Many people deal with anxiety and panic on the daily. This post is not for you. I write today for those of you who’re largely unaccustomed to feeling like an electrified spool of concertina wire. Should this occur, you may be wondering what to do about that.
I've always been a bit delusional but I am fairly new to panics, myself. I grew into it like a young boy grows up to wear his mother’s shoes and makeup. Unless you have a preexisting medical condition a panic itself isn’t necessarily dangerous. The danger is in that impulsive action a panic will cause. A panic is a full body experience: rapid heartbeat, shallow breath, racing thoughts, sweats, muscle tension, spiraling chaos with a cherry on top. I had my last panic attack on Christmas Eve a few years back. I wanted to kill myself and this time I was pretty sure I would succeed.
The good news is the brain is a self-regulating organ and although we might not prevent the sudden onset of panic we can make ourselves cognizant to what’s happening. You can reduce your exposure to the spiraling chaos of a panic attack and then eat the cherry.
There are many reasons for an individual to have a panic attack. Perhaps you’re afraid that your plane to Branson is going to crash into the Andes Mountains. Perhaps, like me, you're just afraid of going to Branson. Point is these things pop up and you never know when. Luck favors the prepared.
A recent trauma or a recent decision to unpack an unaddressed trauma are some reasons we experience panic.
We might experience a trigger that transports us back to a traumatic experience and in reliving the trauma become panicked. The problem with a panic attack is it cannot be anticipated. Panic comes and then soon overcomes like a spiking fever. This is why awareness of panic and its signs is vital for managing a panic attack.
I’ve had three major panic attacks. For me the first stage of panic is the adrenal rush. The adrenaline shoots through my body and makes me feel high but not good high. It is a discomforting and jarring high like bad acid that won’t seem to wear off. My thinking becomes clouded, vision becomes narrow, my body starts to respond. This preliminary stage is a sign to be aware of.
Note the changes happening, don’t just live them. Remain aware of these external sensations that are occurring.
Sometimes that adrenal rush is the extent of an experience. That happens when I see something like a deer in the road and I must suddenly swerve to avoid it. With the moment of danger past, and the reflexive response a success, there is no escalation into panic. Just a weird WTF moment and a story for later.
Sometimes this adrenal rush works as a floodgate for the other symptoms that rush forward. My heart rate starts to climb until I can hear the pounding in my ears. The beating noise becomes so loud it drowns out most everything else. With that my breathing becomes rapid and shallow and my heart rate and breathing seem to conspire with each other to undermine my stability. This secondary stage of escalation is a sign. Stay aware of the increased intensity of the sensatations that are occuring.
Focus on the breathing aspect of the attack. Think only about the breathing and consciously work to slow the breathing by taking deeper breaths and holding each breath for a beat. Realize that it takes time to slow breathing and stay focused on breath.
Panic symptoms don't wait for an invitation, they come rushing in like a deluge. I’m not always able to focus on my breathing technique. My mind is racing, spinning, exploding with disjointed thoughts that cause confusion and lead me deeper into the panic. I cannot think one thought all the way through before it is interrupted by another thought and another and so on.
Stay aware this is happening and accept that thoughts are untethered for the moment. At this point there is no fighting the chaos and in fact trying to control thinking during a panic attack creates more confusion and distortion and only feeds the panic.
If the mind will not be still it is important to still the body. Accept the moment but do not act on urges in this moment. Refocus on breathing. Realize it takes time to slow breathing and have confidence that the focus on slow breath will calm all of the sensations of panic.
The body will react to this stress with tension and trembling and sweat and any number of other somatic reactions. Stay aware these things are happening and maintain focus on the breathing aspect of the attack. Think only about the breathing and consciously work to slow the breathing by taking deeper breaths, holding each breath for a longer beat.
With the sole resolve of accepting the symptoms and slowing my breath I have successfully managed my panic attack. Part of that success is having the confidence that panic can be managed and reduced before it escalates further.
Panic attacks totally suck! I am not someone who often goes into a full blown panic but my life's circumstances have led me to that place more than once. If you are feeling the first stages of panic keep an awareness of these signs. Do not use your mental will to stop from panicking. A panic is irrational and no one can decide not to go into panic. Instead, use all your mental will to refocus from disordered thoughts to stable breath. This is managing panic and it's how I've stopped myself from escalating further into a dangerous state of mind.