One of the side effects of my anxiety is being prone to panic attacks. They don’t happen very often but when they do, they take a lot out of me. Last week, I had my first panic attack in almost 2 years and it took all of my inner strength not to let myself carry on with the negative thoughts that would take me into a dark place.
There are two different types of attacks, one is an anxiety attack and one is a panic attack. When you have anxiety, you’re more likely to have one or the other.
Panic attacks are sudden, intense & overwhelming. They are accompanied by frightening physical symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath or nausea. Unexpected panic attacks happen without an obvious cause whereas expected panic attacks are cued by stressors such as phobias.
HealthLine categorises symptoms and arranges then into anxiety or panic attacks as follows.
I have always been good at disguising my anxiety but when a panic attack strikes, it is impossible to. When I have a panic attack, I feel tightness in my chest, I can’t breathe to the point where I’m inhaling & exhaling loudly and quickly, my legs start shaking, I can convulse, my arms & hands shake, I feel like I need to be sick and sometimes I cry uncontrollably.
All rationality and logic goes out of the window & there is no control. Last week a dog jumped out at me unexpectedly and wouldn’t stop jumping up on me. I have been scared of dogs for as long as I can remember and this particular instance triggered a panic attack (including the crying). The dog was being playful, it’s tail was wagging and it wasn’t being aggressive however the shock mixed with my fear couldn’t talk myself out of the panic.
A girl who I live with saw that I was panicking so came over and distracted the dog so that I could go away. I waked to my room with shaking legs, crying, still unable to breathe properly. It took about 15/20 minutes for my breathing to slow down & then a further 20 minutes for my heartbeat to go back to normal. It was the first panic attack I had had in 2 years.
What To Do
There is no sure fire way to get yourself out of a panic attack once it’s happening. The inability to breathe takes over your ability to think reasonably. The more you try & breathe normally, the more you panic about not being able to breathe. Instead, you have to try and recognise the early signs of a panic attack and try and calm yourself down before it escalates. This will be easier in certain situations over others.
If you find yourself alone during a panic attack then try and focus on your senses. In your mind, pick out 5 things that you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste and you can start to distract yourself. As soon as you can breathe again, message someone telling them what has happened.
It is cathartic to write/type what has happened and I find it helps me to see whether or not the panic attack was triggered or not. Mine last week was triggered by the dog but sometimes they appear to be overreactions. They are not. They are a build up of stresses and emotions that you have been holding in and it is your body’s way of releasing the tension.
This was written as part of Mental Health Monday where people share their stories on the first Monday of each month.