1. If you feel you need to, leave the situation that is making you panic. Be unapologetic about this, if people don’t understand then that’s their problem, not yours. Concentrate on what YOU need to do to help yourself.
2. Ground yourself. If you are in a situation where you cannot leave grounding works better.
To ground yourself –
– Look around you, pick out things you can see and say them out loud (or in your head if you feel unable to speak out loud). Describe little details you notice, for example “I can see a man sitting in a chair outside a coffee shop. He is quite old looking with creases around his eyes, grey hair and thin rimmed glasses. He is drinking a cappuccino”. Repeat this 5 times with different things.
– Listen, what noises can you hear around your right now? How loud or soft are they? List 5 things you can hear, for example “I can hear a dog barking, it’s quite soft but rough sounding”.
– Can you smell anything? Do the same as above and list 5 things you can smell.
Doing this will help your brain concentrate on something else other than panicking and the more you describe each thing the more you are engaging your brain and the less it can panic. I find that I can at least postpone a panic attack by doing this.
3. BREATHE. There is an app I use called SAM that was recommended to me by a perinatal mental health nurse who supported me during my pregnancy and the first few months of Lily’s life. This app helps you track your anxiety levels and also lets you create a toolkit to help manage your anxiety levels as well as keep tabs on what triggers your anxiety.
The main thing I use this app for is the breathing exercise. On the home page you have a button for “Help With Anxiety NOW” which takes you to a new page with a “Calm Breathing” exercise that last 5 minutes. It has many other useful features but this is just the one I use the most.
4. When we panic our bodies tense up completely and it’s difficult to notice when this happens until parts of you start hurting because of it. When you’re feeling anxious take note of your jaw in particular as this is where tension headaches start. I always notice that I get these kinds of headaches if I’ve been particularly anxious about something so I try and really take notice of my muscles during an attack.
An exercise I was taught by a psychologist I was seeing in my teens:
This works better if you are lay down but I have done it many times sat up and even standing so it’s totally possible to do anywhere. What you are going to do is tense each of your muscles in a certain order, one at a time and then release the tension again, one at a time.
Start with your feet, breathe in with through your nose and try and only tense the muscles within your feet, don’t worry if you’re calves automatically tense a bit too just try and make it as much foot as you can. Hold this for 10 seconds and then release, breathing out through your mouth as you do so.
Next tense your calves as you’re breathing in, hold and breathe out through your mouth and you relax the muscles.
Repeat this for your thighs, bum, stomach, shoulders and head/facial muscles.
Once you’ve relaxed your head muscles, tense your entire body as you breathe in through your nose, hold for 10 seconds like before then release while breathing out through your mouth.
5. This may feel like a silly one and I don’t know if it’s a placebo effect or if it really works but when I went through a particular bad patch with my anxiety at about 12, my Mum bought me a bracelet made out of Haematite which is meant to be good for anxiety relief. Ever since then I have had a massive interest in crystal healing and I own bloody hundreds of different thumb stones, bracelets, tumble stones, pendants etc and whether they work or not, having something with me that is supposed to help does make me feel a little more able to cope.
6. Distract distract distract. If I can feel a panic attack brewing I try my best to engage my brain in something to distract it from panicking. This feels quite a bit like tipping water down a blocked sink; the water is draining away, although slower than normal; you have to take it slowly and be careful not to pour too much in at once or you will flood the sink. I find this tactic is good for keeping a panic attack at bay until you can get to your safe place/ have someone come over.
7. When you aren’t panicking, write a panic list. Write a collection of things to do when you’re feeling anxious, this can be things like listen to a certain song, watch YouTube videos, have a bath. Mine includes things like watch Doctor Who or get my watercolours out and paint or put together a panic playlist to listen to. Anything that relaxes you. Here are some that are on mine-
9. Another important tip and perhaps the most important actually is to recognise when you are having a panic attack. It’s easy to think that you are dying or something serious is wrong with you when an attack hits and floods your body with all the terrible symptoms but learning to recognise that this is a panic attack and you are NOT going to die is a huge step and often the one that takes the most practise. Also remember that panic attacks are much like contractions. They will only last a certain amount of time before they pass, you may get another one after but there will be a brief moment where your mind will calm. One single panic attack cannot last longer than about 5-10 minutes before reaching it’s peak so whatever you are feeling during an attack; it will stop soon. If like me, you have panic disorder the chance of having them on loop is pretty high but know that you will get at least a few seconds of brief calm before another starts up.
10. Rest. Panic attacks uses up A LOT of your energy so after an attack you will more than likely feel completely exhausted so it is important to let your body recuperate. Lie down, have a bubble bath, sleep, switch on Netflix and have a movie marathon. Aromatherapy is great for de stressing, I wouldn’t say it helps with actual anxiety or panic but lavender is very soothing and helpful for stress so get the old lavender scented beauty products, light a candle or burner and fill your air space with relaxing scents and let your body rest.