Having a panic attack is certainly a frightening experience and may leave you wondering ‘what’s wrong with me?’ ‘Am I ill?’ ‘Am I going mad?’
A useful, four-fold approach to dealing with panic is;
This approach is something to work with when you are not panicking, when you are able to think clearly and rationalise the panic experiences you have had.
Begin with basic questions and answers regarding your panic experience. During a panic attack you may well believe that you are ‘about to die’ or are ‘going mad’. But, now you are able to reflect calmly on your experience of panic, take a look at this useful NHS resource; NHS Panic Resource
- Does the duration of 5 to 20 minutes match with your experience?
- Did the physical symptoms of panic described match with your experience?
- When you read the criteria regarding seeking medical advice, did they apply to your panic experience?
The article describes well the intense psychological symptoms, their sudden appearance and their frightening impact. But it also reassures that they aren’t dangerous, they don’t result in physical harm and are unlikely to require a hospital admission.
Your experience of panic involved some very intense physical and psychological symptoms and there is a natural tendency to infer from these that you’re experiencing something extraordinary. Indeed, as far as your general range of personal experiences go, the symptoms are extraordinary.
However, across the population, at least one in ten people experiences occasional panic attacks and around 1% (or, in the UK, half a million of us) experience worrying, recurrent and unexpected panic.
During your attack you may feel very alone and detached – but calmly viewed across the population you are in good company. This is why there are so many resources out there.
As well as the NHS site above, it’s certainly worth reading what MIND, Rethink and AnxietyUK have to say.
Coping Strategies – 1. Avoiding Attacks
The NHS guidance points to a number of ways to avoid panicking. These are about eating regular meals which stabilise blood-sugar levels and avoiding those powerful psychotropic drugs we so often rely on – caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
The guidance also points to ‘relaxation techniques’ e.g. yoga and meditation which benefit us is many ways, including by reducing our general level of arousal. These are most effective when practiced regularly and built into a lifestyle in a way that you experience as enjoyable.
Coping Strategies – 2. When Panic Strikes
The two main ideas about dealing with panic as it is happening are ‘controlled breathing’ and ‘relaxation techniques’. These are detailed well by the NHS and AnxietyUK and many people find that they have some use, even if they are not completely effective.
Exploration is really about beginning to get to grips with the underlying causes of your panic experiences and beginning to work with them therapeutically. Here are some ways to begin to explore;
During panic we often have an urge to literally run away from the people, place or situation we find ourselves in. Do you have a sense of which place, people or situations invite panic?
Perhaps keeping a log of where you were, who you were with and what you were doing would be helpful in finding common environmental ‘triggers’ for your panic?
Other exploratory questions;
- When you are panicking what do you have the urge to do?
- What do you have the urge to stop doing?
- Do you want to run to a particular place?
- Do you have the urge to be with someone in particular?
- Do you have the urge to be alone?
- Where would you want to be, ideally, with this panic?
- Who would you want with you, ideally, at that time?
- When was the first time you can remember panicking in this way?
Getting Support with Panic
Everyone is different and any self-help process can only offer ideas in general terms. An experienced counsellor or psychotherapist will have met panic reactions many times before and be ready to be with you as you continue this exploration. Why not book an initial assessment session with a counsellor/therapist who is registered with a nationally recognised professional body (such as BACP or UKCP in the UK)?