If you’re anything like me, you’ve experienced a lot of panic attacks. I’ve found that more often than not, there’s someone that I can go to in person to help calm me down or there’s someone I trust just a phone call away who can help me as well. But what if there’s no one to go to and no one to call? How – in a state of utter panic and breathlessness – do you reason with yourself to calm down and stop the attack?
Recently, I had a massive panic attack in the bathroom at my work and nearly passed out from feeling so overwhelmed. I have a job in entertainment and have been dealing with an online stalker and that morning I reached my breaking point when he had upped his game and then I found that no one was being supportive or helpful of my situation. I felt there was no one who understood what I was going through and that no one really cared. So, I went into the bathroom to cry, clowded my brain with negative thoughts about how no one cared about me, no one would protect me, and how I was likely going to get physically attacked. Before I knew it, I was hyperventilating, my head was spinning, and I nearly passed out and fell off the toilet I was sitting on. I knew it was up to me to stop my panic attack and these are the steps that worked for me:
Step 1: Deep Breathing
The first step to calming yourself is to start taking slow, deep, complete breaths. Remind yourself that you are only having a panic attack and nothing more serious physically is happening to you. It’s your body and you are in control. These breaths will relax your body, which is the first step to reversing the release of adrenaline your body experiences during a state of panic.
Step 2: Stop The Negative Thoughts
When someone is having a panic attack, chances are their mind is in a tormented loop of the same negative thoughts. So, whatever it is that has you in a panic, stop thinking about it. Whatever the thoughts were that sent you into this state of panic need to stop going through your head so that you can end the panicked loop. Once you have interrupted this loop, you can insert new, positive thoughts.
Step 3: Start The Positive Thoughts
Now is the time to start telling yourself coping statements to bring positivity into your mind. There are three options here: 1) You find something positive about the current situation that has you in a panic. 2) You find something positive in your life that is unrelated to the current situation that has you in a panic, but that can still put a positive perspective on your life. 3) You simply tell yourself repeatedly that you are fine until you can calm down enough to think more clearly and come up with positive specifics.
Step 4: Assess The Panic Attack
First of all, it’s important to acknowledge the feelings you were having that triggered your panic attack. You don’t want to tell yourself that your reaction was blown out of proportion because all feelings are valid. Understand what it was that made you feel so overwhelmed and figure out which negative thoughts escalated your emotions. Then, figure out how you can stop the escalation of those feelings in the future. If you were upset about something that occurs often in your life, come up with coping mechanisms – such as the positive thoughts in step 3 – to stop your panic attack before it even starts the next time the situation arises. If you were upset over an isolated incident that likely won’t specifically occur again, think about the overarching feelings you felt and how they could be associated with other future situations and come up with coping mechanisms for those more general feelings. I will admit that I cried the rest of the day and ate froyo and mac and cheese, but I wasn’t in a state of panic and I felt much better the next day after crying out all of the stress I had been feeling. Moral of the story: let yourself feel your emotions, but don’t let them overwhelm you.