When Panic Attacks: Panic Attack Coping Tips
I’m pulling back the curtain on something I struggle with. I hope these panic attack coping tips help you like they helped me.
It’s okay. This will pass.
Deep breaths…deep breaths.
Maybe a TV program will get my mind off of it.
Ugh, I feel like I’m breathing in fire.
My heart is racing.
I hear my pulse in my ears.
Could this be a heart attack? But I’m not ready to leave my kids!
Certainly not, I’m so young.
But what if?
It’s the unknown. Physical symptoms that manifest themselves into fear that leeches to your brain and you cannot shake.
Today I am breaking my silence.
I struggled with the title of this post. I could have also titled this “When the world is spinning so fast, all you can do is hold on for dear life for fear of losing control”, but that seemed a bit too long. Last year, I had to take a much needed hiatus from the spinning plates in my life and one of them was, sadly, this blog.
I am such a list making, organized freak that I always put lofty expectations on myself. I do it as a wife and mom. Also, with my blog. Such as, “I’ll post every day!” “I’ll start a linky party!” “I need to increase my social media presence.”
I’m learning to walk into a space of Grace for myself
and it’s been a hard lesson for me to learn this past year.
Yesterday, I woke up early to head to the hospital where I was hooked up to a machine to make sure my heart was okay. EKGs, stress tests, blood work all come back fine, just like it has before. It has been a month since my attacks began… again. You see, this has happened before, just over a year ago.
They started when my scared husband called paramedics to my house at 2 am to help an even more scared me who thought my heart was exploding. They said I was fine, but should still seek medical care. However, all EKGs, ultrasounds, bloodwork come back normal that time as well, and the Dr explains that they are panic attacks. The attacks continued for about a month and then subsided – in and out of my life like a storm. I thought it was a fluke thing due to some stress I was handling, until recently.
For the past 2 months, I wake up as I’ve just fallen asleep, with my heart flipping around in my chest while gasping for breath. I’m able to go back to sleep only to have it happen again and again until I’m in full panic mode. Recently, these attacks had gotten so bad that it began robbing me of sleep and spilling over into my family life.
But I wasn’t myself anymore and I had to do something.
Recently a friend exposed her secret on her blog, and it has inspired me to do the same. I have so many friends who suffer from anxiety, and most of them don’t want to talk about it or can’t begin to discuss it.
But what most don’t realize is that talking about it, googling it, reading an article about it – strangely enough, seems to elicit a panic attack! Even typing this post has taken me days because I can only approach this in stages.
Not only does the panic sink it’s talons into your self confidence, but it also jumbles your logic. I have a another dear friend who has asked for prayer, but to not ever discuss it face to face because it might unleash the dreaded beast. So what are we to do? Are we to sit silently with fingers crossed hoping that the next attack never comes? It is a cruel reality that many of us face, but are too shamed or scared to address,
but I fear the silence and avoidance is only adding fuel to the fire.
In my recent quest to quell the panic inside, I’ve learned that instead of hiding behind the Iron Curtain, it’s best to bring the panic into full spotlight. Stand on the stage, confess your panic, and face it head on. It’s not perfect, but here are some ways I have learned to manage my panic attacks. My hope that these panic attack coping tips are an encouragement for someone struggling.
Panic Attack Coping Tips
*Please note, I am NOT a doctor and I DON’T play one on TV, so take this into account. These are my steps that I have found work for me and do not substitute this for seeking medical care.
Step one: keep a journal.
By keeping a journal, it may help you find out if something triggers your attacks, or a solution to help them subside. It may even aid in the midst of the panic, acting as a map to guide you through helpful steps toward the end of the panic episode. Plan ahead and make a list of things that you want to keep track of: symptoms, time of day, what were you doing, what calmed you down, etc.
It’s best to prep your journal when you are calm. Logic escapes in the midst of a panic attack, and if you have your journal set up, with the questions to ask yourself listed, you can navigate your way through the panic. Trying to set this up in the middle of an attack is like trying to wrestle an alligator.
One helpful thing I do is to shift my focal point.
Instead of writing “I’m feeling” or “my symptoms are..” I write using pronouns to represent myself. By writing in 3rd person, it moves the current panic from mental first person victim to a mere observer. This tiny shift has helped the subdue the fear that accompanies my attack.
Step two: find a method of calming that works for you.
The Anxiety Coach, Dr. Carbonell, has a great acronym, AWARE, that I have found helps me immensely! I have written this in the front jacket of my journal to reference when an attack comes.
Here’s the breakdown of the acronym:
A: ACKNOWLEDGE AND ACCEPT
You are in the eye of the storm – the worse that will happen. “You are in discomfort, but not in danger.” Let yourself know that this is an attack and put on your boxing gloves because the fight has begun.
W: WAIT AND WATCH
Don’t hide, run away, ignore, flee. Stay in the ring, even though you want to quit. Wait for the relief to come to you. The WATCH is the journaling. Again, I write in 3rd person. That little shift helps me to get out of my panic fog and respond to my rubric I created.
Find things that calm you and do them. Drinking tea, diaphragmatic breathing, yoga, music – whatever works for you. Sometimes just pacing has helped me. Even doing a mundane activity, like unloading the dishwasher, can flip that switch in my brain.
Keep it up. Think of Rocky Balboa and get back in the ring. You are in control of this and keep on fighting. It isn’t easy and sometimes I have to wake up Trent to help talk me through the steps, but I don’t give up.
Know that the bell WILL RING, the fight will be over, and the symptoms will eventually subside.
Step Three: Talk.
On a calm day, muster the courage to talk to whoever might be with you during an attack. Earlier, I mentioned that talking was no bueno, but I have found this to be one of my best panic attack coping tips I’ve found.
Your spouse, your boss, your children. We are DIY people in this house and all my loving husband wants to do is fix it and help me get through the panic, but his approach wasn’t working.
Think about what you need (or don’t need) and let your support know.
I LOVE this cartoon from Robot Hugs.
I showed this to my husband before I talked with him about what I needed during an attack.
It has helped him to see what I need at the moment and to be there for me. One night, I was so scared, he stayed up and watched me fall asleep, because that was what I needed at that moment.
Step Four: Consider Chemical Intervention.
I was really, REALLY balking at approaching these panic attacks medically. I had to realize that my attacks are bigger than me and I needed a prescription to help me regulate my serotonin. Okay, it may have been more of a kicking and screaming revolt against taking meds, but I eventually succumbed. It dawned on me that if I have no problems taking a pill to get rid of a simple headache, why wouldn’t I take a pill to help me through something as scary as a panic attack? It seems silly now, and I found a wonderful, non-habit forming prescription that works for me. I’m still getting blood work done to rule out any other possible causes, but for now, this is the path I’m on and I’m trusting my physician.
Step Five: Trust.
Panic. Fear. What ifs. Lack of control.
Throw it out the window and just Trust. It doesn’t take the panic away, but it helps you heal when the storm is at bay. What I had to overcome was the frustration that the verses about being anxious for nothing weren’t working. After a panic attack, I felt as if I had failed my Lord by not defeating my anxiety. I had to realize that “being anxious” and “having anxiety” were two completely different things. Being anxious is something you can control by renewing your mind and giving those worrisome thoughts over to God. But having anxiety clips the legs out from under you when everything around you is seemingly normal. My anxiety was not brought on by anxious thoughts.
So my narrative had to switch from trying to control this inner tornado to crying out to the Almighty to give me rest in this moment, peace in the midst of the storm. I learned to accept that I wasn’t failing Him, or myself, and that He was there with me in the midst of each attack. I wasn’t alone. And I have to trust Him to ride out the storm until it ends, having faith that all will be okay.
Since 18% of the US Population, roughly 6 million people, suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder, then that means if 100 of you read this post, almost 20 of you have had a panic attack, and half of you probably know someone who does have them. I hope that this post encourages you to enter the ring and confidently fight the beast.
My story isn’t over, and I’m still learning how to cope, but I’ve learned to not fear the fight. So I hope these panic attack coping tips help you like they helped me. If you have any tips that help you, please share. Let’s support each other through these challenges.
Thank you Sharon!
That is wonderful news to hear! They are scary and can be debilitating to say the least, but there is hope in your story that you can learn to calm your storm and manage them on your own. I will pray for continued success!
Thank you so much for sharing your story and for stopping by!
Darlene, it's an honor to meet you and am happy to have connected! Thanks for stopping by again!
I hope it helps! Thanks for stopping by!
Jennifer, I was re-reading your blog and see I came up as anonymous, and evidently still will be, because it's the only way I can figure out how to post :-/
Not trying to hide who I am, just can't figure it out. I'm not a blogger, just a person with a Ymail address.
(and feeling old about it).
I am Darlene from Up North, Houghton Lake, MI………I am not anonymous. (Tho, during a PA, I feel like I want to be). Abundant Blessings to you.
i am 66 and i have had them as long as i can remember,back in my day they called us high strung what ever that means, and said just to cope with it my we have come a long way after the birth of my daughter stroking her cheek worked for me every time i calmed right down,i suffered very badly when her dad was diagnosed with cancer and died i broke out in major hives but thankfully my doctor at the time was a high school friend of my oldest son and he knew me and said i was one of the least high stung people he had ever know and explained panic attacks and put me on meds well long story short years later i was able to get off meds and now the infrequent times i have them i can calmed myself after a few minutes xx
This is something I think that would help a lot of people! Pinning! Thanks for sharing this at Totally Terrific Tuesday last week! Can't wait to see what you have lined up for this week.
Her Organized Chaos
Jennifer not trying to be anonymous :-). It was the only way to get my posts to go through, my name is Darlene & live "up north" in Houghton Lake, MICHIGAN. If there's a trick to it, let me know. 🙂
Dear Anonymous –
I sit in tears, in awe of your post, your struggle, your journey as well as the power our God has to bring two people together. Your honesty is brutal, sharing the reality of how debilitating PAs can be. Just last night, I was struggling and crying because I just wanted to be back to my old self, but sometimes the lesson we are to learn IS the journey. The road is supposed to be rough for a reason. Jesus never promised us a pain free life here on earth, one without struggles and heartaches, but He has promised us eternal redemption through our belief in Him. Nothing owed, no act to do, but only to believe. My husband posed a question to me last night. He asked, "Where is the Father?" I replied that He is SEATED at the right hand of the Father. SEATED. Jesus cried out "It is Finished" with his last breath and we are to believe it is. He has already taken care of our struggles. We just need to Abide and Rest and 'faith' in Him that it's done. What a relief to feel that yoke removed. It's easier said than done, but that is what is keeping me strong. Thank you for opening your heart to me and I pray that your story touches someone as much as it has moved me. Blessings to you!
Believe me, I wasn't convinced about any of it, but I posted those little cards everywhere. My car, the bathroom mirror, my bedside table, near scriptures that soothe me on my kitchen cabinet, even in my laundry room. After 3 years on an antidepressant I was certain I was "somewhat better & wanted to try to wean off as we were retiring from IN to MI, & I wanted to do that as advised by my Dr; slowly & while still under her care. Leaving her was SCARY!!! I did the wean, but about 6 months off antidepressant (effexor XR), I was back to square one. God blessed me w/ the Dr. I had. When we moved, she actually gave me her cell phone number on the back of one of her cards. Unheard of. I contacted her & she helped my new primary care physician here in MI start me back on the antidepressant gradually again, explaining to me, "you need this just as if you were a diabetic & needed insulin". That was 5 years ago. The PA's have been 15 long years. I never know when the beast will creep up on me again. I've learned to manage it. The one image you showed about the canopy & someone just being there, not questioning hit the nail on the head!! We need someone to understand & not judge. My husbands acceptance of my good & bad days have made it easier. He tells me, it's simple, "it is what it is", we'll cope I am here. At first I felt horrible that I could not pray this away, & questioned my faith in Jesus. I realize though that God has given us all burdens as well as gifts. A gift in the form of someone He gifted to help me, my Dr, my husband, even whoever invented the med I NEED. I tend to back away from people who tell me I can pray this away. At times I wonder if this isn't some crazy way God has gifted me, eg., being empathetic towards others like me., & helping them where I can, even if it is only to make a person to not feel so alone. I apologize for the lengthiness of this post. Your post & the comments have helped me/touched me. And Gid in his infinite wisdom somehow brought me to your blog where I am staying :-). I'm lifting you in prayer, Jennifer ….for strength to get thru this & prayers for coping mechanisms . God Bless You.
I'd have to turn around & go home. A too long L turn light……full blown attack & a trip back home. Praying all the way I wasn't dying or worse would crash & kill someone because I'd feel like passing out too. Grocery shopping, I'd make it aisle by aisle, positive talking my way through aisle by aisle w/ the urge to just flee to somewhere safe, but where was it safe? Because the beast was within me….rebuking satan did nothing. I can't tell you how many times I left a full grocery cart because the lines were too long & I just could NOT stay in them a moment longer. Home became my safe place. Agoraphobia became my middle name. It was then I sought help., & that was against my better judgement. I didn't want medication to be an option, but I went to a psychiatrist anyway as they can prescribe drugs vs.a psychologist who can't. They can counsel & recommend drugs for your regular doctor to order. I did my homework finding one & she was my Godsend. Turns out my PA's stemmed from PTSD. I was like…..,"what"!!?? PTSD. She explained how my sons cancer & everything that went with it could have caused it. How my nursing knowledge was power ( but I knew too much ), & how ignorance can be bliss. I fought the medication route until I realized that I needed SOMETHING. The PA's & agoraphobia blew me into a clinical depression. First antidepressant made me crawl out if my skin for a week. Death would have been more welcome. But then she started me on sub-therapeutic doses of a different antidepressant much to my pharmacys angst as every week the dose changed til I hit the maintenance dose & I was able to tolerate it. Little by little I began leaving the house again out of necessity. PA's still existed, but I was able to work through them. One sleepless nite an infomercial came on & it was like I was talking, Midwest Center for Stress & Anxiety out of Ohio formed by a fellow sufferer named Lucinda Bassett. Her tapes & workbooks helped me a LOT. (In no way is this an endorsement for the center, just mentioning what helped me). One thing I learned was. STOP!!!!! (1) accept the feeling, it cannot really hurt you (2) give yourself permission to feel anxious (3) breathe slowly thru your nose (4) calm yourself w/ positive self talk (5) let go, float & flow (6) DISTRACT yourself, it is "only" anxiety (7) use the adrenalin in a positive pursuit (8) don't let a bad day scare you (9) give yourself credit for how far you have come & (9) let time pass, IT WILL GO AWAY.
(Evidently have to post in increments (forgive me, as my post was too long ) Apologies.
Jennifer, I ran across your blog quite by accident (via New Nostagia's 'Most Clicked On Links This Week'). Proof positive that God works in mysterious ways. It always amazes me when bringing the subject out of the closet how many people PA's actually affect. I'm an RN, & for many years "poo-poo'd" them, UNTIL one hit me out of the blue on a sunny day tying my shoes w/ intentions of heading to the post office. WHAMMO!! I felt a little queasy, which was odd because I just had a bowl of oatmeal w/my 2 year old grandson. Suddenly heart palpitations started, dizziness & a blazing headache. There I was taking my OWN blood pressure, seeing it's high reading & creaking out more. I called my daughter who was working nearby, told her I was calling 911 next ( I was watching her son). Paramedics arrived asking why I had a blood pressure cuff on, & were slightly amused that I had been taking my own B/P. I was sure I was having a heart attack @ 47. Felt like an idiot when after an array of tests including a head CT showed nothing. DIAGNOSIS: Panic Attack. It's now 17 years later. I could write a book but am making this as short as I can. Mine started AFTER my 25 year old son was diagnosed w/ Testicular Cancer, & a recurrence, then a removal of a kidney. Played the strong mom like an academy award winning actress thru it all. Surgery, radiation, recurrence, chemo, more surgery. AFTER everything calmed down the PA's started. After the first one the rest of them always occurred while driving =:-O. I'd start w/ a little queasiness & my MIND would escalate them into full blown PA's. I became afraid to drive.
Thank you for opening up! I suffer from anxiety and have had a few panic attacks. I need to show that cartoon to my husband so he knows how to handle me! 😉 Thanks for sharing at the #HomeMattersParty 🙂
I just read your post on decorating for the HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) which I am. I think that plays into my attacks. I'm still navigating the root since mine happen at night when I've been sleeping. It's hard to find that emotional connect when I'm at my most calm when they decide it's time to party panic style.
Yoga before bed has helped me relax and I've noticed an improvement, but my goal is to be where you are, without medication and able to cope on my own. Thank you so much for sharing. It means the world to me to hear others stories and for you to reach out! Blessings to you!
I haven't fully disclosed this to my kids until recently. It hurt so bad to see them take my 'emotional temperature' before they approached me. Once I told them what was going on, it was as if a light bulb went on in their heads and they've been so loving ever since.
I love the idea of a change of scenery. We've made a new rule – Family fun Fridays – and reconnecting with nature has been salve for my soul. Thank you for sharing your story. I pray that our openness will help someone.
The first aspect of dealing with anxiety was acceptance and my first panic attack happened to me at work. Since I didn't know what it was and felt lightheaded/faint, I got my first ambulance ride to the hospital. I like to think of that as my initiation, since it was for all my coworkers to see. You can't really hide from it after that.
The biggest tools for me have been learning the root of my anxiety & regular, challenging exercise. I took medication for years and weaned off last summer, knowing I could handle it on my own. Mindfulness meditation has also helped a great deal, as well as general healthy lifestyle choices: sleeping well, eating well, healthy coping, limiting alcohol, etc. You're awesome for coming forth and talking, and I believe being more open & accepting of it can help! Hope it gets easier for you!
I'm so glad that you brought this out of the closet and into the open. It really does help to talk about it…it also helps others around you know what is going on and how to help. I have had panic attacks for as long as I can remember. I do think it goes back to childhood traumas for me and stress just seems to make them worse. My husband and my children have all learned how to help me when I feel one coming on. For me, I need a change of scenery. I either go for a walk or we go for a ride. If I have been having multiple attacks within a couple of weeks, then we know it is time for a day away from home and a trip to be near water to help calm me.
Be blessed and I hope that you are now better able to cope with them and they will be less frequent for you.
Candy, I was inspired by your bold post – thank you for giving me the courage to open up myself. My prayer is the same as yours, that someone will find help through our openness. Love you too and thank you for encouraging me to step onto the stage with this!
I'm so glad to hear that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I'm sorry to hear you have suffered for so long and I pray that your good days are more frequent than bad. Thanks for sharing your story.
That is an interesting approach. Thank you for sharing.
Beautiful and great advice! So proud of you for your openness and honesty!! I'm so sorry you are dealing with this also! It really does help to know so many others are dealing with the same struggle. I pray that God would use your anxiety to speak into others lives and that he would indeed take something that was meant to derail you and sideline you and turn it into something amazing! Love you!
Thank you for your post. I had to comment, I wanted you to know your not alone.
I to have panic attacks, I have since I was a child. I also have social anxiety.
It began back when I was 5, what most people call childhood I call hell.
The things that happened to me, the abuse, the years, 27 years of abuse, they take their tool.
But I find it better to talk about it now, my husband knows all about them and he helps me in his way.
But I wanted you to know your not alone, and there are good days!
Thank you for your post 🙂
Yes, I am among those 18% that have them from time to time. Rubber band on the wrist and snapping to bring your attention to your wrist an out of the panic has helped me at times.