How to Breathe in the Dark: coping tips for panic and anxiety attacks 

If you’ve ever experienced an anxiety attack or its cousin, panic attack, you will know that both are terrifying experiences. As someone who suffers from PTSD, these unwelcomed visitors like to show up at the worst timing and often unannounced. Of the two I find the panic attacks to be the rudest “guests”. They show up unannounced often with no trigger and they try to eat all of your happiness and bring over their favorite side dish, shame. It can be very frustrating and even harder to get rid of them when you’ve had enough of their unwanted behavior. While no one purposefully invites these obnoxious “house guests”, somehow they know just when to knock on our door.

SethI’ve always had anxiety attacks even as a child. But since I had no idea how to deal with what was happening, I would fight my attack. I thought I was going crazy. One of the worst attacks I ever had as a kid lasted about four hours. As an adult the attacks usually only happen if I am triggered by a memory, under extreme stress, or having fears about future events. When I found out my husband, Seth (yes, the guy holding the plant in last weeks post) was getting deployed two years ago, the attacks happened multiple times a day. We could be at home, out for dinner, and the worst ones were when I was trying to drive somewhere. Sometimes it was embarrassing because I would go to the bathroom crying and everyone would stare at Seth after I left.

The most recent one happened to me this Tuesday. Seth and I had just had a nice dinner date. When we drove back to our house, there was a thunderstorm outside. One of our phones was connected to the bluetooth of our car and the weather warning alert went off. I jumped and was laughing at first because the noise scared me. But the next thing I knew I couldn’t breathe, I was crying, I felt cold, I lost my hearing, I was shaking, and I was in complete panic. After a few minutes, I calmed down and everything was ok again.

I am by no means an expert on this topic. However, today I wanted to share with you some of the things that have helped me get through the attacks.

Don’t fight it

I learned this to be the most helpful tactic. When the daily attacks happened a few years ago, it was extremely frustrating. It was even more frustrating when I realized how time consuming they were. I felt like I couldn’t have a normal life. I would get invited to friends houses and would have to decline at the last minute because I was on the bathroom floor trying to breathe, completely exhausted from crying, or afraid that it might happen in public. When I would fight the attacks it seemed like they would last forever. But after I was able to just let them “run their course” the panic didn’t last as long. I was less exhausted after they happened too.

Breathe

Try to take deep breaths as much as possible. This can be hard if your attack has just started. But after a few seconds try to remind yourself that you are having an attack. Don’t fight the attack, but try to breathe in and out slowly as much as possible.

Meditate with music

This one has helped me to stay peaceful after the attacks and sometimes during. It may be difficult to do anything while you are trying to calm down. Sometimes attacks can feel crippling and you may not be able to move very well or hear. I have heard in some cases vision can be effected as well. With this step, you will meditate with music outside of your panic or anxiety attack. I usually like to listen to peaceful music at least once a day. I practice taking deep breaths while listening to the music and remind myself I am at peace. This especially helps me when the attacks are more frequent. I then play the music (if I am able to) during or right after. This helps me stay calm. Some of my favorite songs to find peace in are Oceans, Brave, and It is Well by Bethel Music. This helps me to trigger thoughts of peace when I am anxious.

Create healthy routines

This one can sound pretty cliche.  Eat right, exercise, sleep well, etc. But it can truly help. It may not get rid of the attacks completely, however I have seen improvement in my anxiety when I follow these simple steps.

Find a safe place

Although it’s already terrifying enough, it can even be dangerous if you are in any type of activity such as driving. If you are driving and you feel as though you may be going into an attack, try to pull over into somewhere safe. This could be a parking lot or a gas station. If it’s at night, make sure you are in a well lit area where it is safe to park. You may not be able to concentrate on driving if you are having an attack.

Emotional support

A46FB76C-8C4A-4C8D-9FD4-FEC099D37049It can be scary to experience complete panic, but the feeling of being alone can sometimes be much worse. Don’t be afraid to talk about it with someone that understands. It’s amazing what the power of friendship and companionship can do. Even though it may not stop the attack from happening, I feel much more peaceful when I remember that there are people that care about me. You may also be able to look into getting an emotional support animal as well. Furry friends can often do wonders for us. I had a cat, Loki, that helped me through my anxiety attacks when Seth was deployed. He just seemed to know when I was anxious. Sometimes he would climb in my lap when he knew I wasn’t ok. He would let me hold him until I was breathing at a normal rate again and would watch me to see if I would stop crying. Although he passed away last year, I will never forget how much of a difference he made for me.

Seek professional help

This one can be difficult. It’s hard enough acknowledging that you may suffer from the attacks, but sometimes fear gets even more stirred up when we look for help from a professional. I know for me at least it does. I think this has to do with feeling shameful. Remember how I told you that the unwanted “guests” like to eat your food but bring over a disgusting side dish called shame? Ya..you don’t have to eat that. It’s bad enough that they come in, sit on your couch, and somehow have your Netflix password. Panic and Anxiety are also TERRIBLE cooks. They are really proud of their “skills”, but between you and I the only thing their “cooking” is good for is the garbage. There is nothing shameful about what you are experiencing. They’re the rude ones that decided to come over uninvited. You are in no way obligated to make them feel at home or welcomed. It can be hard to not feel embarrassed about what’s going on. Trust me, you’re not alone. According to the AADA, there are currently 6 Million people in the US that suffer from panic disorders, and that’s only the people who have been diagnosed. The best thing that you can do for yourself is to develop a plan with your healthcare professional that’s customized for you.

Remember you ARE strong

Sometimes after an attack I feel completely helpless. For a few seconds or even minutes I may have lost hearing, not been able to breathe, or felt crippled entirely. It can make you feel pretty bad. But panic attacks and anxiety attacks don’t mean you’re weak. It doesn’t mean that you are not capable. In fact being able to look at anxiety in the face and call it out for what it is makes you extremely brave.

JoyThanks for reading this weeks “Thinks”!  I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment here or any of my social medias the things that have helped you. Thanks again for stopping by!

See you next week!

Joy

 

 

 

 

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