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3 Ways I Deal With Panic Attacks

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I am in the middle of a coaching session with one of my clients, a Silicon Valley executive. Everything is going fine when I recognize the symptoms of a panic attack. I feel disconnected from where I am as if I am overlooking myself. My surroundings feel a bit less familiar. I feel myself start to dissociate.

• What is PTSD?

Thankfully, when I experience panic attacks, those around me cannot tell I am having one. My executive client continues to talk about his job search and upcoming interviews with Amazon and Facebook while my anxiety continues to rise.

I call upon the techniques my therapist has provided me to combat panic attacks:

1. The five senses technique.

Five sights. I look for five things around me. I look at the fake butterfly I brought back from my recent vacation at Monarch Beach Resort with my partner J.V. I look at the reed diffuser on my desk. I look out at the Santa Ynez Mountains. I look out the cars in the parking lot below my office. I look back at my client.

Four sounds. I listen to the raindrops on my office window. I listen to the cars passing on the street. I listen to the humming of my white noise maker outside my office. I listen to my client’s voice as he explains the interview process with the recruiter.

Three touches. I feel my Disneyland Spirit Jersey rubbing against my chest and chin. I move my toes and feel the fur inside my Ugg slippers. I grab the armrests of my new computer chair and feel the rubber under my palms.

Two scents. I smell the vanilla reed diffuser on my desk. Although faint, I smell the been and cheese tamales I warmed up for lunch.

One appreciation. I appreciate the progress I have made with my panic attacks. It has been months, if not longer, since I have had a panic attack.

While my anxiety has decreased by this point, I am still experiencing the panic attack, so I move onto emotional freedom technique (EFT) tapping.

2. EFT tapping.

I do not want to distract my client from his elevator pitch with my tapping, so I begin tapping my pointer and middle fingers on my karate chop point. Silently, I repeat, “Although I am feeling anxious about my task list, I deeply and completely accept myself. “Although I am feeling anxious about my task list, I am in control.” I continue to repeat these phrases as I tap on my karate chop point.

Although I feel my anxiety — and heart rate — decreasing with the repetition of the phrases, the dissociation is still somewhat there. I then remember the most recent technique my therapist taught me — dropping the hot potato.

3. Hot potato technique.

The hot potato technique is the most recent addition to my panic attack treatment tool belt and has proven powerful for reducing my general anxiety. When I feel anxious, I now imagine a hot potato in my hands. What would I do if I was holding a hot potato? Drop it!

I imagine the anxiety I feel about my task list is a hot potato. I imagine myself dropping the anxiety. Somehow the potato bounces off the ground and lands back in my hands. I drop it again. I repeat this multiple times until the potato finally stays out of my hands, and my panic attack ends.

Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

Originally published: January 8, 2020
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