Panic attacks can be incredibly scary, especially if it’s the first time you’re experiencing them.
When I had my first, aged just 13, I was terrified. I hadn’t got a clue what was happening to me and didn’t realise that I could have prevented it. When that first panic attack happened I went straight on the internet to my trusty friend, Google to find out everything I could.
A few years later and I feel like I’ve collected lots of tips and tricks to help calm your mind and body when you’re having a panic attack. These may n ot work for everyone as we’re all different but after 6 years of suffering, these are the techniques I use to calm down.
1) Name 5 things
This is fairly simple and pretty common, mainly because it works. Whatever room or area you’re in, look for 5 objects in that room and start to think about them. Think about how they were made, why they were made, what use the object has, will it break if you drop it from a height, things like that. The reason for doing this is once you give your brain something to concentrate on, the panic will start to subside. Thinking about things you can see really draws your mind back to the present and everything starts to become a little less overwhelming.
There are loads of different variations of these techniques out there. Some people name 5 things they can see, then 4 things they can hear, 3 things they can smell and so on until they’ve covered the 5 senses. You do whatever works for you, I like thinking about how the products were made because I studied product design at school and gets my brain thinking logically.
2) Keep a calm reminder on your person
This can be anything: your favourite book, a piece of jewellery or a clothing item. The whole reason for this is when you start to feel the panic creeping in, get your calm reminder out and just focus on it. Take in the look, the feel, the smell and immerse yourself in it.
The main bulk of my panic attacks would happen at school, it was somewhere that I felt incredibly on edge. So to combat this, I made a recording on my phone of the general sounds of my house to listen to when I started to panic. For example, my recording had my Mum loading the dishwasher, my dog barking, and my Dad and my Sister talking. Listening to the hustle and bustle of my house instantly calmed me down and made me feel like my family were there with me, even if I was on my own.
3) Count Your Breath
It’s a really obvious thing to do when you’re having a panic attack but sometimes the hardest to complete. Slowing your breathing down makes it impossible to hyperventilate, so you need to tackle that first. To slow my breathing I breathe in for 8 counts, hold it for 3 counts and let it out through my mouth for 5 counts. Keep repeating this until your breathing starts to slow.
There are loads of handy gifs on the internet of boxes expanding and contracting. The best thing to do if you can’t get control of your breath is to breathe in time with the movements of the box. It may take a few minutes but if your focus is solely on syncing your breathing with the gif, you should calm down.
4) Implement a coping statement
The start of a panic attack is normally brought on by a downward spiral of negative thoughts. Or what I like to call the ‘what if spiral’. Pretty much every time I’ve had a panic attack its stated with me innocently wandering ‘what if…’ and then my brain goes into hyperdrive. It starts asking itself irrational questions, which leads to me getting incredibly worked up and then I start to hyperventilate.
To stop this before you get to the hyperventilation stage, think of a coping statement to shut the ‘what if’ down immediately. For example, if you’re worried about ordering something at a restaurant (something I don’t think I’ve ever done without feeling sick!) start saying in your head ‘I can do this, I can order this food. I’ll order it and nothing will happen’ or something along those lines. You’d be amazed how quickly this works. Everytime that little voice starts to ‘what if…’ shut it down with your coping statement.