Ten Time-Tested Tips for Surviving Panic Attack
By Cynthia Merrill
- Chew gum, suck a mint, or lick an ice cream cone slowly. For some reason when your mouth is busy your mind shifts its attention from the irrational to the more mundane. I found blowing bubbles with bubblegum helpful. Who cares what you look like?
- Do something manual. Pull a dozen weeds quickly, mop the kitchen floor, vacuum the house, wash the car. Like #1, when the body is busy with something active and engrossing, the mind focuses less on the feelings of panic. The activity also uses up the energy which creates that revved up, jumpy sensation.
- If you are with someone and can’t confess to what you’re experiencing, ask questions. Shifting attention off yourself to the other person is a real relief. Anything will do: What did you have for dinner last night? What’s your favorite movie? Where did you go on your honeymoon? People love to talk about themselves and are less likely to notice your shakiness or expression of worry.
- If you’re in store and you feel unable to go on, try to buy at least one thing. I know from experience how awful it feels to get home empty handed. If your mind blanks as to what you came for, choose something you like and consider it your reward. And if all else fails, leave. It’s O.K. to leave a cart full of groceries, I’ve done it. The bottom line is you’re only human. You have the right to try again.
- Take deep, slow breaths that fill your abdomen and are exhaled through your mouth. Do this to the count of five, to the words, In – Out, or anyway you can. Take control of your breathing before it gets shallow and controls you. Hearing yourself gasping when you haven’t done anything strenuous accentuates your feeling of panic.
- If you are in church or in the midst of a large group of any kind, focus your attention on one person or thing close by. Try not to look all around, drowning in the numbers of people who are there and who will see you “lose it”. This is a great way to accelerate panic ten fold. I know. It took me weeks to sit through church.
- If there is an event coming up and you feel worried just thinking about it, stop and plan 1) what you will do immediately after the event so this can be in your mind, 2) exactly what you will be doing, who you’ll be with, and 3) how you can leave gracefully, if necessary, (sometimes just knowing you can leave makes all the difference).
- If you are driving and all the above are not working, try to drive slowly (my tendency was always to speed home) and count off your progress in small ways such as, “I’ll make it to the next stop sign” and on and on until you reach your destination. I’ve found from experience, if you stop, it’s harder to get going again. Stop, though, if you are experiencing such severe panic that your vision becomes blurred, you are shaking, and/or you feel faint.
- This became one of my favorite techniques, once I had seen a doctor and been reassured of my sanity. It has a name in psychological jargon but is basically what I call challenging your panic. You tell your body to throw its worst punch, to blast you with all those panicky feelings you’ve been so scared of. Instead of holding back, as if you can, the panic, you wait for it open handed. And, lo and behold, it seems to slink back into its dark hole. You are fine and wondering what happened to those panicky feelings. I used this more and more toward the end of my panic period and wonder how much it had to do with my success.
- Above all and always, when you are living through a panicky period, whether its a day or months, reward yourself lavishly. When you are facing a tough day, a tough morning, a tough ten minute drive, hold out something to look forward to. It could be the thought of your favorite T.V. show that night, a cup of tea, a magazine, or anything that makes you anticipate with pleasure. You deserve it!
Cynthia Merrill is a writer frequently published in The Christian Science Monitor.