What should you do during and between panic attacks?
MY FIRST PANIC ATTACK IN 23 YEARS In February this year my dear blog reader, I had my first full blown panic attack for over two decades. Sitting on my living room sofa with my young son, I suddenly began to feel that insidious creeping feeling of unease, followed by chest clanging palpitations and then out and out panic running rampant in my adrenaline saturated body. I simply didn’t know where to put myself. Telling my husband that I’d have to go upstairs and lie down, knowing that I felt so agitated that this would be an impossible pursuit, I paced between our upstairs bedrooms. At one point the whole of my body felt numb - a symptom that freaked me the hell out, as I’d never experienced this symptom years ago. LIKELY CAUSES At the time it was lockdown #3 and I was glued to a screen for intense periods with little break, working part-time in education. The boundary between work and home life was blurred and it involved working within new parameters. Without a doubt my subconscious mind had probably precipitated the panic attack. THE SUBCONSCIOUS MIND AND THREAT I say this because the subconscious mind is constantly alert to potential threats (either real or imagined) and is constantly recording everything you ever experience. On that Saturday afternoon in February, the threat I was facing came from situational stressors such as the pandemic, the intensity of work I was undertaking online and me feeling burnt out from the situation. EASING A PANIC ATTACK However, my subconscious mind had also witnessed me ease, embrace and overcome anxiety as a younger woman in my late teens and early twenties. Because of this, it has a rich store of tools, techniques and beneficial thought patterns to draw on for life. Therefore, within about half an hour of me experiencing the February panic attack, I remembered and began to implement some of the strategies I had utilised in the past to ease things for myself. FLIGHT OR FIGHT At the height of panic, your responses are often constricted, as your body is getting ready to exert a great deal of energy in order to run from a perceived threat to your life. You can’t think straight, thoughts race and your sympathetic nervous system releases adrenaline, making your body feel wobbly and you 1000% terrified. EVAPORATE PANIC ATTACKS So how can you evaporate panic attacks? The good news is that the power to do so lies within you if choose to make it your intention. You can certainly learn to thwart panic attacks by modifying your response to them in their lead up, during, after and between their occurrences. STATEGIES DURING A PANIC ATTACK During a panic attack soothe your amygdala by engaging in bilateral stimulation. This type of activity involves stimulation of both sides of your body and therefore your brain. Interestingly, in the thick of an attack there is intense activity in the right hemisphere of your brain. Undertaking alternate, slow paced tapping of your upper arms can bring relief. Also try this amygdala calming exercise by holding your phone and passing it from your left hand to your right, then swinging your right arm gently out so it’s parallel with your shoulder. Repeat this process with your left arm and continue in this pattern of movement. USING PROPS Another way to counter a building panic attack is to use props. So for example, bend down and tie your shoelace, rummage in your bag or apply some hand cream. Use anything you can to momentarily distract and interrupt the panicky thoughts, and tell yourself you’re ok. No one has ever died from a panic attack and no one ever will. DISTRACTING YOURSELF DURING A PANIC ATTACK As well as props, puzzles, smartphone games and simply reading a book can provide sufficient distraction that begin to activate the logical part of your brain and therefore dampen down the panic attacks. It might be that you still feel slightly panicky as you immerse yourself in such activities and as you practise this strategy. This is completely normal, yet the confidence you feel from repeatedly reducing those panicky feelings will bolster you and ensure that you're eager to practise this technique again. STRATEGIES FOR BETWEEN PANIC ATTACKS Between panic attacks it is crucial to practice self-compassion. This entails tackling your inner talk, or as some call it your mind chatter. Do you talk to yourself in a loving, kind and compassionate manner or is your self-talk often highly critical, scathing and unforgiving? This is often an excellent place to start when beginning to destabilise the unhelpful thought patterns that have led to your experience of panic attacks. LEARNING TO RELAX The final strategy I suggest that you implement is going to be enormously useful throughout your life. By learning a range of ways to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system you will be instigating your relaxation response. This can be done via physical activities such as swimming, dancing or walking which will release anxiety and stress. It can also be achieved through going inwards by meditating or guided visualisation which will stimulate the relaxation centres in the brain and body. HYPNOTHERAPY CAN SUPER BOOST YOUR RECOVERY To super boost all of the methods I mention here, you would struggle to find a more impactful and effective way to reprogramme your subconscious mind than the hypnotherapy and hypnocoaching services I offer. Your subconscious mind is responsible for the sudden onset of a panic attack and that highly unsettling feeling when it seems to come from nowhere. This is because your subconscious mind is constantly scanning your environment, and often when you’re in the throes of panic disorder some imperceptible stimulus will have triggered your subconscious mind to activate panic. In hypnotherapy we can work together to reset your subconscious mind to respond to panic attacks in a more relaxed and less alarming manner. Anxiety will then become less and less of an issue for you. Geraldine McGrath is a Clinical Hypnotherapist, Teacher and founder of Embracing Anxiety for Women. Check out the group of the same name on Facebook for further help, support and empowerment.