This is a bit of an unusual post as it’s not in keeping with the general theme of my blog, but as it’s something I have experience with and have struggled with for absolutely ages, I thought it would be a good idea to share the things I’ve found that help me cope with panic attacks and general anxiety. I’ll discuss what I feel are the triggers for me and then talk a bit about what I’ve found has helped me. There’s no ‘one cure fits all’ as everybody reacts differently, but if you’re someone who struggles with attacks then hopefully this blog may be of use.
I’ve suffered from panic attacks for around 10 years, since the age of 17. They came on really quickly and I was having between 15-20 a day which was both terrifying and traumatic. I don’t think people who’ve never experienced them can understand just how scary they are; you basically feel like you’re dying and have absolutely no control over the situation. It’s a purely mental experience that can sometimes be provoked by physical things such as if you swallow awkwardly (your mind suddenly decides your throat is closing, then starts a panic attack) or if you struggle to take a deep breath (your mind tells you you’re not breathing properly therefore there must be something really wrong, then starts a panic attack) and equally irrational thoughts occur resulting in a surge of adrenaline as you start to believe that you’re no longer in a healthy state. I have believed I was dying hundreds if not thousands of times, purely and simply because anxiety took over, rational thinking disappeared and I’ve ended up in hospital on many occasions genuinely believing that I was dying.
For me, the biggest trigger is stress. If I’m going through a stressful time when I need to be in control (for example, both my parents have had cancer and as an only child I’ve been the one who needed to be the carer for them; so I had to be in control at all times to make sure they had a calming influence) I ended up forcing myself into a more severe state of control, resulting in my body finds other ways of losing control; which results in a panic attack. I believe that it is so important to understand your triggers, not because it will cure you but because at the very least it’ll allow room for a bit of rational thinking. It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a severe panic attack that I’ve needed to go to hospital and I believe this is because I’ve developed a greater understanding of the mental state I’m in during the attacks.
Another trigger is tiredness. Again it’s a similar process to stress, meaning that I’m forcing my body and mind to work harder than it needs to when I’m performing everyday tasks with sleep deprivation.
A slightly more obvious trigger for me is illness. If I feel unwell as it is, any ailments are going to be blown out of proportion in my head and can (and often do) result in attacks.
I’ve mentioned my personal triggers to give you an idea of what I think can cause anxiety. I’m aware they’re pretty obvious, but if you suffer from attacks then I suggest thinking about it carefully and working out if there’s any pattern behind what starts them off.
Here are a few things that I have found work for me. I’ll start with a slightly radical (and probably controversial) approach that isn’t ideal, but works for me because I’m getting behind the initial cause of the attack. When I was at the stage in my life when I was having attack after attack on a daily basis, I hit the point one evening when another attack started and I thought to myself “So what? If I do die then it’s got to be better than this living hell” and of course the attack stopped. It stopped because the attack was purely a psychological fear of dying and if I accepted the idea of dying then there was no reason for it to continue. Horrible? Yes. Effective? Absolutely. I’m in no way suggesting that we should all just accept the idea of dying, especially as – and this is the killer and why panic attacks are so hard to control – it’s so difficult to tell the difference between a panic attack and a genuine health concern, after all, adrenaline is our body’s way of alerting us to danger. If you study your attacks and consider the process of how it goes (do you feel a weird sensation, then become aware of your swallowing and breathing, then start to feel ill with the adrenaline?) then you should be able to pinpoint the difference between a genuine problem and an anxiety attack.
More recently, my panic attacks have taken a completely different direction and just kick of for no real reason. I know they’re happening so they’re not half as bad as the really nasty ones that make me feel like throwing up, but they’re still there and I wanted to be proactive and do something about them, so I started Transcendental Meditation. Yes, it’s a little bit ‘peace and love’ but it’s worked wonderfully. You’re supposed to do it for 20 minutes twice a day every day, but my choice is to get up 20 minutes earlier every day or, erm, not, so I don’t. I just use this technique whenever I feel an attack coming on (or if it’s caught me off guard then during an attack) and it nips it in the bud quicker than anything else because it forces your mind away from the attack and I can feel better in minutes using TM. I was pretty desperate by the time I started TM and I had Googled and researched and found lots of useful information but keeping them under control, but very little had helped me completely stop them in their tracks. This really did and I’m so pleased I did the course.
I really hope this blog is of use to anyone who suffers attacks as they are so terrifying and difficult to live with. If you’re reading this and want to ask me any questions then please either message me or leave a comment as I’d be more than happy to help in any way I can.