I remember my first panic attack vividly. I was 15 years old and I thought I was going to die.
It came out of nowhere. I couldn’t catch my breath and it felt like I’d swallowed a golf ball. My heart was palpitating, and an invisible iron weight crushed my chest. The walls closed in and my vision blurred.
I had no idea what caused it and I was terrified of it happening again; a vicious cycle of fear and panic was born. My panic attacks increased at an alarming rate until I was having several a week. It was exhausting.
One of the hardest parts was not knowing when panic would strike. I’d be out enjoying myself or drifting off to sleep and then – BAM! – panic attack.
When I was diagnosed with panic disorder my doctor assured me that panic attacks (whilst scary) aren’t dangerous.
I’ve learnt many coping strategies over the last 13 years and I no longer fear panic attacks.
My tips for coping with panic disorder are:
- Don’t fight panic attacks
I used to try and fight my panic attacks, which made them more intense and more physically draining. Acceptance is key. Acknowledge that you’re having a panic attack, breathe as deeply as you can and tell yourself you’ll get through it – just like you got through all the others.
- Don’t run from panic attacks
Avoiding situations where you think you might have a panic attack gives the disorder control over your life. At age 20 I had a panic attack in a crowded nightclub. I wanted to run, but I knew it wasn’t the answer. Instead, I rode it out. After it passed, I stood up tall, threw my shoulders back and marched straight over to the dance floor. And I started to dance.
Panic disorder doesn’t have the power to dictate which places I can go to.
- Talk about it
When I was younger, I tried to hide my anxiety from other people. Which is why the first time I had a panic attack at work my colleague shouted: ‘Call 999 – she’s having a heart attack!’ …Not ideal.
I get it – telling people about your panic disorder isn’t easy. But if people know about it, they’re less likely to overreact when you have a panic attack. Plus, you can tell them how they can help in advance.
My husband knows the best thing to do when I have a panic attack is to talk to me. About anything. He tells me about something funny our dog did that day or about a place we should visit. Listening to his voice gives me something to focus on.
- Get support
Seeking support takes courage, but seeing a Counsellor was one of the best decisions I made. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) helped to reduce the number of panic attacks I had and equipped me with coping strategies.
Living with panic disorder isn’t easy – but it doesn’t have to hold you back.
Francesca Edwards is a freelance writer from Staffordshire. When she’s not at home typing away, you’ll find her relaxing at the nearest beach.
If you are going through a similar experience to Francesca, please call our infoline on 03444 775 774 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to access our national therapy service where you can access Counselling, CBT or Clinical Hypnotherapy at a discounted rate. Alternatively, follow this link to find our more: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/our-services/accessing-therapy/