If you've ever had a panic attack, then you know how frightening they can be. Your heart races faster. You can't breathe properly. Dizziness, dry mouth and sweaty palms. Sound familiar? Sometimes they will be brought on by a particular event, and other times they will suddenly creep up on you, like the least fun game of Grandma's Footsteps ever.
How do I know what this feels like? Well, I am a highly anxious person. I take diazepam to fly (prescribed, before you start raising those eyebrows). I get white-coat syndrome when the doctor takes my blood pressure. (That's basically when your blood pressure shoots up even if there's nothing wrong. Yes, I'm neurotic). I've been known to have sleepless nights and have been unable to eat at times when it's been really bad. Over the years, I've experienced numerous panic attacks. But this isn't a sob story for you. No, today I want to show you how you can get through a panic attack.
Now, while I'm not a medical professional when it comes to anxiety, I can tell you this: There are no quick fixes. Also, my tricks for helping you through a panic attack won't stop you from ever having one again, but the next time you have one, these might just make it more bearable. Keep scrolling for my five tips on what you should never do when you're anxious.
#1: If you're having a panic attack, don't fight it.
According to the practice of mindfulness, the idea is that you allow feelings and experiences to wash over you. I spoke to mindfulness expert Elaine Weatherley-Jones, an accredited mindfulness teacher, who gave some advice on what you should do when you suddenly experience a panic attack.
"See if it's possible to allow the presence of your feelings without getting tangled in the story. Let thoughts and feelings arise and pass through your experience without trying to stop them," she says.
This is how I now look at panic attacks. You can't fight that growing sense of rising panic in your gut that starts to move up to your throat and causes the clammy hands and the dry mouth. You can, however, say to yourself "Okay, I'm experiencing these symptoms, but I'll be fine." Yes, this does take practice, but once you've mastered it, you'll feel much better.
#2: Give up the booze, and limit your caffeine intake.
An obvious one, but if you've ever woken up the next day after a heavy night out and had beer fear that's worse than usual, then perhaps it's time to cut back. While alcohol might seem like a great way to deal with your anxiety or panic, the truth is that it's merely numbing you from dealing with your stress. So when the effects of the alcohol wear off, the feelings become even more unmanageable, thanks to that lovely hangover you've now got.
Similarly, with caffeine, it's wise to start limiting your intake. However, instead of numbing you like alcohol, caffeine has the opposite effect and will increase the feelings of anxiety. The way I gauge whether or not I should have caffeine that day is by seeing how I feel in the morning and checking in with myself. Do I feel anxious today? If it's a yes, I'll reach for the old chamomile tea; if it's a no, then I can have a cup of coffee.
#3: Don't force yourself to do new things or think that there will be a wonder cure.
In the past, my inclination was to try to stop myself from feeling bad and throw myself into a project such as tidying the house from top to bottom. Inevitably, because I was already feeling bad, I would get tired quickly and give up, which in turn will make me feel bad about myself, and throwing myself through a new loop of anxiety. Be kind to yourself, don't try to do everything at once. Maybe just clean your bed sheets or have a bath.
#4: There isn't a one-size-fits-all way to deal with a panic attack.
Just because your friend said that she tried a certain strategy to help her stop having panic attacks doesn't mean it's going to work for you. Find out your own longer-term way to help deal with your anxiety. For me, it's making sure I go running at least twice every week. Others might find that changing up their diet could help.
According to the Calm Clinic, there are some foods that will help you feel less anxious, these mood-boosting foods include whole grains, seaweed, blueberries, and almonds. But that's not where the link with food and anxiety ends. There's a much bigger theory that the bacteria in your gut impacts your mental health too.
Various studies have demonstrated that there's evidence linking stress to the microbes in your intestines. As a result, the gut is often referred to as the "second brain." To help, there are various lists of probiotic foods that will help to support your gut flora.
#5: You won't feel better overnight.
It's probably not what you want to hear but you won't suddenly stop experiencing panic attacks. The truth is that it's a work in progress. You have to take small steps to help you feel better.
Weatherley-Jones reiterates this point: "The most important step is to already have a mindfulness practice if you want to use mindful ways to deal with any 'crisis,' whether it's a panic attack (or any other situation)." As Weatherley-Jones says, "You wouldn't run a marathon without training," so in the same way you have to train yourself to deal with your panic attacks in the long-term.
If you want to learn mindfulness, learn from a qualified teacher. Check here for a list of registered teachers.
My anti-anxiety pack
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Opening Image: Madewell