By Kyra Lennon
For many people, panic attacks are a common occurrence. Sometimes, they happen because of an expected trigger – such as going to a crowded place, or having to speak to people you don’t know well – and sometimes, they sneak up out of nowhere. When it happens, it can be overwhelming and scary, but over the years, I have learned a few techniques to ease them, and to stay calm until they pass.
- Breathe. This might sounds like a strange piece of advice given that we are breathing all the time, but when a panic attack hits, one of the first things that can happen is an increase in heart rate, leading to a shortness of breath. That then triggers uneven breathing which makes the feeling of being out of control seem even harder to overcome. Square breathing is a technique used to help straighten out uneven breathing, and it’s so simple to do. First, breathe in for four seconds. Next, hold the breath for four seconds. Then, breathe out for four seconds. Finally, wait for four seconds, and repeat this exercise until you feel your breathing regulate again. This technique, plus the simple act of giving you something to focus on, will help the panic to subside.
- Wherever possible, try to make sure you always have a bottle of water with you. Panic attacks can cause your mouth to dry out, making it difficult to speak, and subsequently, to ask for some help if you need to. For that reason, having some water on hand is super helpful.
- Re-engage your senses. In a moment of panic, there is often a sensation of almost zoning out of the real world as the anxiety in your mind tries to take over. It can make you feel disconnected. When this happens, and you’ve followed the first two steps, ensure you re-connect with your surroundings. If you are with a friend, especially one who knows about your anxiety, reach out to them. Something as simple as asking to hold their hand for a few moments can be enough to remind you that you’re okay. If you’re alone, play a little game with yourself. “I’m going to look for five people wearing something red.” – for example, then scan the area and see what you can find. But keep it simple. Don’t try to re-engage all of your senses at once, as it might overwhelm you again. One thing at a time until it passes.
- Conjure a memory. When you’ve brought yourself back to the moment physically, a lot of times, a panic attack will still keep your mind a little bit stuck within the anxiety. Allow yourself some time to think about a favourite memory. It can be anything, as long as it’s a happy one. In doing so, you decrease the grip of the panic by reminding yourself that, even when you’re having a panic attack, you can still find those things that made you smile, and even use them to your advantage when you need them.
- Most importantly – be kind to yourself. During, and even in the time following a panic attack, you might find yourself giving yourself a hard time over it. Asking why panic attacks keep happening, and why you find it so hard to overcome them, and why won’t they just stop. Those thoughts, though, will undo the hard work you just did to get through the panic attack. Instead, give yourself a break. Congratulate yourself for what you just accomplished, and remind yourself that you won’t feel this way forever. Reward yourself by doing something you enjoy; watch your favourite movie, buy yourself a new book, listen to your favourite songs. Self-care is extremely important, so banish those questions and just take some you time.
That’s what helps me. Is it the same for you? Or is there something else that works for you? Get in touch with HATW to share some tips to help others out next time they experience a panic attack.