Coping With Anxiety Attacks

I wrote this a while back in response to a post in a mental health support group, but thought I’d share it here too. It’s a list of few things that I find it helpful to remember when I’m having a panic attack – hopefully they might help some of you… 🙂

1) They ALWAYS PASS.

It feels like they will never go away, but they always do eventually – you just need to find a way of letting some time pass.  Whatever you are doing, however you are feeling, time keeps ticking on and you get closer and closer to coming out the other side.

2) They CAN’T HURT YOU.

The worst thing that can possibly happen is you might faint – and that is just your body’s way of hitting the reset button and getting your breathing back into a regular pattern. Sit or lay down somewhere and you are SAFE.

3) Breathe DEEP and SLOW.

Anxiety tends to make you hyperventilate (lots of quick, shallow, breaths) and that makes you dizzy and more anxious. Try and keep your breathing in a slower, deeper pattern and it will help the feeling dissipate. I find this GIF really good for this:

4) You’re NOT GOING MAD!

The first time you have an anxiety attack, it’s hard to believe how extreme it feels – like you’re dying, or your skin is crawling, or you’re falling out of the sky, or any one of a thousand other things. Your brain can do that to your body. It’s horrible, it’s scary, but you’re NOT crazy.

5) ACCEPT you feel bad.

You’re going to feel shitty for at least a few minutes – it will pass (see #1) but for now you’re going to feel crap. That’s ok – you can get through that – however you’re feeling, time still keeps ticking by and you get closer to the attack passing.

6) DISTRACT yourself.

Try and keep your mind busy while you are waiting for the attack to pass. Sitting there, staring at the walls, thinking “It hasn’t gone yet! When will it go!?” doesn’t work – it makes it last longer. The feeling is there whether you like it or not, so try to focus on something else until it fades away.

If you’re anything like me though, that can be a tricky thing, because the moment I try and do something to “distract” myself, my brain starts to yell “THIS IS B*LLSHIT!! YOU’RE JUST TRYING TO DISTRACT YOURSELF!!” and that makes it kind of impossible not to think about whatever you were trying not to think about. Stupid f*cking brain grrr 😦

What works for me at times like this is to do something that requires real concentration, so your brain doesn’t have space to think about anything else. For me, that’s usually playing guitar and singing, but I think anything where you are actively *doing* something would be the same – play a difficult video game, play or practice a sport, stick on an exercise DVD, read a really gripping book – whatever kind of thing you like to do – but make your brain busy!

And, lastly, don’t think of it as “distraction”, think of it as “playing guitar makes me feel better” or whatever. It’s not foolproof (nothing is) but it often works for me.

7) Be KIND to yourself.

You’re going through something tough, so look after yourself – snuggle under a blanket, put your favourite TV show on, cuddle with your pets, make a cup of tea; whatever might make you feel even a teeny bit better, just do it – it all helps.

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