In my life there hasn’t been a year in which a panic attack has not occurred. There hasn’t been a week; for truth be known panic and I have been the best of friends and the worst of friends. Some of my earliest memories are of the many panic attacks I witnessed my mother having. You see I grew up with a mother who was afflicted with panic attacks. So when I myself started experiencing them I was well equipped with what works well and what does not work at all.
When a person has a panic attack the symptoms themselves can be frightening. I remember my mother many times thinking that she was having a heart attack for she had all the symptoms. It was only fear though. Fear causes panic. Panic causes an adrenalin rush and the release of endorphins like dopamine which can really mess with how you feel. It is the fight or flight scenario. The heart races, the chest tightens, breathing is affected, the stomach cramps, dizziness occurs, and next thing you know you think you are going to faint. So then what should you do… panic like my mother did? No! Instead do what I do. I take a slow deep breath and I tell myself that it is just a panic attack and that I will be okay. Instead of running for the door or passing out I just sit quietly. I calmly think about what it was that triggered the panic attack. Was it something some one said, or someone I saw? Was it a smell or a taste or a sound. As I am thinking about the root cause I focus on something in my surroundings that is not triggering, like a painting or a plant. I ground myself to the here and now by running my hand along something with texture, like the fabric in an arm of a chair. Soon my heart rate decreases, my breathing returns to normal and I am no longer feeling like I am going to pass out.
There are many things one can try to do for overcoming a panic attack. You must experiment with different things and come up with something that works for you. The positive self talk works for me as does the grounding technique listed above. I try to think of something pleasant that has no triggers attached, like a beautiful flower or my favorite place.
If you can’t catch your breath and are hyperventilating then a brown paper bag to breath into works wonders. I’ve never used this. I don’t tend to hyperventilate. I have witnessed people who do though and I’ve seen the help a paper bag can give.
Ultimately it is the individual who must overcome their fear. The best way to overcome fear is to find its source and dissolve its power. That is why when I have a panic attack I try to figure out what the trigger was. If I know the trigger then I can either avoid it or prepare for facing it.
It always helps to meet someone worse off. Perhaps that is why I like to watch the TV show of “Monk” for he has many fears and watching him in his panic attacks helps me feel that my life is not so bad.