Panic attacks can hit at the most inconvenient times and finding ways to deal with them can be challenging. Heart racing. Sweating from places you didn’t know you could sweat from. Aches. Pains. Nausea. Upset stomach. Feeling like you are going to die. That, my friend, is a panic attack (also known as an anxiety attack).
I’ve experienced panic attacks at work, networking events, parties, crowded nightclubs and pubs, in the car, in the kitchen, during the middle of the night, and (strangest of all) in the middle of a jetty (it was a long jetty…). I’ve tried so many ways to overcome them. Some worked, some didn’t.
Here are 14 tips to help you deal with panic attacks, all of which have helped me at some time in my life and continue to form part of my stress management toolkit.
Easier said than done, I admit, but this is an important tip to remember!
When anxiety hits, try to focus on the process of breathing only; not forcing your breathing to change. If you are anything like me this might make you hyperventilate. I’m talking about being aware of your breathing because you might be shallow breathing (holding your breath when stressed or simply forgetting to breathe).
Anxiety tip: Guided meditation sessions and Dharma talks by Tara Brach are my favourite way to relax whilst also opening up my mind to another way of thinking. A more mindful way of thinking. I find Tara’s voice very relaxing, and she provides many insights throughout her talks to digest.
2. Discover Mindfulness
Stop what you’re doing and find a place to sit. Practice being in the present moment. Be where you are now. Not in the past, when something happened or in the future. Focus on right now where you are at this very second.
Mindfulness is a great way to hone into the present moment. Growing evidence suggests that mindfulness has enormous physical and mental health benefits, including significantly reducing the recurrence of major depressive episodes in patients who have been treated for depression and reducing blood pressure (Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, UMass Medical School. “Issues in the Administration of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program”, 2013, p. 14 ).
Anxiety tip: If you’re are experiencing a lot of problems with anxiety, check out a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program near you. If you are in Perth, Western Australia, I highly recommend the MBSR program run by Mind and Movement. It’s worth it—I can honestly say it changed my life!
3. Write Yourself Free
It’s really important to get whatever is in your head out. Grab yourself a nice little notebook and a few colorful pens and carry them with you wherever you go. Allow yourself to write out your thoughts without overthinking. What you write doesn’t need to make sense. Just allow the streams of consciousness to flow. The whole process of writing with a pen and paper is cathartic and it will make you will better and possibly less overwhelmed.
Anxiety tip: In case you are completely stuck I find writing lists a great option, but remember to keep them simple so you don’t get overwhelmed!
4. Talk to someone
When you’re borderline freaking out, instead of turning inwards which is a fairly natural response, pick up that phone and talk to someone. I know, it’s a bit old school. It could be someone you know or someone you don’t know. There are so many amazing help lines and other groups out there.
If you are around people, why not tap your friend, colleague or partner on the shoulder and ask them to go for a little walk?
5. Go easy on yourself
The important thing is to recognize what is happening to you, to accept it, and to tell yourself that what is happening is not life-threatening and it’s not the end of the world (even though it feels like it).
Try not to focus on the anxiety or give yourself a beating for allowing it to happen as this will cause your anxiety to escalate.
Anxiety tip: Remember – This too shall pass.
6. Hug it out
Don’t be afraid to ask for a hug. Grab someone you feel comfortable with and give them a big bear hug. There’s nothing like a big bear hug! Try to hold your hug for 12 seconds and really feel the connection between your hearts.
7. Tread the pavement lightly
A nice long walk is the best cure for almost everything, and if you don’t have time for a long walk don’t stress! Even five minutes will help. Next time anxiety hits, leave wherever you are (if you can) and go for a gentle, slow walk around the block, to the park, along the beach … wherever! The movement and fresh air will do you the world of good.
Yoga is great for stretching out the body whilst allowing you to breathe easier, gain clarity of mind and help you to relax.
This is the first thing I do every morning (after the obligatory bathroom stop and before my daily coffee, of course). I allow myself at least 10 minutes for yoga as I have found that it really helps me to wake up, clear my head for the morning and center me for the day. It also helps me stretch out any of those kinks in my body.
Anxiety tip: Look into yoga programs, apps, podcasts or YouTube video series you can do from the comfort of your own home. Some of the yoga videos I’ve checked out leave me more stressed than when I started and with a strained neck. Honestly, I don’t want to sit there watching some cut yogi in her designer workout gear try and teach me yoga at breakneck speed. No. I want to relax. And I don’t want to sit there feeling completely inadequate.
I like something more down to earth and real which is why I love Yoga TX – a couple of chicks who love and teach yoga respectfully from beginners level and up. Their lessons are especially gentle on your body and mind and I love their videos for anxiety/stress, and lower back pain and sciatica relief.
The health benefits of meditation have been proven over centuries with several studies suggesting that mindfulness-meditation practice had an overall positive effect on improving anxiety and stress but it can be a challenging habit to cultivate. Do yourself a favor and load some meditation podcasts or apps on your phone so you can take them wherever you go. Carry a pair of headphones with you too and truly immerse yourself.
Meditation can be a challenging habit to cultivate so ease your way into it by starting gently. I started by taking a community class in mindfulness meditation and continued by loading some meditation podcasts and apps onto my phone to take wherever I went. Be comforted by the thought that even long-term meditators still have their moments where they struggle. The key is not to pass judgment on yourself and to find what works best for you.
Anxiety tip: Carry a pair of headphones around with you so that you can truly immerse yourself in a guided meditation whenever you need.
10. Avoid caffeine
For those prone to anxiety, it’s best to observe your body and how caffeine impacts you. Be honest with yourself. Does caffeine help or hinder you? Are those mid-afternoon crashes really just you feeling tired or is it the after effects of drinking caffeine?
I work best with no more than one coffee a day. That’s it. If I break my rule I suffer from everything from heart palpitations to nausea and panic attacks.
11. Take a well-deserved break
Allow yourself to take a break regularly. Not just once a day … or week. Actually get up out of your chair or step away your desk or whatever it is you are doing and take a 10-minute break.
Now, go and do something completely different. Sit on a park bench and soak up the fresh air. Grab a coffee and sit quietly in a cafe.
Most importantly, SWITCH OFF. I know it’s hard but it will help if you leave the phone behind in your desk drawer or bag. Out of sight out of mind, they say (well … eventually, it will be that way. You will first need to re-train your brain to be that way).
12. Listen to music for your soul
Do you have a happy song or something that brings back good memories? Load them on your phone so that you can take them everywhere you go. That way, if you feel a panic attack coming on, you can plug in your earphones, switch on your song and tune out of your environment and anxiety.
Why not go that extra step and collate an anxiety playlist with a list of songs that will guarantee to do the job and calm your mind. That way you will always be prepared.
13. See someone
Talk to a counsellor or see a doctor, and remember:
There is nothing wrong with seeking help.
Anxiety Tip: My word to you is this—don’t settle. Find someone you feel comfortable with and whom you trust. Otherwise, it will be pointless. Keep in mind that it’s good to see a counsellor every now and then. It’s a good way get things off of your chest and once they get to know you they can recognize the signs and help you before things escalate.
Remember that everyone feels anxiety in some degree at some stage of their life. You are not alone.