Please note that all the content in this post is based off of my personal experiences and is not applicable to everyone.
Recently, I have been having fewer and fewer panic attacks. While my anxiety is situational, my situation has not drastically improved in the last few weeks, I’ve just been learning how to prevent the panic attacks better. This is basically all thanks to my new therapist (she is so awesome) so a lot of this advice is from her, not me, and I felt the need to share it.
There are a million coping skills out there, lots of which are activities. I think those ones are awesome, but I personally have trouble implementing many in my life because, 1) my depression makes me feel less energetic to get up and do things and 2) while they help in the long run for preventing panic or anxiety attacks, they aren’t too great in the short run. What I mean by my second point is that when you are having, or about to have, a panic attack, you are much less likely to muster up the energy to go for a bike ride or do pottery.
In this post, I am going to talk about identifying your warning signs that a panic attack is about to happen, and how to shut that thing down right then and there.
Identifying your warning signs
What do you experience, both mentally and physically, when a panic attack is beginning? For me, I experience a sense that I am in danger, a racing heartbeat, and crying. Knowing that these are the tell-all signs of my panic attacks, I can identify what is happening, and predict what will happen next. Sure enough, the next thing that ensues is hyperventilating, to complement my racing heart. The last couple times I’ve started hyperventilating, I was able to yell at myself (out loud) “NO. NO, we’re not doing this” and I was actually able to calm myself down from there, believe it or not, by doing the next couple of things:
Shut it dOwN
Two main things help me the most to avoid the hyperventilating to worsen and a panic attack to be in full swing:
Identify the Trigger: Use all of your brain energy to try to figure out what caused this event today. It’s easy to remember the first feelings, maybe sadness, anger, or frustration, but try to sift through and find the triggering thought that started it all. Okay, now you have the thought. I highly recommend CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) for anyone not already familiar with it. But in any case, observe the thought non-judgmentally, detached from you. All of your thoughts are valid, the key is believing that yourself.
The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique: This exercise is super quick and easy to do anywhere. It helps bring you back to the present since my therapist has told me that the past usually sparks depression and the future usually sparks anxiety (again, everyone is different, she was just talking to me).
Here is how to do it:
Find 5 things you See – take the time to describe them each in great detail.
Find 4 things you can Touch – acknowledge how it feels.
Find 3 things you can Hear – acknowledge whether they are loud or soft, or any other characteristics.
Find 2 things you can Smell – acknowledge how it smells.
Find 1 thing you can Taste – this is why I keep mints in my wallet, just in case I need to do this exercise outside my house.
If you aren’t feeling better after doing the 5-4-3-2-1 coping skill, I would consider doing it again, again, always with different things (probably except the taste though).
Do you use any other quick fixes that help you in the moment? What are the signs to you that help you recognize if you are about to have an anxiety or panic attack?