I haven’t told you all yet, but I go to LA in 4 weeks for the fun tourist/Disneyland/Universal experience. I am beyond excited. My friends and I had decided to try for tickets to see an episode of the Big Bang Theory being filmed. As I am sure you can imagine, the tickets are like gold dust. So I stupidly volunteered to get them for us. So two days ago, there I am sitting at my laptop watching the clock ticking down to sale time. The next 15 minutes unfolds like this…
The clock ticks.
Search for website.
Time getting closer.
Website won’t load.
Sale time gets closer.
Website won’t load.
Sale time arrives.
Chest starts to tighten.
Hot flush starts.
Hands start to shake.
Palms become sweaty.
The end result is I am hyperventilating, crying, full blown panic attack.
I know a lot of you reading this will know exactly what it feels like. Like someone pushing down on your chest, stopping you from breathing. Like everything is closing in around you, sucking you in. Like everyone is staring at you.
But you are not alone. Apparently, over 15 million people in the US alone suffer from panic attacks. That is nearly 5% of the whole country. Yet you feel so alone when it is happening. I know, because I feel it too. You want someone to help you, but that feeling is equal to the horrible embarrassment of making a fuss or a fool of yourself. I never know what to do for the best!
My first panic attack was when I was 18. I was walking to university one morning quickly because I was late. When I got there, I was suitably out of breath but didn’t think much of it because I had practically ran there. I was stressing about being late because it was an important day, we were getting a breakdown of the yearlong project we had to complete. As the morning went on, and the work load piled up, the shortness of breath came back, a pain in my chest started and I went very hot and shaky. I covered my eyes with my hands, trying to block out the world and all the homework that I was expected to do. Luckily, class had halted for a break and the girl I was sitting next to could see I was shaking and struggling to breath and helped to calm me down. She said that I needed to concentrate on taking deep breaths otherwise I was going to pass out. The thought of passing out panicked me more but I knew she was only trying to help 🙂
After I had calmed down, she then explained that she had panic attacks sometimes and she described how it felt, which turned out to be exactly what I had been feeling that morning. I was freaking out about starting university, the jump from college to university was a lot harder than I had anticipated, and then the worry of being late and the seemingly impossible task of completing this project had just tipped me over the edge.
Fast forward to 27 year old me and I still get stressed out to the max, but I don’t have panic attacks anywhere near as often. I feel equipped to share with you a very rough guide of how to cope with panic attacks. Please don’t take this as law, or as a substitute for proper medical advice, I am no doctor, just a friend who wants to help!
Step 1: Know your signs.
Make a mental note of what happens to you when a panic attack is starting. It may be a pain somewhere, or a hot flush, or shortness of breath. If you know what signs to look for, you can learn to stop the panic attack in its early stages.
Step 2: Come out of the situation.
You should probably try and remove yourself from the situation that is stressing you. I know this may not always possible but finding somewhere quiet and in the fresh air will instantly make you feel calmer.
Step 3: Concentrate on your breathing.
There is conflicting information out there about how to do this, some say breathe into a paper bag, some say don’t, some say breathe through your nose, some say in through your mouth. Remembering that I am not a doctor, I can only say what works for me:
I sit down, and breathe in through my nose while counting to 5, and then breathe out through my mouth while counting to five. If I am really struggling, I will start by counting to 3, then 4, then 5. Once I am in control of my breathing (this sometimes takes a while), I will breathe in for 5 counts and then hold my breath for 3 counts, then breathe out for 5 counts. This helps to slow your heart rate down.
Step 4: Remember that YOU ARE IN CONTROL
It is in capitals because it is important! Easier said than done I know, but you need to tell yourself that you are in control of your life, your body, and your situation. The panic attack is your mind saying, ‘Stop overloading me, I can’t cope!’ so you need to tell yourself that you can. You are calm, you are relaxed, you are in control. Chant it over and over to yourself. Say it loud and say it proud. You control the panic attack, it doesn’t control you. This is the hardest thing to do, because you are having to find strength within yourself when you are at your weakest, but it needs to be done. You are in control, and don’t ever forget that. You can do this.
Step 5: Tell someone.
The hardest part of coping with panic attacks is coping on your own. Find someone you trust, be it a parent, a teacher, a best friend, a librarian or an astronaut, whoever, just someone you can talk to about it. Tell them that you are having panic attacks and what happens to you when you get them. Tell them what signs they need to look out for and how you want them to help you when it is happening.
For example, telling your friend that when you grip her arm, it is code for ‘get me the hell out of here!’ My friend always told me to ask to be excused and go to the toilet if class was stressing me out. I didn’t particularly like the thought of sitting in a confined space when I was freaking out, so I would sneak out to a bench at the front of the building and sit there for a few minutes.
It would really be best to share how you feel with an adult. There is lots of info about panic attacks online that you both can read up on. There are charities whose aim is to distribute helpful advice for people who have panic attacks. I tell my mum everything, and this was no different. Doctors also have some good advice about easing panic attacks, both medical and psychological. Meditation CDs are a good one. I was sceptical at first but after many listens to this CD (bought off Amazon) I found that I could relax myself by remembering what the CD said, which was so helpful when I was out and about and wasn’t able to sit and listen to it. This is the one I bought but there are loads out there to try. Youtube is a good place to have a listen too.
In recent weeks, I have also started seeing a Hypnotherapist about my panic attacks. I met Julie at a business networking session and she talked so passionately about how hypnotherapy could help a variety of problems, I thought I would give it a go. I struggle with flying so going to America is going to be an issue so I decided to give hypnotherapy a go. I cannot tell you how much it has changed my life. With Julie’s help, I have confronted the issues that lead me to having panic attacks, and some issues that I didn’t realise I was still clinging on to. Julie has taught me some techniques to try when I can feel a panic attack coming on and some words to say to myself to keep me calm. The test will definitely be in a few weeks when I step on to that aeroplane and I will report back when I return!
I really hope that you find this post useful. Like I say, I am no medical professional, so I can only offer you what I have found helpful. If you are suffering with them at the moment, this does not mean you will have them for your whole life. If you have found any more techniques that you think panic attack suffers should know then leave them in the comments. How do you cope with your panic attacks? What strategies do find most effective? The more we talk about it, the more we can help overcome them.
And for those of you wondering, I got the Big Bang filming tickets in the end!