No, you are not dying, but boy, it sure feels for all the world like you are. Extreme disorientation, shortness of breath, nausea, shaking, lightheadness, and oh yeah, the overwhelming feeling that death is imminent; these are all symptoms of panic attacks. You are rendered helpless by the terror that seizes your mind, your body… or maybe not.
My first panic attack struck two days after my 21st birthday- not exactly how I envisioned celebrating that milestone. I would go on to struggle with anxiety issues for the next ten years, although that first year was by far the worst. A seemingly endless parade of doctors, exams, scans, and tests was unable to pinpoint any reason for the onset of these attacks. Worse, there didn’t seem to be any solution. Medicines only made me super drowsy, and that wasn’t really a viable option if I happened to have an attack away from my home (which was almost always). Eventually, I resorted to just really, really, really wishing they’d just go away. And, no, that did not work.
So how did I overcome the attacks? Through some trial and error, I discovered that what I needed to do was to take back the control. Sounds crazy, right? The last thing you feel during a panic attack is any sense of control. But you really are. Next time a panic attack attacks, try these four tricks to relieve the symptoms.
1) Shock your way out: Put your face in a bowl of icy cold water. Granted this one probably only works if you’re at home, but it’s worth a try. Your body and mind will be focused on the freezing cold water, essentially doing an override on the panic attack.
2) Repeat a mantra: Pick a meaningful phrase or a movie quote or song lyric and say it to yourself over and over again. Your body may still be experiencing the symptoms of the attack, but your mind will be focused on the words you are saying.
3) Blast some music: Have a go-to song preselected on your MP3 or phone. When you feel an attack coming on, plug in your headphones and turn the volume on high.
4) Focus on your muscles: Tighten your muscles beginning with your toes and moving up towards your head. Have a routine already memorized of what muscles you will tighten and in what order. Hold each squeeze for five seconds.
With any of these tricks, the idea is to allow the panic attack to happen, but take back control of the situation by forcing yourself to concentrate on something else. It will be difficult at first, and you will probably curse me a fool. Just play around with these ideas; tweak them to fit your life and personality.
You may be surprised at how much control you really do have during a panic attack. I know I sure was.