4 steps to feel better right now
I go through the days careful to smile so no one knows that just below the surface I’m losing my mind. I’m doing my best to hold it all together but at any given moment it feels like the whole thing could unravel. It’s not an existence I’m fond of. Despite my feelings on the matter, the truth is that I’m not alone. The number of people who have panic attacks is estimated to be 6 million according to WebMD. While panic attacks do not necessarily mean that you also suffer from anxiety, the two are so comorbid that they are commonly interchanged. If you are one of these people then these 4 steps can offer help for panic attacks and anxiety.
The go to treatment for diseases of the mind, and let’s be real that’s totally what’s happening here, is counseling. It’s no different then any other illness, panic attacks and anxiety are merely symptoms of bigger issue. You wouldn’t say the you have sneezing, you would say that you have a cold because that’s what’s causing it. You basically have to muddle your way through the cacophony of traumatic crap you have/ are living through to figure out what started it all. It’s one of those things where it’s worse before it’s better. Sorry about the bed news. Take the medicine, go to therapy, do the work, end of story.
Steps and Strategies
In the meantime, I’m going to give you some quick suggestions on how to deal. These are relatively simple things when you read them but trust when I say that you aren’t going to remember them in the heat of the moment so write them on a sticky to carry. Better yet, find someone you trust to support you through this and go tell/teach them these strategies to go through with you when it happens. This way all you have to remember is “Go find so and so”.
Step 1: Close Your Eyes. If the world is spinning around you then looking at it isn’t going to help right now.
Step 2: Take deep slow breaths. Hyperventilating is your biggest enemy right now so pretend you are blowing up a balloon. All the air out, and then all the air in. Slowly and methodically. This is the whole idea behind the paper bag but honestly I find them annoying and unhelpful so you might just stick to the imaginary balloon.
Step 3: Remember that you will survive. The most overwhelming part of the attacks for me is the absolute certainty that I’m about to die. It’s seriously the hardest thing to convince yourself that you are fine and to sit in a chair when you think you should be on stretcher. Since hopefully you are with someone you trust, then try to remember that they aren’t going to let you die. If they see you turning blue, fainting, or anything that isn’t panic then they will call 911. It should all end within 10 minutes. Look at a clock, tell yourself that you if you aren’t better by then you can worry.
Step 4: Do something calming. It doesn’t have to be a big elaborate routine, you aren’t going to go hop in a bubble bath right now. I have a few simple suggestions that have made a difference for me but it might take awhile for you to find your thing.
Panic Attack Suggestions
- Have your person talk to you about one of your favorite memories together. I’m totally type A so they occasionally change around details that I have to correct. This keeps me focused on the image/story and in that happy place. Bonus points if they can make me laugh.
- Muscle relaxation techniques that require intense focus. Start at your toes, curl them and uncurl them several times. Push your heels into the floor, release, then do it again. Squeeze your knees together, let go, do again. Tighten your thighs, release, repeat. Suck on your stomach, get skinny as you can, let it go to full jelly roll, then hot guy walks in so you suck it back up. Slouch your shoulders all the way forward, grandma yells at you for posture, then she leaves the room. Pull your arms to your sides like you are trying to fit through a small doorway, let go, then go through the next small door. Make a fist and let go. You can even curl and I curl each finger if you need too.
- Find a focus object. Pick something in the space or in your mind and try to describe it to an alien. A full extra terrestrial who has never seen or heard of it before. You’re going to have to be extra detailed and specific.
- Put the lotion on the skin. I keep a bottle of my favorite lotion on hand and I seriously massage the heck out of my hands, arms, legs, and feet. In a really anxious week, my skin glows. I think about the smell, the texture, and how tight or lightly I squeeze my appendage or rub the lotion in. Sure it may seem weird but if you don’t have a person to talk with it’s an easy go to.
- 5-4-3-2-1. The premise of this is to focus again on your senses. You list off 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you smell, and 1 that you taste.
- Sobriety test. The whole idea of why an officer makes a person do a sobriety test is that is requires lots of focus and thought, things that are difficult when you are 3 sheets to the wind. Go through a full sobriety test: say the alphabet backwards, touch your nose, walk a straight line. If anyone says something about it, tell them your practicing.
While these may help in the moment of a panic attack, the best option is prevention (insert eye roll cause duh, would if I could). What I mean is finding ways to cope with your anxiety. This means stress relief. Check out my post on Self Care for Busy Women. Our bodies are only able to take so much before they blow like a tea kettle so figure out your self care to release some of the pressure. If you need a visual, Google pressure cooker fires. Just saying. Don’t let that be you.
This sucks right now in all the worst ways but you will survive this. It’s a kind of hell to feel like a prisoner of your own mind, you can take control back though. Someday you will look back on all this as a bad memory but for now, just take a deep breath, and get through today. I believe in you.