Anxiety is fast becoming a buzz word being heard more often than ever. With one in five Britons suffering from some form of anxiety, it’s no surprise that panic attacks and the physical symptoms that go along with them are becoming so common in this anxious age.
Your heart is pounding in your chest, you can feel your stomach swirl with nausea, the tips of your fingers tingle, your breathing becomes shallow and rushed, and you can feel a thumping behind your forehead. These are all common signs and symptoms of a panic attack. However, not all panic attacks are the same, and can include feelings such as the sense of unreality, the inability to communicate, slurred speech and sensitivity to light and sounds to name a few.
I remember my first panic attacks coming in the form of crippling nausea in my early teens. I remember thinking how something must be wrong with me since my stomach was constantly in knots and I spent many an exhausted night sat next to a toilet bowl, willing to throw up since I thought that was the only way to make myself feel better. It wasn’t until over 10 years later that I realised all those episodes were from anxiety. I still get the nausea to this day. If I’m going to panic about something, my stomach is always the first to react. Now though, I know myself and my body far better, and I no longer fret about the butterflies in my stomach. They’re just panicking with me.
There is limited medication in regards to treating anxiety, with beta blockers and antidepressants being the first port of call with your GP. However, I believe these should be approached as a last resort, since there are many ways you can be active in your approach to handling panic attacks that can be just as beneficial, if not more so.
Here are a few of my top tips for dealing with the panic. They’re simple, free and can be used anywhere.
I know, I know, I can hear the collective groan from here, but breathing techniques work. When your body goes into panic mode, what’s really happening is a version of fight or flight. By breaking the breathing pattern, you can reset your body out of the stress response. My favourite technique is as follows:-
1. Breathe in through your nose for 6 seconds
2. Hold that breath for 2 seconds
3. Breathe out for 4 seconds
And that’s it! Controlling your breathing is a valuable tool for dealing with panic attacks, since you can be breathing unhealthily without realising.
A great technique for ‘coming back to reality’ from a panic attack is grounding yourself. This allows someone to bring themselves into the present, and puts the focus on the here and now, regaining mental focus and overcoming overwhelming feelings. There are many ways you can do this, but the one I prefer to use is the Five Senses approach.
In the throes of a panic attack, try and bring yourself back with the following method:-
1. Find and describe to yourself (you can do this out loud or in your head) five things you can see right now.
2. Find and describe four things you can feel with your sense of touch.
3. Describe three sounds you can hear, or if it’s too quiet, describe three of your favourite sounds.
4. Describe two things you can smell around you, or describe your favourite smells.
5. Describe one thing you can taste right now, or if you could, would like to taste right now.
This technique brings you back to the physical world around you and can be a healthy distraction to the feelings of fear and anxiety that are gripping you.
Talking about your feelings when you’re in the eye of a panic attack storm can seem impossible, but it can be one of the best techniques to help you deal with your anxiety in the long run. By talking about your attacks, you can begin to understand the reasons behind them and start to tackle them in the long term. Anxiety held in has more power, so call someone, or message someone if you’re non-verbal, but definitely do reach out. If you don’t feel you can talk to a friend or member of your family, Mind.org have a great helpline with a team of support ready for your call. Call 0300 123 3393 or even text them at 86463
Lastly, but by no means least, your lifestyle choices can make a huge impact on your anxiety and panic attacks. Exercising regularly can be a great way to expel any pent up energy but also releases endorphins that will contribute to a happier, healthier headspace. Eating healthily and regularly, keeping hydrated and making sure you’re getting enough sleep all contribute positively to dealing with fear and overall making you a happier, healthier person.
But remember, you’re safe from harm, a panic attack can’t hurt you. The pain is temporary and the feelings will pass. I know that you are going to be okay.