✗My Struggle with Panic Attacks & How I Managed Them
Panic attacks are no joking matter. They can be very scary and can impede on your life. I would like to chat with you today about your panic attacks.
If you are experiencing panic attacks more than likely you are dealing with stress and anxiety in your life. Your body is telling you to listen and often it is wanting to bring your attention to an area you are avoiding.
What Are Panic Attacks?
According to the ADAA, “a panic attack is the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms”:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feelings of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
- Chills or heat sensations
- Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
- Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
- Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- Fear of dying
Many of my patients in the past would tell me that they thought they were having a heart attack when they experienced their first panic attack.
Panic attacks do not only happen you are in an anxious state of mind. They can also occur when you are calm or sleeping.
There can be a lot of shame or embarrassment around panic attacks. Friend, please do not feel embarrassed or ashamed. Just because you are experienced panic attacks does not mean you are weak or should hide from others. If I can get one thing across to you in this message it would be to not suffer alone, please get help.
↬What are your triggers? Have you taken note of when you panic attacks happen or what was going on the day or week before they occurred? The first step in reducing your panic attacks is first to figure out the root cause of them.
↬Get honest with yourself. What are you not addressing in your life that you have been shoving down? Do you have boundaries that you are letting people cross? Are you avoiding your stress? Are you not taking care of your self both physically and mentally?
↬Learn the early signs of your panic attacks. Everyone experiences panic attacks differently but if you pay close attention to what your body feels like before you are struggling to break and your chest hurts you will be able to stop your panic attack before it becomes painful.
↬Change the temperature of your body. If you did not catch your panic attack in the early stages have a plan for when it gets bad. For me when I missed my window of managing my attack and I could not breathe and my heart was going 100mph I would take a cold shower (just enough to be uncomfortable not give me frostbite). If I was somewhere I could not take a shower I would wash my face with cold water or go outside.
↬Remind yourself that you are safe. Panic attacks come with a lot of fear. Tell yourself over and over again that you are safe. Your words are much vert powerful even if you do not think they are.
↬Journal, I know that it is annoying to hear but journaling is a very powerful tool to help bring awareness and insight into our true emotions.
↬Get outside help. You do not need to suffer alone. Talk to your Primary Care Physician, therapist, or counselor. Come up with a plan.
My Struggle with Panic Attacks:
I will try and shorten this struggle down so that you do not have to spend your whole day reading!
One point I would like to make here is that even though I am a social worker and I know what the signs of a panic attack are I did not see how sick I was becoming. My body had to make it impossible for me to avoid my stress and pain for me to listen. During this whole time, I was not listening to my body, I was not taking care of my mental or physical health. Friend, it is so important that you listen to your body and feelings.
I have struggled with anxiety since I was a child. As an adult, it became much harder to manage. I started to notice that I had a hard time sleeping, I was sick a lot, I had a low frustration tolerance, and I started to feel chest pains. But I just told myself I would be fine I just needed to keep pushing myself.
I was finishing my last year for my Bachelors of Social Work (BSW) Degree, working part-time, volunteering, working out, trying to have a social life, have a good relationship with my boyfriend (husband now), and take care of family matters. Then to add to my craziness. My parents got a divorce, I moved in with my boyfriend (I do not do well with change so this was a point of anxiety for me), and was dealing with family discord.
A short time later I graduated and started my master’s program for social work all the while still trying to manage all the other areas of my life and started my first big girl job working in partial hospitalization. I was juggling too many things while still neglecting my physical and mental wellbeing. My anxiety increased and with that so did the symptoms of my panic attacks.
My panic attacks decided to kick it up a notch, oh joy right. I started to have bigger panic attacks that would make it hard to breathe, chest pains, lots of crying and fear. But they only lasted a few minutes so I told myself it was no big deal (insert eye roll here). I was ashamed that I was not able to control my panic attacks and wanted to hide them from my family and husband (fiancée at the time). And yet again I knew better than to hide what was going on but I felt a false sense of security because I told myself I would figure out how to control them.
Soo off I went to figure out what was triggering them. I told myself that now that I know what is the issue, I would just avoid those things and people and my panic attacks would out stop. WRONG, spoiler alert that did not help.
I wanted a quick fix so off I went to my Dr. to get some medication. That helped for a little bit. It was like placing a band-aid over a sliver. The more I ignored it and medicated it the more “infected” it became.
My panic attacks switched it up, that clever devil, and I would get them at night or when I had my guard down (e.g. when I was having a good time). I felt like a prisoner in my own body and I felt like there was a bomb about to go off all the time.
I started to wake up in the middle of the night sweating, crying and hyperventilating. But, I was determined to not let it slow me down. Once again, I figured I just needed to push myself hard (smh).
Needless to say, I wore myself down. I ended up neglecting my mental health needs to the point that my body was making me sick all the time, I had migraines three or four times a week and my Doctor thought I was developing an autoimmune disorder.
I would love to tell you that at this point I realized that I needed to change something in my life. But I did not, what ended up changing my life was almost a year later when I had a horrible accident that forced me to sit still for a year.
During that time, I came to see how sick I really was during that time of my life. That’s when I knew that I needed to make some changes in my life so that I could be happier and healthier. I have made a point to never allow myself to neglect my physical or mental health again.
I think back to these days and I feel so blessed to have had my husband, family, and friends to help me through those dark times. Once I allowed others in my life to help me through my panic attacks and stopped hiding them, I was able to manage it a lot better. Please do not suffer alone, find support.
Please take care of yourself friend!
The suggestions I listed for you are things that I did to help manage my panic attacks as well as things I have suggested for my patients. There are many more ways you can help manage your panic attacks and I would encourage you to explore them. Make sure you take the time to take care of yourself so that you do not have to live with panic attacks or high stress and anxiety.
※Your Challenge: Find support, start to recognize the early signs of your panic attacks.