do it? Unfortunately, I still don’t know that answer but I have found some tools, which I will list at the end, to help until I do.
2. “You are not capable of this.”
This is similar to the voice telling me I can’t do it. This usually follows as a way to reason with the thought of not being able to do “it.” It does not matter what “it” may be; this thought immediately follows. This begins my quest for some sort of control in my thoughts. This voice tries to reason with me while I am being utterly crushed with the disappointment of being “unable” to complete the task at hand. Somewhere, this voice is grasping at straws for reasons why I cannot handle the situation. If I have cold hard facts, that voice can’t be wrong. Right?
My body, at this point, is typically reacting to the anxiety in a physical way. I may have started breathing hard, feeling nauseous, sweating or crying. My body is in panic mode and I have three options to “choose” from. It’s either time to fight this off, run the opposite direction or be frozen with fear until it fades. I wish I could say I “fight” every single time because in some way maybe that would make me feel better. In all honesty, my go-to is between flight or freeze. My body physically reacts so quickly to these thoughts that I become so stricken with fear I either don’t move or try to escape.
4. “See, I told you so.”
This is the one that brings the most anger into my thoughts and heart. I feel utterly defeated when I get to this point in my panic attacks. “Of course I was wrong to think I could handle this; of course that voice was right. I couldn’t handle it and now I am here. I was wrong, and that voice was right.”
5. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Number four brings anger to the table, but this one? This one is a punch in the gut. This brings all those feelings of self-doubt, depression, judgment, self-loathing and guilt to join me at center stage. “How could I be so foolish to think I could come out of this as the victor? How many people have you let down this time? What is the damage you have done now? This is so embarrassing for you, you might as well isolate yourself and sit with these thoughts. You deserve that.” This is where my panic attack comes to an end, and I’m left with these thoughts. So where do I go from there? How can I help myself?
OK, here are some of my tools from my trick bag. I have experienced panic attacks for the last six years, and have worked with numerous doctors and therapists to find what works best for me. Now, I know everyone is different, and these may not work for everyone, but these are the tools I have learned. These tools by no means “fix” my panic attacks, or make my anxiety disappear. They do provide some sort of relief, even if it is for a minute or two.
1. Breathe. I always have to remember to breathe. My Apple Watch can sense when my heart rate goes up and is programmed to automatically remind me to try the breathing app on my watch. It vibrates when I need to inhale and exhale, this gentle vibration can bring me back to reality.
2. In my most recent adventure in therapy, I have been introduced to another app called Heart Math. This tool is difficult to explain so I have included a link that explains the science behind this app. I use this app during my panic attacks, and it reiterates the need to focus on my breathing. Another free app I use is called Insight Timer; this can help too!
3. I work closely with my doctor and take medication for my anxiety. This, at times, can help lessen my panic attacks. Medication is not for everyone and I respect that, but I have found this is a tool I want to use.
4. Water! I have written a story about this in the past, but for some reason, water seems to calm me down in the height of a panic attack. It can be drinking cold water, taking a shower or bath, or simply running my hands under cold water in the sink. This is a tool I use especially if I am in public. The majority of the time, there is a bathroom I can momentarily escape to and run my hands under cold water or splash my face with it. The cold water can bring me back to reality.
5. Acknowledge and talk about it. This is where therapy comes into play. Therapy has taught me that my panic attacks and anxiety will get worse if I try to dismiss my feelings and pretend they aren’t happening. This is not a good idea. I have learned to acknowledge my anxieties using kind and empathetic words, and then talk about it. I wish I could spend all day, every day in therapy so when a panic attack occurs, I could just talk to my therapist… but that’s obviously not possible. So instead, I turn to my support system. I encourage anyone to look for an individual or group with whom you feel safe to share these moments. In the midst of a panic attack, I reach for my boyfriend’s hand or my mom’s. They help bring me back to earth and give me the kind support I can’t always provide myself.
Now, there are millions of strategies that can be used to battle anxiety, but these are just a few of mine. I wanted to share what I typically experience during a panic attack in hopes of making someone feel less alone. If you experience anxiety attacks, panic disorders or depression, I can empathize with you and send you all of my thoughts and love. We are not alone in this battle and we are strong enough to overcome this. Even though your thoughts can make you feel inadequate, I want you to know you are so loved and important. You can do it, and you are allowed to feel your feelings. I validate how you feel and want you to know that. I wish you the best of luck in your journey and appreciate you allowing me to share my story with you.
With love always,
Photo by Elijah Hiett on Unsplash