Panic Attack: a cool name for a rock band but the mental equivalent of being struck by lightening.
Since the age of 16 I’ve suffered with them, some more severe than others.
But recently I really thought I’d turned a corner.
I hadn’t had a panic attack in over a year and was feeling pretty smug about my new life in London.
The day started like any other, I did my morning meditation, hopped on the tube and began my commute.
But for some reason I felt off – a vague sense of irritability that I couldn’t quite explain.
By now I’m used to playing human tetris on the tube but on this particular day I felt very crowded and claustrophobic like I wanted to wave a magic wand and make all the other people disappear.
Then when I got to Bank where I had to change lines I started to cry a bit and suddenly became anxious that I wasn’t going to get off in time and would miss my stop.
I jumped up and tried to push out past a man, frantically saying, “excuse me, excuse me” but there were people getting off from the other side of him so he said “just wait a minute love.”
That was it, I flipped.
I was so angry that he called me “love”, he probably didn’t mean anything by it but in that moment I felt patronised, invisible.
When I got up to ground level the panic was in full flow.
Heart racing I leant my head against a brick wall and just let the tears fall, whilst trying to stop my negative thoughts from spiralling out of control.
“I’m pathetic, why is this happening, I thought I was done with panic attacks, I’m going to have to quit my job again, I can’t cope with life, what must people think of me, I’m meant to have my shit together now, I’m a mess…”
Breathe in, breathe out, it’s going to be fine.
Then a kind lady came and asked me if I was ok.
I’ve always been incredibly humbled by the kindness of strangers.
I told her thank you, that I’d be fine etc.
Then I wiped away my tears, took a few more deep breaths and walked into the office like nothing had happened.
It was just a blip, a rocky ten minutes in a 24 hour day.
It doesn’t define who I am or how I’m feeling and I don’t need to beat myself with the “shoulds” and the “could haves” and the “whys” of it.
If you suffer from panic attacks here are some tips for calming down that have worked for me over the years…
1.) Emergency paper bag
Keep a paper bag on you that you can breathe in and out of.
You probably won’t want to draw attention to yourself but you can also do this in the toilets or by shutting yourself in a room like a stationery cupboard.
Take a deep breath and with the bag held tightly around your mouth, exhale deeply until it expands fully.
Repeat many times as necessary.
Top tip – If you use female toilets, the little hygiene sanitary bags that you sometimes find in there are really good for this.
2.) Deep breathing
The same principle as the paper bag breathing.
Focus entirely on your breath – in through your nose, out through your mouth.
Every time your mind snaps back to a negative or anxious thought just guide it gently back to the breath.
Try inhaling to the count of 4, hold for 5, and exhale for 7. Repeat as necessary.
3.) Close your eyes and say a little prayer
Once you’re in a safe space, i.e. not driving, standing in the middle of the road or in a busy crowd, just close your eyes and focus on the present.
Then say a little prayer “Please, (Insert higher power here), take this feeling of panic away from me, help me to be calm.”
If you’re not religious or spiritual and don’t believe in any kind of cosmic force, higher power, Unicorn god etc, then just tell yourself that it’s going to be ok, you’re loved and you’re safe.
4.) Lavender oil
As well as being a great aid to sleep, lavender oil can help you to feel more calm and relaxed.
Keep a little bottle with you and if you feel panicked, dab a couple of drops on your wrists and rub them together.
Bring them up to your nose and inhale deeply, then put a couple of drops on each finger and rub them on your temples.
5.) Walk it off
Sometimes if you’re in public and are a bit exposed it’s not as easy to go off to a quiet place and have some time by yourself.
Keeping moving can also calm down those feelings of stress and anxiety.
If you’re in a city/town try walking up and down the same street or doing a few laps of a building.
Focus on your senses – what you can see, hear and smell.
Distract yourself by noticing all the dogs that walk past, the colour red, street signs, things beginning with “P” or anything else you can think of.
If you don’t know the area, don’t wander too far or else you might get lost (I have done this before.)