The Panic Attack
So you're trucking along, watching your diet, exercising a little, keeping a journal, seeing your therapist...and then something happens that you cannot explain. Vertigo sets in, trembling, your chest hurts, you can't stand up, a sense of impending doom and you legitimately feel like you are going to die. You, my friend, are having a panic attack. We talk so often about anxiety and stress in relation to IBS. I thought I might say a word or two about the panic attack, 'cause I know that some of you have had this experience and it might help to bring attention to something that is very disruptive to your overall wellness. Panic attacks can be managed and there are several ways to attack your attack.
Regular great white shark vs. Jaws
I am not a doctor. I have read about the psychological, physiological, sociological and emotional factors associated with panic attacks, but I do not pretend to understand what a particular individual experiences when they have an attack. I have had six true panic attacks in my life. I say 'true' panic attacks because very often, panic attacks are confused with The Anxiety Attack. Now, panic attacks can be considered a TYPE of anxiety attack, but let's just say that an anxiety attack is a regular ol' Great White Shark and a panic attack is JAWS. My last attack was about a week ago, which prompted me to write this article. In my experience, the overly simplified, basic explanation of why you are having a panic attack, is that you feel overwhelmed externally, internally and in many cases, both. You may feel as though you have things under control, but if you look carefully at the stressors in your life, there is a good chance that something is being mismanaged, neglected or pushed under the rug altogether. This is the time to ask for help, if you haven’t already. Be very clear with your doctor or therapist about what you have experienced and be as open and honest about your feelings at this time.
Find the equilibrium
As far as managing the actual attack, well easier said than done, right? Right. I can only share what I’ve experienced and what I have found helpful to try and at least reign yourself in. The first time I had a panic attack, I obviously was overwhelmed and simply tried to ‘mind over...uh...mind’ it. Bzzzzz…you have chosen unwisely. Trying to bull your way through a panic attack is really like believing you are stronger than an ocean. The ocean will win every time. The key is safety, simplicity and relaxation. First, get out of the place where the attack started. Hopefully, you are in you are in your own home and can get to a couch or bed that you can sit or lie down on. If you are in public, try to get to a place with some air and make yourself as comfortable as you can. Make sure that if you are with anyone you trust that you let them know briefly what is happening. This does not need to be a long explanation. Once you have reached safety, don’t do anything. Yes, that’s right…you have no obligation right now other than to relax. Give your body time to come to equilibrium. Too much movement and rushing to get water or tea or whatever will only feed the attack. Once the initial (usually most powerful) wave passes, then make your move for the comforting part. Get the blanket, water, chamomile or teddy bear that you need…then go relax again. Luckily, panic attacks don’t generally last that long. Just try to keep yourself as comfortable as possible until it passes. Breathing into a paper bag may help, deep breathing may help, if you’re up to it. Just don’t push yourself, let it do it’s business while you close your eyes and sleep or relax.
You are not dying…your brain is just sending chemicals through your body that makes you believe you are. This is a warning though. A panic attack is an indicator that something isn’t right in your life and you are simply not coping with it well. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Just take the warning and take every step you can take towards making sure it won’t happen again. If it does, then you will be more prepared the next time it rears its ugly head.
Do you have a good understanding of what triggers your flares?