Panic attacks are no fun. Speaking from experience, panic attacks have taken advantage of my world when life was very stressful. It was so stressful, in fact, that there were days I’d wake up and had difficulty breathing with no specific trigger or reason to worry. My personal story with anxiety started when I began high school, the pressures from the school and the society I was raised in put an immense pressure on me to succeed in all aspects of life – but particularly in what was considered the “honors” version. I expected only greatness from myself, and the perfectionist in me didn’t allow for errors or mistakes.
Back then I would experience panic attacks in relation to my school work. I would mentally go through the list of assignments I had and exams coming up and the multitude of stuff clogging my brain put my heart into overdrive and would send me into a tingly, foggy, state of pure panic.
I don’t want to go into any more detail because I don’t want this to be a trigger for your panic attacks… but I want you to know that I understand what you’re going through and how you’re feeling. The biggest, most important part of this post is the fact that YOU CAN OVERCOME PANIC ATTACKS, and even better you can remove them from your life almost entirely.
Since graduating college and now in medical school, it’s really important to my health to take care of my mental status. I’ve had years upon years of experience recognizing the signs of a panic attack and learning strategies and tricks along the way (bonus: without medication) that has helped me to this day handle panic attacks in a healthy way and make it so that they don’t control my life any more. Rather, if my body gets to the point where it needs to have a panic attack, I use it as an opportunity to reflect on the schedule and things I’ve got going on in my life and make the adjustments where I can to help keep myself happy and stress-free.
With all that said, let’s get into my ten steps for overcoming panic attacks.
Step One: Recognize the Signs.
There are a few signature signs that are common universally for people who have panic attacks, but there are also some specific signs to you that you may notice.
Anxiety Centre explains panic attacks to have the following signs:
- A feeling of overwhelming fear
- Racing heart
- Weak at the knees
- Tingling sensation in the skin
- Hyperventilation, difficulty breathing, or crying
- An urge to vomit
- And more
Being aware of these signs can make a huge difference in the recognition of a panic attack and can help you deal with it in a safer and faster way so that it doesn’t become a huge problem for you. It’s also important to note that you are at no physical risk in these scenarios, your body is capable of breathing at a normal rate – the problem simply is that your mind is causing the body to overreact as a result of the stress hormones surging through your body. Know that it is in your power to get back to a state of normal.
Step Two: Remove Yourself From any Stressful Environment
Sometimes panic attacks can be triggered while you’re away from home. It could be in the classroom, at the cafeteria, at a friends house. If you can feel a panic attack starting to happen and you don’t feel safe to let it ride out where you currently are, move yourself to a place that makes you feel safe. If you’re in public get yourself to a bathroom stall or outside, if you’re home get to your bed or your bathroom.
I’ve experienced in the past people trying to stop me from leaving a room if I’m in a public setting. If that ever happens to you, just calmly look at them in the eye and say “I’m about to have a panic attack” or “I need a minute to myself”. Come up with a phrase that makes you feel comfortable so that if you are in a situation where you need to move fast you can act quickly as if you’ve rehearsed what to do.
Step Three: Get Comfortable and Get Help (if you need it)
Once you’ve found a safe space to allow the panic attack to ride out, make yourself comfortable. Can you sit in a comfortable position or sit on the floor? In order to prevent yourself from losing oxygen to your body from hyperventilation, it’s best to sit with your legs stretched out in front of you and your arms wrapped above your head. This allows for more space in your lungs so that more air can enter.
If it helps, have a trusted friend or family member sit with you to help you through the panic attack. Have the conversation with them while you’re calm if you know the methods in which they can help you overcome the panic attack. Then if you can feel a panic attack about to come on, you can signal to them that you’ll need their help to diffuse the panic attack as best as possible.
Step Four: Focus ONLY On Your Breath
Now that you’ve gotten yourself comfortable in a safe location with a possible friend or family member there to help talk you through it, your only job in this moment is to focus all of your energy on your breath. If you’re hyperventilating at this point, focus your attention on your lungs, and picture them expanding and pushing out air as slowly as possible. You and your helper can play the one Mississippi, two Mississippi game where you breathe in on one and push the air out on two and so on. Make it a goal to reach 20 Mississippi’s. If you’re still having trouble breathing or thinking straight shoot for a higher number.
The goal in this exercise is to get you to a point where you are breathing at a normal and relaxed rate.
Step Five: Sit With Your Controlled Breath
Once your breathing is relaxed and moving at a normal pace, now is the time in which you will sit and focus on keeping it calm. You can set a timer or have a friend set a timer, watch clouds pass by, whatever works for you to help you pass the time and ensure that your breath will stay regular for at least 5 minutes.
After you’ve been breathing regularly for 5 minutes straight is when you can move onto the next step.
Step Six: Reflect on Your Experience
Now that you’ve gotten yourself calm and relaxed for a healthy amount of time, this is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the experience and see if you can figure out a reason or a trigger for the panic attack itself. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Was I thinking about anything in particular?
- Was I in an environment that made me feel stressed out?
- Was I with people that made me feel stressed out?
- Did something surprising happened that jolted me?
Analyze for yourself what various triggers were that incorporated to create the panic attack.
Step Seven: Journal Or Write It Out
The reflection of this experience is great, but it won’t feel solidified unless you bring it into reality either by writing it down or talking it out with a trusted friend. Turn to your favorite journal or loved one and talk through all of the questions written above. If you’re up for hearing about your loved one’s experience with panic attacks you will be able to connect with them and even learn about what works for them.
Pay attention to keywords or trigger words that may have sparked this panic attack, and take note on what worked well for you and what you would have changed if you went through the experience again. These are all important to develop for the next time your body goes into panic attack mode.
Step Eight: Be Prepared For Your Next Attack
The reflection part of these steps is what will help you here. Now that you’ve recognized scenarios, environments, people, triggers and anything that could bring on a panic attack you are now ready to begin keeping track of your mood on a regular basis to help manage the anxiety.
Equip yourself with a favorite journal or planner that builds in mood trackers to help you keep track of what was stressing you out or triggering you during the day. My online friend Dominnee just came out with her 2018 Self Love Workbook and Planner, which I’m personally a huge fan of! She has specialized planners based off of who you are and what stage of life you’re in, and she includes a planner geared towards monitoring your mental health. You can find the planner here.
The planner comes with a worksheet you fill out to discover triggers, a mood tracker, a place to write out your plan for when there’s a crisis and overall reviews and reflections for each month and year. Dominnee has put so much love and thought into these planners you should definitely check out her beautiful and colorful page showing them off here.
Step Nine: Surround Yourself With What Brings You Joy
You’ve done it, and there’s so much success to celebrate. So far we’ve learned the triggers, we’ve gone through a step by step plan on how to get past a panic attack, and a reflection and planning stage for after the fact. Now what to do next is make baby steps towards reducing any triggers that could bring back an attack.
Surround yourself with anything and everything that brings you joy. If you need to remove people or relationships that are toxic and harmful, do so. I always like to think of removing friends from my inner circle as loving them from a distance. If it’s school or work that’s stressing you out, consider making some changes. Are you ready to start looking for a different job, or do you need to consider decreasing your workload?
Be sure to check out my free email course where we dive into the world of self love. I give you further exercises to increase self-esteem and live a life that’s geared around purpose and joy.
What is your routine to overcome panic attacks?
Share in the comments below what you do when you feel a panic attack starting? Do you have any tips and tricks you can share with other readers?
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