Panic Attacks and How to Handle Them

I have read a lot about anxiety or panic attacks but none of it is comforting or leads me anywhere useful. Yes, I suppose it can stem from childhood traumas. Yes, it can seem to come from big changes in life or from particularly stressful situations. But a panic attack is more urgent than that. We need to know to handle an anxiety attack naturally and right in the middle of it.

For me, it does not matter how much childhood trauma I went through or even why it happens. The most important thing in my opinion is first and foremost to have true compassion for myself when an anxiety attack happens and secondly to have some tools to use.

Having true compassion for ourselves is tricky. It forces us to treat ourselves probably in a way that we never have. Usually, I find that in the middle of a panic attack we beat ourselves up. Usually, it immediately causes some form of self-denigration, some form of self-criticism which just makes matters worse. “Why can’t I get a grip”? Or “why can’t I handle things like other people do”? That’s a dead-end road.

First, let’s talk about the kind of anxiety I am referring to here so we can bound the problem in a more effective way. Then we can talk about how to handle the anxiety. It is said that some anxiety is good for us. It keeps us from being attacked by a bear or something. This is not the type of anxiety that I am talking about here.

The anxiety I am referring to is much less “reasonable.” It grips us in fear instantaneously and we have no idea what to do about it, why it is happening right now, and we can’t think clearly enough to reason ourselves out of it. It just is, happened out of the blue, and “holy shit I can’t even think straight right now”! BOOM. Like that.

The first thing we must do is make ourselves safe. If you are driving pull over. If you are around people get to a place where you can be alone in silence. Second thing is to breathe. Focus on your breath. This slows everything down and gives you the chance of having a clear thought. I haven’t found that trying to figure out why I am having a panic attack useful. We’ve just got to get the biological functions working on our behalf here.

Once we get the breath under control, cognitive functioning starts to return. Then we can start thinking our way out of it. We start feeling our fingers and toes again. Our mind starts working again. We are out of danger. We calm down. The worst is over.

This is when we can begin to be kind to ourselves like never before. Maybe something traumatic has not happened, but our body thinks it has! Treat yourself as if you just jumped out of a burning 2 story building, because that is how your body feels. Begin by allowing yourself to feel how your body feels. Tired. Burned out. Strange. And then start thinking thoughts like ‘I made it”. ‘I am okay”. ‘It’s over’.

Now. I encourage you to do something different. Anything. Watch birds. Take a bath. Give your wounded self a great big virtual hug. Do ANYTHING you can do be kind to yourself. Take a nap. Say no to the rest of your day. Tomorrow is another day and you not only survived, but you also learned how to handle this, and you are OKAY. This is a HUGE accomplishment!

Pat yourself on the back and know that if it happens again, you will know what to do.