Thursday, 12 January 2017

Stop panic attacks in their tracks

New year, new chance to finally rid yourself from the pain that is panic attacks.

Whilst I'm not one for creating resolutions, see my post here about getting back to me in 2017, panic attacks are something I think we'd all like to have more control over and more knowledge about. New year or not, my goal is to get more a hold over on my panic attacks and anxiety.

So here's a few techniques which help me stop panic attacks in their tracks.... And as I keep reminding myself of these technique and using them on a daily basis (even when I am not anxious), slowly and surely I feel like I'm gaining some control back.

Recognise your triggers

OK, so this one doesn't really stop a panic attack in it's tracks BUT, it is technique which I can't emphasise enough, that you must do and is at the start of this whole process.

If you recognise a list of possible triggers for your anxiety and panic attacks, you can rationalise them a lot more easily. You can take yourself out of that situation if a panic attacks arises (i.e. if you're in a confined space and you know that causes a panic attack - you can move out of the space). You can prepare for a situation (i.e. a trigger may be going on a train). Recognising your triggers just makes things a lot easier.

A great example is when I had to catch a train up to London for work. This was always a major trigger for me - being in London, being on a train, being at a train station, all sent gushes of anxiety and panic over my entire body.

I knew a week in advance I'd have to be going, but also that I'd be travelling back ON MY OWN. So I worked hard for that week, practising some techniques (which I will talk about below) and rationalising the trigger. I wrote down in a journal "What's the worst thing that can happen?" "How likely is this to happen?" and so on.

And guess what. I didn't have a panic attack. Of course I was anxious. And kept ringing my dad and Chris all the way home. And my brother met me where my work colleagues would be leaving me and walked me back to train station. But, none of that matters. I faced a big trigger and I count it as being pretty damn successful (This was around the time of Bonfire night and when I stepped outside the car when I arrived home, a firework went off - if that's not a celebration of my success I don't know what is!) And even though it took me years to get to this point, it was totally worth it.

BUT WAIT, I hear what you're saying, sometimes panic attacks come on for absolutely no reason at all, so how do you recognise those ones? Now, I will say, there usually always IS a trigger, but sometimes I understand it is hard to find it. So, my next theory is...

Usually you will feel some symptoms BEFORE the panic attack arises - i.e. chest pains, trembling, nervousness, feeling fidgety etc. (all symptoms of anxiety) - this is enough to be a trigger. As soon as you feel those symptoms, start with the following techniques.

Practice breathing techniques

This is where I preach mindfulness and meditation AGAIN. But honestly, they are literal life savers so don't click off just yet.

I first started practising mindfulness and meditation when I was in hospital. I since have taken up Yoga and Pilates (where I use similar breathing techniques) and picked up some new mindfulness techniques.

An overview of the breathing techniques I use when meditating, practising Yoga or Pilates or when I feel a panic attack coming on (or during one) are:
  • Breath in through your nose, to the count of eight
  • Breath out through your mouth, to the count of eight
  • Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing
  • Sometimes, cupping your hands over your nose and mouth helps when you are having a panic attack 

If you're into pilates, yoga, running, swimming, football - anything - you may be familiar with similar breathing techniques. For example, in Pilates you have to hold a pose and inhale, release and exhale. Try and tune into those techniques you use. And if you're really looking to perfect your breathing, adding meditation into your daily routine is the best thing you can do.

Whether you spend 5 minutes or 30 minutes meditating, it relaxes your mind, reduces your anxieties and really hones in on those breathing techniques, which are oh so crucial when you're in full-blown panic mode OR when you feel one coming on.

So how do you use this during a panic attack?

Basically, when I feel a panic attack coming - the fear, the racing heart, pain in your chest, just before you lose your breath - try and hone into these breathing techniques. And incorporate mindfulness into this too.

Focus on what is going on in your body and your breathing - inhaling to the count of 8 and exhaling to the count of 8, cupping your hands over your nose and mouth. If possible, you can also focus on what's around you - the sounds of the birds in the distance, the trees moving in the wind... Once you get that technique down to a T, it'll make coping with panic attacks far more manageable.

Keep your mind ticking

Another great technique for when you are having a panic attack, which is similar to mindfulness, is keeping your mind ticking. If someone is with you, get them to talk to you. It could be about the weather, a television programme (like my mum does, talking about the bloody soaps with me!), the news. It'll help take your mind off of the fact that you are panicking and you'll soon forget what you're panicking about and your breathing will return back to normal.

If you are alone, don't panic, mindfulness is here to help. It's a little harder, but if you practice techniques like the A-Z game, then you'll be able to more easily pick up this technique and start thinking about something else other than your panic attack.

The "panic" will get bored and before you know, you're back to NOT panicking.


I spoke about this a bit earlier in my example, but it's a great technique to do BEFORE and DURING a panic attack. Things you can do to rationalise the "panic" are:
  • Ask yourself questions like: "What's the worst thing that is going to happen?" "How likely is that to happen?"
  • Use positive affirmations ("You are enough, you are so enough. It's unbelievable how enough you are" is a favourite of mine) 
  • Write your fears/triggers down in a journal and look at each one logically and rationally (before a panic attack obviously) 

Accept that you're having a panic attack

No you're not dying (although you probably feel like you are), you're having a panic attack. Accepting this can really lessen it's affect. This is going to sound a bit silly, but don't 'panic' because you're having a "panic attack". Remember who's in control here. It's your body, your mind - you're in control of it, even though it may feel like you aren't. So when you're having a panic attack - accept it. You're just having a panic attack, it'll be over soon and everything will be okay.

One way to feel like you are in control and to accept you are having a panic attack is to familiarise yourself with the symptoms of a panic attack. That way, when you feel one coming on or are experiencing one, you can accept it and take the appropriate action to overcome it (i.e practising mindfulness, removing yourself from the situation etc.) See my recent post discussing what panic attacks are and common symptoms here.

Practice, practice, practice!

When I first saw a counsellor about my panic attacks and she told me all these useful techniques, I simply responded with, "That's great but how am I going to do all this when I'm having a panic attack. I'll just forget everything!" And her answer? Practice.

Practice your breathing exercises every day. Meditate daily or a few times a week. Exercise regularly. Practice mindfulness (it can be a fun thing to do when you're stuck in traffic with your friends!). Keep a journal of your triggers. Rationalise your fears.

Basically practice of all these techniques I have noted here when you are in your BEST frame of mind, otherwise, panic attack will hit and you will likely have no idea what to do. Make these techniques part of your daily habits, then when you feel a panic attack arising or you in mid-panic, it'll be easier to pick up these techniques and STOP THAT PANIC ATTACK (or lessen it's affect or duration) .

Do you have any techniques you'd like to share?

Comment below or send me a tweet!

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