How to deal with panic attacks
(This is what I do)
Almost 11% of adults have a panic attack every year (via Cleveland Clinic). Panic attacks are more common than you would think.
I had my first panic attack during lockdown in 2020. It was late at night when I was stuck at home after getting Covid. I didn't even realize it was a panic attack because I thought I was going to die. I have always been anxious, but it had never been that bad.
I messaged my best friend in Canada, and she called me immediately, and I told her, "I am scared to go to sleep because I'm worried, I'll stop breathing in my sleep and won't wake up." She consoled me the best she could, and her husband, a nurse, said that I would continue to breathe even when I was asleep.
We talked for a while till I felt calmer, but I was still jittery. I knew my mental health would be affected during the lockdown as I am from a mental health background and was doing everything I could. I ate well, did yoga every day, and exercised- but no one can predict when a panic attack will pay you a visit.
I was stuck in my studio apartment in Chicago without any social interactions, and prior to the pandemic, I had a thriving social life. I always liked being around people. I always saw friends and never knew how much being on my own inside an apartment would affect me.
After my first big panic attack, I knew it would happen again, and I knew I had to be prepared because it was a feeling of helplessness that literally no one could help me with. I started reading up on it, so I knew exactly what to do when my unwelcome friend visited me, and that friend visited often.
Here's how to start, there is an uncomfortable feeling that takes over your mind and your body. I start breathing differently, and I feel this tightness in my chest. I get scared but know I am the only one who can get me over this.
I started talking to myself like I would to a friend.
Now lay down and close your eyes. You are having a panic attack and it’s okay. It happens to many people, and you're not dying; you're going through a tough time, but it will pass. Please take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, and breathe out like you're blowing out your birthday candles. Do it as many times as you need.
Once you have a little control over your breath, things will get easier. This is going to pass; this won't last forever.
It's okay to cry because many people cry when such strong emotions take over. Let the tears out but keep breathing. Don't worry because you aren't going to die; you are going through a hump. It's a hump that you'll overcome. It might take a few minutes or a couple of hours, but it won't last forever.
Don't blame yourself for feeling this way. This doesn't mean you're weak- you're having a moment of weakness, and the panic attack is leaving you every second. You can put your hands over your chest or hold your hand to let you know you're there for you.
If you're still struggling, it's okay because there is no set time for how long it should last, but I guarantee that it will leave, and everything will be okay. You will be okay because you have to be okay. I promise you will be okay.
Panic attacks are especially hard when you're alone because it's hard to distract yourself. Especially in my case, when I work from home, I feel completely detached from the outside world. I love the freedom of working from home, but it took away my ability to feel comfortable leaving the house.
I still struggle with it sometimes. I have been traveling the world alone since I was 17; I was an explorer grasping every opportunity to see a new city or experience a new culture. Still, somehow, I got so comfortable staying home that the idea of going outside was challenging. It still is.
It makes me sad that staying in rewired my brain so much that I am scared to go out, and the only way I have done it recently is with a friend, but I know the only way to overcome it is by making myself leave the house.
Yesterday, I had a panic attack after a long time, and I felt so helpless, but the rational part of me didn't leave my side. It was awful to feel so scared for no reason, and I was crying, but I knew it would pass because it always does.
I remember praying and repeating, "Please make me strong. Please make me strong. Please make me strong," over and over again, and in an hour, I felt "more normal." I had to give myself the time to let it play out instead of resisting it, and I knew it would leave, and it did.
I spoke to my friend in Chicago, who has been my rock in such times. Hearing her voice made everything seem better.
It's not easy, but I tell myself the only way to overcome it is by taking one step at a time. I promise you you're not in this alone because it can feel lonely, but never a permanent visitor. You have to try because you don't want it to stop you from doing what you love.
You got this, and in the meantime, remember you are strong.