It’s easier said than done to not let your panic attacks control you but they do always pass and the symptoms are not a sign of anything harmful happening. The panic attack drill is a simple but very helpful because it gives us a sense of control over how we are feeling in the moment – “OK this is a panic attack, it’s caused by anxiety and I can ride this out”. Generally it is wiser to confront our fear rather than run away from it – because that gives us a chance to discover that nothing’s going to happen.
Having someone we can confide in (whether it’s to say I sometimes experience panic attacks, or I feel I’m about to have one) can be extremely comforting – although if we are in a workplace situation, it may be much better for us to disappear to the bathroom or to go out and get some fresh air.
The Panic Attack Drill
Step 1. Relax.
Relax by taking slow, deep, complete breaths. Calm yourself by remembering that you are only having a panic attack and that nothing more serious is happening to you. Slow deep breaths will relax your body, which is the first step to reversing the release of adrenaline.
Step 2. Stop Negative Thinking
Stop negative thinking by shouting the word “STOP!!!” really loud inside your head. This allows you to interrupt the emergency message that your brain is sending to your adrenal glands. Interrupting the endless loop of catastrophic thoughts gives you the opportunity to replace the scary message with a calming one.
Step 3. Replace with Coping Statements
A coping statement is a positive statement that is at least as strong as the catastrophic statement that you have been scaring yourself with. For example, if you think that you are having a heart attack (this is a very common fear during a panic attack) then you might be saying something in your head like, “Oh my God, I’m having a heart attack” or, “I can’t cope!” After you shout the word “STOP!” immediately replace the fear thought with a positive statement that helps you to cope with the situation, such as “I’m only having a panic attack, I know how to cope and it will be over in a few minutes if I relax” or very short and simply “I am fine, I can do this.”
Having the same positive statement each time can be very effective so do take time to consider what yours might be.
Step 4. Accept Your Feelings
Accepting your feelings is very important. Most panic attacks are caused by the emotion of fear or some variation of fear. Identify the emotion you are feeling and find the reason that you feel it.
Fear is a positive emotion that reminds you to take care of yourself. Listen to your feelings, take good care of yourself, and keep your emotions in proportion to the situation by keeping an appropriate perspective. This means we need to take the appropriate precautions such as having a regular check up so that we know that our heart is healthy, we walk in a well-lit areas and remain aware of our surroundings, we walk tall and confidently like a warrior and not like a victim. We manage our day to day stress levels as best we can and take time out when we feel overloaded. These are all important precautions to ensure our safety.
How panic attacks affect our behaviour
What can be so difficult is that there is little or no way of predicting when our next panic attack will occur. It might happen while we’re out and about, with friends or in the workplace. Once we have experienced one panic attack, we (unsurprisingly) often become frightened just thinking about our next impending attack. This dread of future attacks can become so powerful that we avoid places where we believe attacks will occur and create a safe zone, in which we try to limit our exposure to certain areas that we feel we will not have an attack.
A general strategy for recovering from panic attacks
- Make a list of situations which you want to stop avoiding
- Specify your initial goal
- Specify the steps you’ve decided on in order to achieve your goal
- Visualise the situation before going into it
- Allow the anxiety to build as much as you can tolerate and then start using the emergency drill above to reduce your fear.
Do things every day that you enjoy doing and that lower your levels of anxiety – gentle walking, listening to music or guided meditation CDs, being outdoors etc etc. Make sure you notice and really praise yourself for all your small successes and if you have a bad day, tell yourself “Ok that was a bad day, but overall I’m doing really well.
Book a counselling session today!
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
See also: Panic Attacks
How to Manage Intense Emotions