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What Happened When I Took My Psychiatrist's Advice During a Panic Attack

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Here’s the thing with most of my panic attacks, I never know when they’re going to happen.

I feel so weak for constantly having panic attacks. I feel so vulnerable and exposed, I feel like everybody is staring at me and laughing or judging how I can barely keep my life together. I’ve never felt so much panic run through my veins before. I’ve never felt so sick when I wake up. I’m sick of my breathing becoming shallow for no reason at all. For me, it’s the worst feeling ever, I don’t understand how I can be afraid of nothing but everything at the same time. I wake up blaming myself for everything.

That’s the feeling I wake up with every morning. See how negative that all sounds? I wake up feeling panic run through my veins and all I can think is how “stupid” I am for panicking over absolutely nothing. I never realized how bad it was to call myself “stupid” while having a panic attack until my psychiatrist told me. He told me that belittling myself during a panic attack isn’t going to help my anxiety, but feed it. Telling myself over and over again how stupid I am for panicking isn’t helpful at all. Feeding my anxious thoughts is only going to make it worse.

These are the things he told me to do instead:

Each morning before getting out of bed, he instructed me to mindfully scan my body and say, “I’m aware there’s some anxiety here.” He told me to tell myself, “I’m safe, I’m OK.” Next, he told me to tell myself, “I’ll keep an eye on this anxiety,” then go take a shower and don’t react to the anxiety. Then he gave me a “surroundings exercise” when I was supposed to list five things I can see, four things I can hear, three things I can touch, two things I can taste/smell and take one deep breath.

I decided to put his advice to use.

One morning, I was cleaning the house. I decided to open up a few windows since it was a nice day. I found myself starting to panic because I couldn’t find the key to unlock the window in my bedroom. I felt my breathing start to shallow and all these negative thoughts came into my mind:

You’re so stupid for panicking over a key.

Look at you. Pathetic.

Once I realized I was thinking negatively, I decided to put into practice the exercises I was given. I told myself, It’s just a window, and it’s just a key. You’ll find it eventually. Stop dwelling on how you cannot unlock this one window, there are plenty of other windows in this house that you can unlock. This one window doesn’t matter.

Telling myself this made my anxiety start to drop. I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply, I found myself starting to worry less about the window and started getting on with my day.

I learned that the way we talk to ourselves during our moments of vulnerability can effect the situation at hand. Instead of calling myself names and putting myself down like I normally would, I found that I could easily control my anxiety. All this time I thought that my anxiety was a monster that couldn’t ever be tamed, but in reality, I was the one who was feeding myself lies. Being my own harshest critic never did my anxiety any good, and by learning to change my mindset, I’ve been able to get through these moments of complete anxiety.

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Thinkstock photo via Olga Siv.

Originally published: June 16, 2017
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