The racing heartbeat, feeling like you can’t breathe, maybe even like you’re dying. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know it’s a truly awful experience.
The Mayo Clinic defines a panic attack as “ a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.”
Typical symptoms may include a sense of impending doom or danger, sweating, shaking, nausea, dizziness, and chest pain– all of which can add fuel to the existing feelings. It’s a terrible experience, and it’s easy to feel like there’s no way out of it.
That, however, is untrue. Bill Hader recently posted this video about dealing with anxiety and, while panic and anxiety aren’t quite the same monster, they’re related enough that this applies for both: you can’t pretend the feeling isn’t there.
That said, you don’t have to just suffer through the horribleness. There are plenty of strategies to help, even when you feel completely helpless.
Not every approach works for every person– usually just the opposite, unfortunately. It’s mostly trial and error to figure out what methods work to get you through. You might also find that what works in one circumstance doesn’t work in another.
It’s good to know, then, that having a few different options can prevent escalation… or what I think of as brain implosion.
Distract your brain
This is sometimes called 5-4-3-2-1. It works by soaking up the extra panic-energy, so you can regroup.
Counting is a good way of doing this, as is focusing on environmental elements (forcing your brain to concentrate somewhere else).
It works like this: First, you identify 5 things you can see. Once you’ve got that, move on to 4 things you can hear.
Next, find 3 things you can touch. After that, 2 you can smell, and then one you can taste.
By the time, you reach the last sense, you are likely to have regained your balance.
Give yourself boundaries
Do you remember that scene on “Lost,” when Jack tells Kate about making a mistake during his first surgery?
He explains to her that he slipped and injured a patient, an accident with potentially disastrous consequences.
He says, however, that he got through the fear by giving himself a count of five to feel it and then move past it into action.
Counting helps to establish limits on the emotion and establish control over it, as in the 5-4-3-2-1 strategy.
When your psyche hands you lemons…
Among the other awesome physiological symptoms of panic, it can literally leave a bad taste in your mouth– one that’s usually described as metallic.
Try keeping some lemon or ginger drops– you know, like the candies your grandparents used to keep on hand– to override this physical cue.
The taste also helps with the potential nausea or upset stomach that many experience when stressed.
In addition, the small, simple task of sucking on the candy redirects your brain from the panic to a more concrete and finite act.
I mean, most of us can manage to eat a candy (diabetics, I don’t mean to be insensitive here. There are lots of sugar-free options too, but you probably knew that).
I’ve tried these tricks and they’ve been useful for me and others caught in the riptide of a massive freakout.
If they don’t work for you, though, there are roughly a zillion other strategies floating around online including focusing on one specific object, using CBD for panic attacks and stress, or tensing your entire body in high-pressure situations.
Above all else, keep breathing: it might not feel like it right then, but you can get through it.
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