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The Simple Question a Crisis Worker Asked Me That Helped Calm My Panic Attack

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My thoughts come at me too quickly, too loudly — it’s as if my mind is shouting. At the same time, my heart is racing and I find it difficult to breathe. I grip onto the kitchen counter to stop myself from falling over.I am no stranger to panic attacks, so I know what is happening, but this time, it feels different. I cannot see an end in sight, which is what prompts me to remember that I need help.

So I pick up my phone and call my local crisis hotline. As we talk, the woman on the other end asks a question that sounds simple, and yet my spiral stops.

While not all of my panic attacks have a reason, in this particular case it did. I’d gotten the news that earlier in the day, my friend was admitted to the hospital, due to a mental health emergency. I’d seen them the day before, and truthfully they had not been doing well. I had tried to get them some help, but my efforts were not taken seriously.

So when I heard what happened, the news hit me hard. I felt all my organs drop into my feet.  My thoughts raced with questions that I knew had no good answers.

What if I’d tried harder? Was it my fault? Would my friend be OK? What did this mean?

On and on this went until I discovered I was barely breathing.

After I called the crisis line, the above is exactly what I repeated through tears and haggard breathing. I was a long way into reciting my unanswerable questions when I was gently interrupted. The voice on the line asked:

“What is true right now?”

This question had an immediate calming effect on me, and together we found the answers.

It was true right now that:

My friend was safe, getting treatment, and was being supported.

I’d tried my best, I cared for my friend to the best of my ability, and I could still be for them there now.

And this is where my phone call ended.I experience complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), anxiety, and depression — and due to these disorders I have emotional flashbacks, panic attacks, triggers, and other similar mental spirals.  Ever since I made that  phone call, “what is true right now” has been a question that I try to remember in moments of worry. I’m not always successful at recalling it, but when I do, I find it usually helps.

This question isn’t magic, and like most things, it won’t work for all people or every situation. Even in my own case, if I’m too far down the spiral it can be hard to muster the brain power needed to do a lot of thinking. In the case that I can’t think my way through something, using my senses to ground is often a good start for me. I’ve also since learned that the questions “What can I do right now?” and “What help do I need to do it?” can be beneficial in a similar way. I hope these questions may be useful for you too.

Have you ever been asked a simple question that helped to stop a panic attack or spiral? What was it and why did it help? What do you think about my phrase? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so be sure to leave them below and let’s chat!

If you enjoyed this article, please take a moment to check out some of my other articles here on The Mighty. If you’d like to follow along with my journey, you can find me on Instagram as @mentalhealthyxe.

Getty image by laflor

Originally published: September 13, 2022
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