Panic Attacks suck. There’s really no other way to say it. They take away your control, make you feel like you’re having a heart attack, and when they’re over they leave you drained of all energy and fearful of what just happened.
I wish I could understand why they happen. I’ve read all the brain chemistry research and big words that try to tell me, but in the end those words don’t really help me understand why exactly my brain feels like it is attacking me. But, there are a few tricks I’ve learned along the way to deal with a panic attack.
Tricks to make them better in the moment, not stop them. I’m not a miracle worker.
1. Breathe Through a Panic Attack
I know that sounds over simplified, but it’s true. I am a shallow breather by nature and when I am under a lot of stress I unconsciously hold my breath. Using simple techniques I’ve learned ways to slow down my breathing and deepen it so that when I am in the middle of an attack I can slow it down. It works for me, honestly. No crazy religious mantra quoting or anything like that, just simple breathing. If you want to know more about this type of breathing, check out this resource.
2. Remind yourself of what is true.
It’s easy to lose logic when you feel out of control. Panic attacks can spiral you into thoughts like “I’m having a heart attack”, and “Who will take care of my kids?”, and “Have I gone crazy?”. These thoughts are quite normal in this situation, but they certainly don’t help what’s going on. After I had been to every doctor, and had every test known to man (including some very strange ones) we ruled out any actual diseases going on in my body and I had a new weapon in my arsenal.
Now when I feel the familiar shortness of breath and pounding heartbeat, I can remind myself that I am not having a heart attack, that there is nothing physically wrong with me and I just need to take deep breaths and wait it out. This doesn’t make them go away, but you’ll be amazed how much shorter and less severe they can become when we don’t let our own minds make them worse. And on that note….
3. Do NOT let your fears take over during a panic attack.
One of the most common triggers to having a panic attack is fear of having another panic attack. It’s a vicious cycle. You start having panic attacks, you begin to spend your time worrying about how you’ve gone crazy and lost control and fear triggers more panic attacks. Soon your panic attacks are triggered solely from fear of having a panic attack.
You have to break this cycle, and the only way to do that is to teach yourself not to fear them when they are not a reality. You must conquer worry. Worry will ruin your life much quicker than panic attacks ever will. Jesus speaks to this in Luke 12:22-34 when he says “Who of you by worrying can add a single day to your life?” Isn’t that true? (Thank God for the Holy Spirit! We wouldn’t be able to do any of this alone!) Does your worrying actually help anything? Change anything? No. So what is the point? Except, of course, to make you miserable. Live life, deal with the attacks when they come, but don’t worry about them when they aren’t there.
It’s like the third grade bully, you’re giving them much more power than they deserve or possess.
4. Have medicine on hand.
If you’re okay with medicine, of course. I dealt with depression and anxiety for years before I allowed myself to go to the doctor. I thought for sure that as a Christian I should be able to deal with it in spiritual ways like prayer and Bible Study, or that it might be happening because of some sin in my life that I had not dealt with. It didn’t help that at the time depression and anxiety were not something you talked about in church. If it was dealt with, it was only in terms of your relationship with God. Medicine was for the weak.
I went through two years of complete hell without medicine and it took only two weeks on it to completely change my life. This is, of course, my story. It may not be yours. Some depression is spiritually based, I firmly believe that. But when you’ve done all you can to search that out and make it right, I don’t believe a loving God will fault you for seeking a doctor’s opinion.
But, back to practicality. I began taking regular daily meds that did eventually change my life when it came to my panic issues, but what I’m talking about is having on hand a medicine like Ativan or Xanax that you know will help you in that moment. I don’t always take them when it happens, in fact most of the time I don’t because of the sleepiness they cause, but it is immensely helpful for me to know that they are there and that I CAN take them. Are they a crutch? For me, sure. But who cares? Sometimes our leg is broken and we need a dang crutch.
5. Distract Yourself.
Do something. Go for a walk, call a friend, do the dishes, start the blacksmith hobby you always dreamed of – just DO SOMETHING. Sitting in your worry and fear of what is happening will only succeed in deepening the fear. You must distract your brain so that it can focus on something other than the adrenaline pumping through your system.
Anxiety, depression, and panic attacks are here. They’re real. They’re widespread and are no respecter of persons. I wish I could tell you the silver bullet to kill it in it’s tracks, but I can’t. I really, really wish I could. What I can do is share with you my journey and the things that have worked for me in hopes that they will alleviate a little of your struggle.
What has helped you? What needs to be on my list?