I am very familiar with the often sudden onset and descent into panic. Along with migraines they were a common theme of my late 20’s and early 30’s.
My Panic Attacks have become increasingly infrequent though – from weekly, with daily migraines, to 1 or 2 a year. I can usually track those that do occur to my diet or specific mental or physical stress’. The reason for the decline? Better control of those exacerbating factors. I use mindfulness and self-hypnosis as well practicing what I preach when it comes to positivity. I’ve also found a fulfilling career that keeps me learning and meeting people with incredible journeys of their own that keeps me on my toes.
Have you ever experienced a Panic Attack?
In my experience and from talking to clients Panic Attacks, whilst sometimes linked to a specific event, can often seem to come from nowhere. There is a very real sense of dread and fear that can become a vicious cycle and very little control over your thoughts often leading to a feeling of depersonalisation, as though the event is being witnessed by an observer.
The NHS describes a panic attack (panic disorder) as including the symptoms:
- a sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations)
- hot flushes
- shortness of breath
- a choking sensation
- chest pain
- feeling faint
- numbness or pins and needles
- dry mouth
- a need to go to the toilet
- ringing in your ears
- a feeling of dread or a fear of dying
- a churning stomach
- a tingling sensation in your fingers
Panic attacks usually last around 20 minutes (but can repeat for upto an hour) and whilst they inhabit the present moment in its entirety it’s important to note that they don’t cause any physical harm.
So what can we do about them?
I recently came across an article in ‘Psychology Today’ by Linda Walter, a psychotherapist with more than 25 years of experience. She did a great job of putting into words (and a helpful acronym) some of the techniques I had come to myself over the years.
‘The best thing you can do for a panic attack is to R.I.D.E. the wave of panic into shore where it will end.’
In her own words:
“Let’s break down the steps involved in RIDING the wave or dealing with panic:
Recognize, Involve, Distract & End
When having a panic attack, here is what I’d like you to try:
1) Recognize and accept that you’re feeling anxious.
2) Once you’re feeling anxious, immediately Involve yourself in your surroundings. Look around, pay attention to what’s going on around you. Notice who’s there, what people are saying, what the environment looks like.
3) Then I’d like you to Distract yourself. Talk to someone and really pay attention to the conversation, sing a song, read a magazine, or watch television. Try to become active in what you do, in other words, if you read a magazine, say the words aloud to yourself. The goal is to focus on something other than the panicky feelings you’re experiencing.
4) When you are able to distract yourself away from your feelings, the panic will End by itself, without a struggle.
These steps are something you are going to have to practice, get used to and comfortable with. Please be patient with yourself.”
This technique might not rid you of panic but can help to shorten or even ‘downgrade’ the attack and help your recovery time.
If you’re new to the experience of Panic Attacks or have been having them for some time please remember that you’re are not alone.
I found that I had to try various techniques before I found a handful that ‘fit’ with my lifestyle and that I put stock in. The mind is also pretty sophisticated (obvs) and so sometimes what works for a while may need tweaking or even replacing. There are plenty of great forums and organisations a Google away that can help give you techniques and help.
https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/ of which I am a registered Hypnotherapist.
It’s also important that you see your GP to ensure that they can help you find the best course of action and ensure that your symptoms are placed in a wider health context.
Linda Walter, L.C.S.W., is a psychotherapist with more than 25 years of experience. Her private practice is located in NYC and Westchester, NY.