The Best Way to Stop Panic Attacks
I spent half of my life suffering with panic disorder. I know the cunning side of the irrational beast very well, and although I haven’t had a panic attack in years, I remember them all too well.
An ex-panic-attack sufferer can truly empathize with someone who lives their life waiting for the next attack; the anticipatory anxiety that constantly dictates their life. Living with fear day in day out is a true test for anyone. Many people learn to adapt their behavior and lifestyle to accommodate panic disorder, but they never feel happy with themselves or the world.
Panic disorder can affect every corner of your life causing other problems such as:
- General phobias / OCD
- Health anxiety
It is hard to describe a panic attack. Imagine you have just been told to jump out of an airplane without a parachute and you are scared of heights, and you might have a vague idea. Even though you can have several attacks a day, each one will feel just as bad as the one before. You don’t get used to feeling like you will pass out or die; you simply get to the other side and dread the next time.
For most people they will last around twenty five minutes, but sometimes it may feel like the symptoms are almost continuous, as you appear to leave one attack and enter another. I had them around the clock, so they affected my sleep and physical health too. I had all of the above offshoots with panic disorder and felt I had a mountain to climb if I was to recover. I didn’t think I ever would! First I had to rid myself of panic attacks and this article will describe to you what I did to eliminate them.
Understanding Panic Attacks
The first thing you must do is understand what is happening to you. There is no real threat but you have told yourself that there is. This relays from the brain and sets up the flight/fight response. The effects of this response are felt in all the symptoms that you feel such as:
- Palpitations/racing heart
- Dry mouth
- An urge to move around
- Intense feeling of impending doom
A panic attack will not kill you; it will make you feel dreadful but you will not die because of one. It just doesn’t happen and if it did I would have died thousands of times. Read as much as you can about the flight/fight response and its effects on your body. It is there to save you not kill you, and we have to be glad we have such a natural response in case we are ever in a genuinely dangerous situation. The difference here is that there is no real danger and you only have a perceived threat. A panic attack within the realms of panic disorder is a physical and emotional reaction to misplaced fear based on a highly anxious state.
Trusting the facts is half of the battle. A battle depicts a fight, and you will soon see how important fighting is in relation to panicking.
Once you truly believe that you understand what a panic attack is and accept that it will not cause fatality, move on to the next step of addressing the problem.
What Happens During a Panic Attack?
This is probably what you have been doing or feeling when a panic attack strikes:
- Tensing up
- Moving around a lot
- Wanting to find help
- Fighting the feelings
- Distracting yourself
- Adding fear
I did all of the above for years, but little did I know that those very behaviors were helping to keep the fear and thus the panic alive. All of these behaviors have to go!
There is no Tiger to Fight!
Fighting a Panic Attack
When we try to fight the panic away, the symptoms feel more pronounced. All our muscles become even tenser. (They were already tense to a degree. My coordination was way off, but I would run around like someone possessed when an attack hit me. This made my heart beat faster, my dizziness worse and so I would become more afraid of what was happening to me. Fighting a panic attack will only ever result in more awful sensations.)
Do Not Fight a Panic Attack
There is an urge to stop it all happening but you don’t know how to begin with this so you add confusion, and yet more fear into the equation.
What to do When a Panic Attack Starts
There are several things to do when the panic hits you or when you feel the first signs of it coming on.
Sit still – Find a place to sit quietly and slump into the seat. Try your level best to loosen all your muscles. Check where there is tension and release it. Sink down into that chair! You have been effectively trying to climb over a huge wave of fear but now it is time to go under it. Sink INTO the feelings of panic and do not tense away from it.
Tell yourself you will not add more fear – Tell yourself that you will allow anything and everything to be there without a fight. Close your eyes, concentrate on releasing the tension and allow the attack to happen. Resist the urge to get up. Accept that this will pass more quickly if you do not add more fear.
Breathe in slowly through the nose and out through the mouth – You will probably be taking shallow breaths, over-breathing or feel like you can’t breathe at all. We tend to gulp air in through our mouths when fearful, so breathe in slowly through the nose and out through the mouth. Make sure your tummy is rising with the inhale and falling back with the exhale. Don’t worry if you can only manage two or three breaths; practice will develop this better breathing.
Be patient – Don’t be tempted to give up on your first attempt at staying with panic. You are trying to cultivate a different approach. It may be that it takes several attempts at the above before you start seeing real results. You have learned some bad habits and these need to be broken.
It takes great courage to confront a panic attack head on, but only you can make that first step. The above lessened the intensity of my panic attacks but did not make them completely go away, so if you are still struggling, read on.
Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
What do you Fear?
What is your worst fear during a panic attack?
The Truth about Panic Attacks
Your attitude towards your panic disorder and your behavior surrounding it is all habit and laid down in memory. Sadly, we can’t simply shut memory off but we can overwrite memories or make new ones. We need to have success no matter how small when dealing with panic attacks, so that we can remember what that success feels like. Success breeds more success and brings hope and confidence. Up until now you will have been feeling defeated and negative. Time for change!
If I had a pound for every person I have dealt with who has given up at the first hurdle when squaring up to their fears, I would be a rich lady! You have to want to address your panic issue willingly, enthusiastically and with utter determination. Because you have acquired bad habits, avoidance issues and negative mind chatter, you will have to change and changing often doesn’t come easily. You need to stay resolute no matter what it all throws at you.
My Cure for Panic Attacks
There were days I awoke feeling panicky and thought I couldn’t take another day of it all, but with practice at not fighting the attacks, I had managed to slowly build up a positive inner voice; a voice of reason with a little increase in confidence. Still, the panic attacks would come but they seemed to last only half of the time they used to and died down quite quickly. I also took up mindfulness meditation and this had helped my general anxiety state greatly.
One day out of the blue I had a huge panic attack and it shocked me as I had made much progress. The shock of it brought out a huge anger in me that I didn’t know existed. I sat and I shouted! I shouted for it to kill me! I told “it” I didn’t care any more and I really meant it. What happened next will live with me until the day I die. The panic attack stopped very quickly and I was left with an enormous feeling of accomplishment. I felt totally in control and knew I had found the crucial answer.
We “care” too much about how we feel. We “care” that we may die, may faint, may go mad. I stopped caring and therefore my fear fizzled out. You can’t fear something you actively want. Try bringing on a panic attack and you will see what I mean. When you want one you can’t have one. Challenge your panic attack to kill you and I can assure you it won’t. Want it to do its worst to you, will it to. It doesn’t like that and has nowhere to go.
Years have gone by and I have never had another panic attack. I worked on my general anxiety state after that day too, increasing my meditation and looked at how I handled stress generally. I don’t expect to have another out of the blue panic attack, but if I did I do not fear it as I know exactly what I have to do. I spent many years looking for a cure and bought into programs and therapy, but the answer was inside me all the time. With bravado and sheer determination anyone can cure their panic attacks.