Have you ever experienced an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and panic? Have you ever felt out of control or like you were going crazy? You heart speeds up and feels like it could beat out of your chest. It becomes hard to breathe. You become lightheaded and dizzy. You feel hot and sweaty. You are scarred, and feel that you may pass out or even die! Something feels very wrong. Perhaps you begin to fear having these feelings. The anxiety takes over and things you once loved to do now become a scary and overwhelming task. You might have gone to the doctor or taken a trip to the emergency room… but no one can find anything wrong. If your symptoms have been labeled as anxiety or a panic attack, you are not alone, and you are not crazy! Panic attacks are very common and there are things you can do to get your life back! Here are a few steps towards surviving panic:
Step One: Believe you will survive this. It may feel that you can die from a panic attack, but trust me, you won’t. Think of it in this way: Panic is an evolutionary mechanism that was once necessary for survival. If we were back in cave man times… and a dinosaur were chasing us, we would need our survival and anxiety mechanisms to alert us to the danger and keep us safe. Our heart would beat faster to allow us to run away quicker. We get hot and sweaty so we are slippery and can slip out of a predator’s grip. Every symptom we feel serves some self-protection service. Even though you may fear that you will pass out, you won’t. That wouldn’t make any sense because then the prehistoric predator would catch you! Today, predators don’t usually chase us, but our anxiety or stress still triggers us in the same way. Think of your anxiety as protective rather than dangerous.
Step Two: Breathe! When we panic, our breathing and heart rate changes. This can mess up our oxygen levels and make us feel dizzy or lightheaded. Again, this is not dangerous, but it is uncomfortable… and controllable. When everything else seems to be out of control, try to remember that you can control your breathing. Take slow, deep inhales and exhales. This will help regulate your body mechanisms and calm everything down. By breathing calmly, you are telling your body that everything is okay.
Step Three: Ride the wave. Panic attacks are often unavoidable, but there are things you can do to make them more bearable. Fighting against your symptoms or trying to subdue them will only make it worse. A good analogy is a surfer at the beach. Emotions and panic will flow in and out like waves. If a surfer tries to stop the ocean’s waves, he will get knocked down… but if that same surfer rides the waves and accepts the ebb and flow, he will wind up surfing and going with the tide rather than against it. Panic attacks are like waves, they build up to a certain point, and then calm down. When you stop fighting the panic, the duration and intensity of the attack often begins to decrease over time. No panic lasts forever, despite how it may feel. If you accept the uncomfortable sensations and breathe through them, they will subside before you know it. It may feel like they will last forever, but emotions reach a high point, and then diminish. Think back to your last panic attack… are you still at the height of your arousal? Of course not! So just remember to go with it, and let it come and pass.