How to manage panic attacks without panicking!

40% of people deal with panic attacks at some point in their life and often in silence.

I think it’s time we lifted the lid and talked about how to manage panic attacks, what they feel like and what can cause them.

I think I’ve got as good as I can be at managing ‘panic’ having regularly had to manage panic like attacks due to my health condition.  Before I got on the right medication for my condition, I had loads of these. I became an expert panic attacker.  Nothing to be proud of, they are bloody awful.

I became an expert panic attacker Click To Tweet

When they occurred, I had super doses of adrenaline that came out of left field.  They also arrived after feeling breathless, dizzy and hot.  Whenever they came they literally took my breath away. Really inconveniently in the middle of doing stuff.  They stopped me in my tracks and were really unnerving.

I have now come to understand there is both a physiological and a psychological component to my ‘panic’ attacks.  Mine start as physiological in response to my blood pressure dropping and my heart rate slowing (either from blood pooling and/or the adrenaline causing a short circuit in my blood pressure/heart rate modulation).  This gives me presyncope symptoms of lightheadedness, breathlessness and the shakes. Adrenaline kicks back in to try to correct the situation causing my heart rate to shoot up and more undesirable symptoms.

Early on when these started happening for me, they were followed by a psychological response from being half scared to death at what my body was doing!  As a result, I now fully understand the feelings of doom and death that accompany these, they are truly terrible.

Panic attacks can have both a physiological and a psychological origin Click To Tweet

More typically, my ‘panic’ also extended into all day ‘flight simulator’ type sensations where I had continuous racing feelings in my chest and a terrible feeling of losing control of my heart.  It was like something was trying to take over my body and take off!

I also experienced continuous tremors, jerkiness and jitters which I named my ‘thunderbird puppet’ days!  All completely physiological from over-cooking my body at the hot springs!!

Finally, when my symptoms were at their height and, as a result of being put on anxiety medication (at a time when my body was already super revved), I also experienced massive waves of burning as if my skin was on fire.  I have never been so frightened at how my body was acting out in all my life.

Ambulances were called and I found the whole experience so totally humiliating – a strong person reduced to a quivering, frightened wreck.  These are all forms of my so called panic and anxiety, in fact caused by my neurally mediated hypotension, hyperadrenergic tendencies and various triggers.

Thank god for the meds I am now on, my high salt diet and avoidance of triggers is all I can say!

The underlying triggers for my ‘panic’ issues are low blood volume, significant heat and exercise intolerance, sitting/standing too long, talking/laughing too much and being too busy plays its part too (in provoking my adrenaline).

So how to attack the panic?

Well this is how I handle them.  Because of my own condition, I usually lay down since this calms my system immediately.  For others, finding a quiet space may really help – depends if you think the distractions help or hinder you.  Then I do really deep belly breaths – in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, repeat lots!  The slower pace of breathing immediately calms my system and asks my relaxation response to switch on to overcome the flight/fight response. Counting in my head also distracts my mind.  But, for me, it has to be consciously breathing deep into my belly – if it’s too shallow it’s not calming enough and it can induce hyperventilation which will just feed the panic.

How to attack the panic? Click To Tweet

As I said, my panic ‘doom’ attacks used to scare the life out of me.  Now that I know what they are and they are not a ‘heart attack’, the deep breathing enables me to slow down my heart rate and usually enables the adrenaline wave to pass (I literally breathe my way slowly through them).

The last thing you should do is overbreathe and/or hyperventilate since an overload of oxygen will cause more adrenaline to be pumped out.  It sounds a little counter intuitive and it is a very mind over matter process ie. not buying in to the panic but instead responding to it calmly.  I can’t emphasize that enough.

I also find meditation very very helpful and would often switch on one of my guided audios  when my ‘flight simulator’ symptoms were in full swing. Meditation didn’t generally stop them but it helped tone them down.

I find ensuring I’m not hungry helps as well – since adrenaline also gets sparked if you are hungry (so I don’t skip meals).

If you are experiencing panic symptoms, a visit to a doctor is a must so they can check you out for any underlying causes.  Diabetes, thyroid and adrenal gland issues can be particular culprits as can underlying heart problems.  And, of course, they can result from primary psychological issues too. Your doctor should help you work out what’s causing them and also prescribe medications to help you manage the issue.

Tip from me though, if you don’t believe it’s ‘just anxiety’ keep pushing for answers.

Sometimes I think it’s all too simple for doctors to say anxiety is the  cause, when it can in fact be something physiological.

You always know you best.  Trust in yourself and push for the right answers.

But the best advice I can give you for dealing with panic symptoms is ‘don’t panic’ and remember YOU are a powerful force in how your own body reacts.

Just focus on breathing your way calmly through them.


I also found the following book had some really useful techniques in it too (you’ll need to google the title):

Panicbook

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5 thoughts on “How to manage panic attacks without panicking!”

  1. Panic attacks are awful, I can empathise there. Fantastic post and some encouraging pointers for dealing with them! x

  2. This is a wonderful post, so thoughtful and helpful. Panic attacks are so frightening, wish I had known all of this a year ago when I had my first one. Pinning for a good reminder later. Thank you!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this post. I had my first panic attack, that I knew was a panic attack, when I was eighteen, though i think I may have had some earlier in my childhood and not known it: so at least eight years now! As such, I, like you, have become something of a “panic attack expert,” and I am so glad people are beginning to talk about them more.

  4. Thanks Kat – they are so much more common than people think and it takes a lot of strength to deal with them. I hope you have some strategies that work for you with yours xx

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