So the first thing to remember with a panic attack is that it is lying to you. You can feel like you are going to faint or even die. You are not. In fact when experiencing a panic attack your blood pressure rises while generally before you faint your blood pressure will lower. Also even though it is difficult to catch your breath and you may feel like you are going to suffocate this is impossible during a panic attack. That’s important, it’s impossible.
Be your own Detective
Those of you who have read my previous blogs are probably starting to see a pattern in what you need to do when faced with mental health problems. You have to become your own detective, you have to look for evidence and find the truth behind those thoughts and feelings. Feelings are sneaky, they can be so overwhelming it seems obvious that they must be trying to tell us something important. With Panic attacks these feelings are reinforced by those intense physical sensations like shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, chest pain and nausea to name but a few. That’s why it’s important to remember the previous points, even though your body is telling you you’re going to faint or die it’s not true.
Watch out for the Safety Behaviours
Panic attacks are scary so it’s only natural that we would seek out ways to avoid them. Sometimes we come to associate certain behaviours with not having a panic attack. So for instance because one time we had a bottle of water and we took a sip out of it when we thought a panic attack was coming and the panic attack didn’t happen we credit that to the bottle of water. We begin to bring a bottle of water with us everywhere as a sort of talisman. That’s great, until the day you forget the bottle of water. By not having it your anxiety is increased and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy as that increased anxiety may well lead to a panic attack. Which of course only reinforces the notion that the bottle of water was what was stopping you having the panic attack in the first place. In reality this is called a safety behaviour and they are dangerous because we become dependent on them instead of figuring out how to manage our panic attacks. Other safety behaviours could be avoiding places where you think a panic attack might occur or rehearsing for social situations. By using our safety behaviours we get short term relief but never learn that the situations we are worried about aren’t as scary as we believe and panic attacks are not life threatening.
Brave it out
So here’s the tricky part, your best bet is to brave it out. When you’re in the middle of a panic attack it can feel like its never going to end. In reality an average time for an attack is ten minutes but they can often be shorter. It will be scary but keep reminding yourself that it will pass, stay where you are, try to breathe deeply to help your body relax. If you can, challenge those thoughts that something is wrong, remember that this is a false alarm and you are going to be ok.
“Easier said than done!”
Yep you’re right it is easier said than done, that’s why it’s always important to give yourself credit when you even attempt it. Even if after a few minutes you resort to one of your safety behaviours give yourself a pat on the back that you approached it differently this time. Hopefully next time will be easier and soon you will get back the power over your panic attacks.