When panic attacks the cascade of fear crushes rational thought. It’s hard to understand the misery, fear and secrecy that underlies this common anxiety disorder which can strike without warning.
What are Panic Attacks?
Orla, a bubbly 43-year- teacher and mum -of-one, avoided girly shopping-mall trips. ‘My heart would start pounding, my mouth was dry and I couldn’t catch a breath. The first time it happened I ended up in hospital ambulance, siren, blue lights and the full ER drama,’ she reveals. ‘ I really thought I was having going to die, and I was mortified when they said it was all in my head.’ A car accident triggered Orla’s panic attacks, but for others it can be a difficult birth, having to speak in public or a death.
Panic attacks usually consist of four of these symptoms: anxious thoughts, racing heart, shallow breathing, diarrhea,dizziness, lump in the throat, chills, sweating, numbness or tingling fingers, trembling or shaking.
When her work began to suffer Orla came to me for therapy. Psychotherapy trauma release and learning mindfulness skills proved the turning point for her. ‘Quite simply, I got my life back and my family got me back!’
Here’s my 10 Ways to Freedom from Panic Attacks to help you get started.
1. Keep a Diary – write down fear and anxiety thoughts. Revisit it once a week. Notice if what you worried about did happen exactly as you’d feared. Lose marks if you got your worrying wrong or jumped to the wrong conclusions, or had lots of frightening daydreams.
2. Practise mindfulness – by staying in the present. Realise that ‘At this moment I am ok.’
3. Reality Check – Are you really ‘losing it’ or having a heart attack? Check your pulse, see if you are able to walk. Don’t focus on trying to stop it. Go with it and you’ll lessen the fear. Panic attacks, like labour pains, seem longer when you dread them.
4. Exaggerate it – ok so you are losing it … go with it and get it over and done with. Plan a properly big one in advance. Paradoxically this permission can diminish panic attacks.
5. Accept it – Why beat yourself up about feeling bad? When you feel panicky telling yourself to stop it makes things worse.
6.Use it – Panic attacks are often a way of flagging up emotional issues signaling something wrong in your life. If your car was belching out black fumes you’d bring to the garage immediately, wouldn’t you?
7. Confront it – Take control back in small steps. Who cares how long it takes? It’s your project. You may need some help here. Who can help you take those first steps? Friend or partner , chances are they will be delighted to help you and love the change in you. Imagine your pleasure vividly … you, with the freedom to do what you want to do.
8. Bust it – Deliberately do something silly in public, like trying on hats in a posh shop or talking pidgin French. It’s probably best done with a friend but beware, silliness leads to laughter!
9. Professional help – Mechanics repair cars, dentists fix teeth and psychotherapists get to grips with emotional issues. There is no shame in getting help. You may discover a course of treatment goes way beyond freedom from panic attacks, helping your confidence, self-esteem, motivation, weight and sleep issues.
10. Get busy – Make time for doing what you love, learning something new or helping out. Find out what excites you, delights you and give yourself permission to enjoy it.
What works for you?