I’ve created a PDF Infographic for the main points of this post, which you can view and download for free here: Panic Plan
Contrary to what you may think, my panic plan is not a plan that I implement when I fancy a quick panic. I don’t need to plan for that, thanks very much. Instead it’s a plan I wrote down and stuck up on my living room wall at a time when I was almost hysterically anxious and prone to panic attacks just by existing.
I suppose it isn’t really a plan as such, more a set of ideas to help me calm down or at least feel more comfortable as I sit with my hideously debilitating emotions. I’m not sure that there’s any quick fix or solution to escaping a panic attack, and I am not suggesting that anything on this list will stop an attack or even work at all; we are all delightfully different and these ideas don’t even work as miracle cures for me, they just make things slightly more bearable.
As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, sharing some of my coping strategies seems in the right spirit of things. It won’t be often that I get to share practical advice, so I may as well take this opportunity in the hope that perhaps it will be useful for anyone else who has been struck by anxiety or panic.
Why have a plan? Can’t you just remember what to do?
No, actually. I made a plan for a few reasons: one, focusing and writing things down that I’d noticed made me feel better gave me back some sense of control over the anxiety – there were some things I could do; two, all sensibility goes out of the window during a panic attack and I doubt I’d remember anything useful; and three, it helps my partner, he’d be able to talk me through the list without having to commit to memory what his mental bitch girlfriend needed at every specific trip down Breakdown Avenue.
Alright then. So, what’s the plan?
Be standing or sitting up
A lot of my panic attacks have begun as I’ve been lying down or otherwise leisurely reclined. I don’t know why, I’m sure it’s not relevant. Standing or sitting up means I can take deeper, fuller breaths; lying down has a tendency to make me want to curl up into a tiny ball and restrict my breathing even more. I’m not a doctor, but that doesn’t strike me as sensible. It’s just easier to do things when you’re standing or sitting up; annoying as it might be for neighbours or roommates, you could always pace around to relieve some of the excess energy.
Take sips of water
Do this slowly. Forcing yourself to chug half a litre of water when your body is in full panic mode doesn’t seem like something that would end well. For me, the colder the water, the better it is. It’s difficult to explain, but the coldness makes it easier to notice the water as you sip it, and there’s something soothing about the cold feeling slipping down into my chest which is, by this point, sweating profusely and hosting a heart that’s trying to beat its way out my rib cage with an army of tiny fists.
Open a window
I don’t care if it’s cold outside, in fact, that’s probably better. Getting a window open gets fresh air into the room, and a breeze might make it easier to take in deep breaths. Noticing a small change in the environment, like temperature, smells, or sounds takes me out of myself a bit more and gives me something else to focus on other than the Panic Patrol hosting their annual gala in my body.
I mean, yes. We all know this, take deep breaths, try to hold them for a couple of seconds, whatever. It’s so agonisingly hard to actually do this, even though we know it helps. Trying to reign your breath back in is like trying to stop Theresa May from running through wheat fields. I use ‘elephants’ to count my breath, so I’ll breathe in for one (elephant), two (elephant), three (elephant), then out for four (elephant), five (elephant), six (elephant). I don’t know where I got ‘elephant’ from, but I like it.
Giving my hands something to do helps even when I’m not in a full blown panic attack; I think last time I was in a state, I let my wandering hands loose on one of my lovely soft cushions, idly rubbing the insides together to generate so much friction I’m surprised it didn’t burst aflame. I have more sensible options, such as my fidget cube or crystals, but these aren’t always to hand (so to speak). Of course it depends on what type of person you are, but busying my body helps to expend some of the energy I’ve built up and gives me something else to focus on.
Try distracting yourself
Difficult to do when in the midst of a panic attack, but if you’re feeling particularly fraught it helps to give your brain something else to do. I quite like doing puzzles or playing mindless games on my phone or tablet – simple things that require your concentration but don’t take up too much time or energy.
As well as my panic plan, I gave myself a little list of reassurances to go with it. These help me to focus on getting past the panic attack, and knowing that it will end:
- I have felt this before, and it always passes
- I have never fainted or completely lost control
- I know exactly what’s happening to me, and it isn’t dangerous
It isn’t much, but recognising things that might make you feel even the tiniest bit better is so important. Honestly, sometimes I welcome panic attacks because afterwards I invariably get a sensation of intense release, and feel a lot better. It’s almost volcanic, the pressure builds up until it overflows with fiery, destructive anxiety. When the river of lava has slowed, I’m left emptier but more at peace for a short time. Am I in some way comparing my mental state to the ruins of Pompeii? Yes, probably.
I’m a planner, a list-maker, a ‘fixer’, a ‘helper’, it makes perfect sense for me to try taking down anxiety with FACTS and REASON! Nevertheless I hope this helps someone or inspires you to create your own plan… just in case.