I've struggled with panic and anxiety for a long time in my life. The first memory I have of feeling a lot of anxiety was when I was 12 years old. My parents had bought their first ever fire alarm and I was terrified that the alarm would go off and that there would be a fire. I can remember having sleepless nights because of it. This pattern kept returning every few years, but for different reasons. Until last year, when I got actual panic attacks and got physical problems because of it.
I haven't had a panic attack for a year now and in this blog I will tell you how I heal myself when I feel anxiety coming up.
What is a panic attack?
Panic attacks are very diverse. It is a moment in which you experience physical issues that don't always have to be defined as a panic attack. All of the panic attacks that I've had weren't very clearly an attack. I just started feeling certain symptoms that made me feel weak and different. The symptoms I experienced were breathing very high and shallow, having widened pupils, feeling weak, feeling dizzy like I'm about to faint but not fainting, heart palpitations and perspiring. One of the panic attacks occurred when I was in a theme park. The woman from the first aid didn't recognize it as a panic attack, but she thought I might be pregnant, because all of the symptoms from above an occur during an early pregnancy. It was only when I visited the doctor that it was clear that I had panic attacks and that I had been crossing my boundaries immensely.
When do panic attacks occur?
When I had panic attacks, they occurred at moments in public places. It were moments in which I felt like I couldn't leave the room if I had to. One panic attack was at a concert, one was at a symposium in a theme park and one was during a dinner with my colleagues. All these places were crowded with people, low in oxygen and I couldn't just leave without people noticing. It was as if I lost control and my body responded like this. There is always an underlying cause of panic attacks. For me there were a few causes. I had been very stressed because I was working 2 jobs, finishing my dissertation at university and I put way too much pressure on myself. My body just said stop. It just stopped functioning and gave me these warning signals not to carry on like I did. Getting a panic attack, for me, was a gift. My body told me that I had to stop, it gave me a warning. My body could have also just completely stopped working and it could have given me a full blown burn out, but it didn't. I'm very grateful for that.
How to heal anxiety and panic when it happens?
What you should NEVER do, is not do things anymore because you're afraid the panic might come back. It's better to find ways to stop the panic when it happens.
It's important not to fall in to the spiral of panic, because when you fall in to it, it's hard to come out of it.
The one thing that helps me immensely when I feel the feeling coming up is saying this one sentence to myself: 'This feeling will go away again'. And it's true. This too shall pass. Nothing ever stays, no feeling ever stays either. I almost immediately feel the panic reduce or even disappear.
I distract myself. When I went through this period of panic and anxiety, I straight away turned my attention to the series Friends. They were seriously my friends during this time. Watching this made me feel light and happy again. It was easy to watch and there was so much humor. It took my attention off the panic.
Don't focus on the panic, because what you give attention to, grows. Like I said before, pay attention to something else, like reading a book or watching a movie.
Remind yourself, that even if you're in a situation where you feel you can't leave, you can always leave! You don't have to stay in a room just because you're afraid of what people might think of you. If you need fresh air, get fresh air! You can always leave, you never have to stay.
Do breathing exercises. What is important to know, that when you feel breathless and on the verge of hyperventilating, you are probably breathing in too much oxygen, even if you feel like you're getting too little oxygen. Try to regulate your breath and ground yourself.
How to stop getting panic attacks
There are multiple things you can do in your daily life to stop getting panic attacks.
Don't put too much pressure on yourself. For me, getting those attacks had to do with overwhelm and a loss of control. There were too many things going on in my life and my body just put me to a halt. Make time for self care and give yourself some rest and peace. You deserve that. Don't be a perfectionist. It's not good for you.
Get professional help. Whether that is going to a psychologist or to your GP, it's important to talk about this with someone who can help you professionally.
Meditate. Meditation and mindfulness have literally pulled me through this period. Don't know how to meditate? Check out my blog about meditation here.
Go in to nature. Hiking and being in nature is so calm and soothing. This really helped me get over my anxiety.
Exercise. When you exercise you create endorphins which are the happy hormones! Don't push yourself too far. Just do something that makes you happy.
Take a bath or take a shower. That is always relaxing!
Go to the spa and sauna for a day. That is the ultimate way to relax.
Do things that soothe you. Whether that's reading a book or dancing, go and do what soothes you.
BE MINDFUL. Live in the now. There is no use in living in the future with your mind, it will only stress you out. Check out my blog about living mindfully here.
I hope you feel better soon!