You’re in a situation and your body goes into the familiar fight or flight mode. It could be a response to anything distressing, in past I’ve had to deal with them on theme park rides, on the bus, even just in the middle of the night when you can’t get to sleep. Panic attacks and anxiety happen in around 1 in 6 people, so it’s a pretty normal condition, never feel alone.
Your heart beats faster, your palms go all sweaty, you can start hyperventilating – those are the most common of symptoms. Lesser known symptoms include becoming really quiet, trembling, nausea, feeling like you’re choking, tingling, the list is endless and differs from person to person. The average panic attack lasts anywhere between 5 to 20 minutes. But, don’t worry, it’s just your body’s response to a moment of intense stress or perceived danger. And who said mental illness isn’t a physical problem?!
There are hundreds of different ways to cope with panic attacks when they strike, but here’s four that really help me (and people that I’ve spoken to):
- Using your left index finger, physically make a triangle in the air. It doesn’t have to be a big elaborate thing, but focus on your finger. Breathe in for as long as you feel comfortable whilst making one side of the triangle, hold whilst making the bottom and then breathe out whilst making the final side. Repeat. You may find that the first few are very quick, but as you repeat the process challenge yourself to make the triangle last longer. Focussing on something physically will distract your mind and allow you to calm down.
- Listen to a slow song and breathe in time to the music. I’m not saying you need to listen to My Heart Will Go On… but a song that you like that’s relatively slow. Personal favourites include: Angels by the XX, Lovely Day by Alt-J and Perfect Day by Lou Reed. It again gives you something else to focus on, yet isn’t a physical act so is perfect in public places.
- If you prefer something very physical, then do 20 star jumps. Your heart rate whilst having a panic attack is already elevated but is rushing straight to the lungs and brain, so doing this will send this surge of blood around the body, in turn making you feel less dizzy and nauseated.
- Finally, I found that breathing in time to this gif can really make all the difference.
Self-care and proper counselling are the best things to really help you overcome your anxiety and panic attacks. Within counselling sessions, you can learn techniques to really relax and can help you to talk through issues surrounding your mental illness. Your GP should be able to inform you of services in your area. In the meantime, I have a post all about ‘Self Care for Mental Illness’ which you can find here.
**If you or your loved one’s condition is critical, suicidal, or just very worrying, please call 999. You can also contact the Samaritans on 08457 909090 24 hours a day or Mind‘s infoline on 0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri 9am-6pm)**