Where did that come from?  Up close and personal with a panic attack.

Where did that come from?  Up close and personal with a panic attack.

I recently enjoyed some time with my family in Cape Town.  On one of the days we were lucky to find ourselves on top of majestic Table Mountain with not a breath of wind or cloud in sight.  As we started queuing to catch the cable car back down again (not my best!) I noticed the guy behind me was struggling with a panicky feeling – the trip up had obviously been very scary for him and he was petrified of going back down again.  His friends were very supportive as well as the man who ‘drove’ us down the mountain.  I felt for him as I know how debilitating and real the fear can be.  I saw he had some water with him (someone once told me you can’t have a panic attack if your mouth is moist so you’ll generally always see me with my bottle of water).  It’s also a good way just to keep yourself calm, sipping from a bottle slowly.  Then I thought about my Aromadough which I keep in my handbag for moments when I need to find some calm or my little pebble I picked up from the beach and keep in my handbag for moments when I just need to rub it between my fingers for its soothing effect, not to mention the Calm App which I’ve downloaded onto my phone.  As you can see my handbag is like my little treasure trove of items for the ‘just in case moment.’  My reality is that I live with anxiety and I don’t let it define me, but I do understand the importance of putting coping skills in place for my own peace of mind.

I am not afraid of storms because I am learning how to sail my ship…

I think over the years I’ve realized that the flight and fight reaction can appear from nowhere, when you least expect it!  My 1st ever panic attack happened when I was 35 years old, about 6 months after the birth of my son Thomas.  It was truly the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced and wouldn’t wish it on anyone!  I hadn’t been feeling like I was coping and had phoned my doctor’s rooms to make an appointment with him.  We were still living in London at the time. When the receptionist said he was away for the next 2 weeks it was like time stopped, my brain became fuzzy, something tripped in my mind and I started to not be able to breathe.  I didn’t know which way to turn and then the panic took over.  I had a full-blown panic attack to the extent that the people I was with called an ambulance.  The paramedics managed to calm me down and then took me to a local hospital because I honestly thought I was dying, where I sat on my own for over 2 hours with my racing heartbeat before a doctor saw me.  He took one look at me and said that if I feel like this again, I should have a shower and it’ll help me feel better.  Not helpful!  I had no idea what was happening to me or why it had happened to me but that was when my journey with anxiety started.

In the moment there’s an overwhelming feeling of panic from the adrenalin rushing through your body and it just seems to keep picking up momentum.  Rational thinking becomes tricky.  I think from my experience that is why I’ve subconsciously put together a little ‘be prepared’ handbag so that when I find myself in the moment I’m able to reach into it and grab whatever I find without having to think about it and distract myself from what I’m feeling – the moment will pass, this I now know – but it’s coping in the moment.

If I find myself ‘unprepared’ the situation seems to escalate.  I know a lot is said about breathing through the panic by taking slow, deep breaths and this does indeed help but I’ve also discovered that in the moment I don’t always get to think about it as my breathing becomes shallower and harder.  When I have calmed down, I think oh yes, I should’ve breathed through that.  Taking a deep breath in for 6 counts; hold for 6 counts and then breathe out slowly through your mouth for 6 counts, as though you’re blowing onto a teaspoon has helped a lot.  My lovely doctor gave me a really helpful coping skill which I’ve used quite often.  It’s called the Grounding technique.  It’s really simple to do and has a great effect in calming my mind by slowing down my breathing.  I thought I’d share it with you…like practicing my breathing and taking long slow breaths it’s also handy to practice this every now and then so that if you do need to use it in a moment of panic it’s a little easier.

Grounding skills can be a most helpful tool in managing overwhelming feelings or intense anxiety, helping you feel contained and safe, by connecting to the 5 senses.

  • Take a deep breath in through your nose and slowly out through your mouth.
  • Name 5 things you can SEE around you and say it out loud.
  • Breathe
  • Name 4 things you can TOUCH around you and what it feels like – say it out loud.
  • Breathe
  • Name 3 things you can HEAR going on around you and say it out loud.
  • Breathe
  • Name 2 things you can SMELL around you – say it out loud.
  • Breathe
  • Name 1 FEELING you are experiencing at the moment, but don’t use the word anxiety – again say it out loud.
  • Breathe

You may need to do this a few times…

A very special lady told me once that a panic attack is a way for your body to let off steam, a bit like a pressure cooker and it’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down and remember to show yourself some self-care.  This was a really helpful way to look at it, seeing a little bit of good in something that seems so debilitating at the time…and remembering that it will pass but being in the moment requires a few coping strategies…go gently with yourself.

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