My Story dealing with Panic Attacks
Dealing with Panic Attacks
One of the unfortunate outcomes from suffering from excessive stress and anxiety is a physical reaction of your body to the situation. It’s like your body is telling you that
you need to rest for a moment. Except when you’re having a panic attack, it’s anything BUT restful.
This is a long post, I know, but I promise you it is worth reading until the end. I want to share with you my own story dealing with panic attacks. I had my first panic attack while my husband and I were driving home from a New Orleans Saints football game. We were about 30 miles from our home when I began to feel a
bit “off”. I was having trouble breathing, my body felt disconnected, and my heart was beating at what seemed like 90 miles an hour.
I pulled the van off to the side of the highway and got out hoping to “walk it off”. But it didn’t work. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt like I was dying. I remember saying over and over again, “Please not now. I’m not ready.” It was horrifying.
The good news is that I wasn’t dying – obviously! But that night began a terrible journey for me into how my body reacted to excessive stress and anxiety. Since then, I have had many panic attacks, but I also learned how to recognize that one might be coming on and how to control it. I’m not
always able to get hold of it completely and will occasionally fall into full-blown panic mode, but it’s a lot better than it was.
So, let’s look at the signs that you might be having a
panic attack. The following list gives tell-tale warning signs
of an oncoming panic attack.
Signs of a panic attack
• A pounding heart, or an accelerated heart rate
• Trembling or shaking
• Shortness of breath
• A choking sensation
• Chest pain or discomfort
• Nausea or stomach cramps
• De-realization (a feeling of unreality)
• Fear of losing control or going crazy
• Fear of dying
• Numbness or a tingling sensation in your face and
• Chills or hot flashes
You would be surprised at how many people go to the hospital emergency room completely sure that they’re having a heart attack only to find out that it’s a panic attack.
They’re that intense!
It’s very difficult for your loved ones to imagine or even understand what you are going through when you have a panic attack. They may lose patience with you, tell you to
“get over it”, or think you’re faking. It may help if you show them the following scenario.
You are standing in line at the grocery store. It’s been a long wait but there’s only one customer to go before you make it to the cashier. Wait, what was that? An unpleasant feeling forms in your throat, your chest feels tighter, now a sudden shortness of breath, and what do you know—your heart skips a beat. “Please, God, not here.”
You make a quick scan of the territory—is it threatening? Four unfriendly faces are behind you and one person is in front. Pins and needles seem to prick you through your left arm, you feel slightly dizzy, and then the explosion of fear as you dread the worst. You are about to have a panic attack.
There is no doubt in your mind now that this is going to be a big one. Okay, time for you to focus. You know how to deal with this – at least you hope you do! Start breathing
deeply – in through the nose, out through the mouth.
Think relaxing thoughts, and again, while breathing in, think “Relax,” and then breathe out. But it doesn’t seem to be having any positive effect; in fact, just concentrating on breathing is making you feel self-conscious and more
Maybe if you just try to relax your muscles. Tense both
shoulders, hold for 10 seconds, then release. Try it again.
Nope, still no difference. The anxiety is getting worse and
the very fact that you are out of coping techniques worsens
your panic. If only you were surrounded by your family, or a
close friend were beside you so you could feel more
confident in dealing with this situation.
Now, the adrenaline is really pumping through your
system, your body is tingling with uncomfortable sensations,
and now the dreaded feeling of losing complete control
engulfs your emotions. No one around you has any idea of
the sheer terror you are experiencing. For them, it’s just a
regular day and another frustratingly slow line at the grocery
You realize you are out of options. It’s time to run.
You excuse yourself from the line looking embarrassed as it
is now that it is your turn to pay. The cashier is looking
bewildered as you leave your shopping behind and stroll
towards the door.
There is no time for excuses—you need to be alone.
You leave the supermarket and get into your car to ride it
out alone. You wonder whether or not this one was the big
one. The one you fear will push you over the edge mentally
and physically. Ten minutes later the panic subsides. It’s
only 11:00 in the morning, how in the world can you make it
through the rest of your day?
If you suffer from panic or anxiety attacks, the above
scenario probably sounds very familiar. It may have even
induced feelings of anxiety and panic just reading it. In fact,
it was difficult for me just to write it!
The particular situations that trigger your panic and
anxiety may differ. Maybe the bodily sensations are a little
different. What’s important to realize is that panic attacks
are very real to the people who are having them and they
should never be pushed off to the side.
I remember one evening at home when I was by
myself watching one of my favorite television programs. I
thought I was in a safe place. There was no obvious trigger
and I felt completely relaxed. Out of nowhere, I began
having symptoms of a panic attack. The four walls of my
living room were closing in around me. I couldn’t breathe
and felt like I was dying.
I stepped out on my front porch for some fresh air and
began deep breathing exercises. The symptoms eventually
went away, but it left me wondering why exactly I had that
attack. There was no obvious reason, no stressful situation,
and no indicator that a panic attack might be impending.
That’s the strange thing about panic. Sometimes your
mind can play tricks on you. Even when you think you’re in
no danger of having a panic attack, your brain might be
feeling differently. That’s the scary part. The good part is
that there are ways you can combat panic attacks and cope
much better when you find yourself in that situation.
Coping with a Panic Attack
If you have panic attacks, it may help to comfort you
that you are not alone! You’re not even one in a million. In
America, it is estimated that almost 5% of the population
suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.
For some, it may be the infrequent panic attacks that
only crop up in particular situations-like when having to
speak in front of others, while, for other people, it can be so
frequent and recurring that it inhibits them from leaving
their home. Frequent panic attacks often develop into what
medical physicians refer to as an “anxiety disorder.”
There are many ways of coping with an anxiety
disorder. Some may not work for you, but others just
might. It helps to know some of the most common coping
techniques for dealing with panic attacks when they begin.
Your first step is to recognize when a panic attack is
about to begin. When you have enough of them, you start
to really pay attention to the tingling sensation, the
shortness of breath, and the disconnection from the real life
Many people I talk to wonder what that disconnection is
like. They have a hard time understanding it. Those of us
who have panic attacks are all too familiar with it. It’s like
you can look at a solid object and see that it is there. You
know it’s there, but a part of your mind doubts that it really
You may find yourself reaching out to touch that object
just to be sure. You feel like you’re not a part of the world
around you. It’s as if you are just a spectator in your own
life with no control over anything around you.
Believe me, this is a horrible feeling.
So how do you start trying to combat your panic
attacks? What if I told you the trick to ending panic and
anxiety attacks is to WANT to have one. That sounds
strange, even contradictory, doesn’t it? But the want really
does help push it away.
Does this mean that you should be able to bring on a
panic attack at this very moment? Absolutely not! What it
means is that when you are afraid of something – in this
case a panic attack – it will more than likely appear and
wreak havoc. When you stand up to the attack, your
chances of fending it off are much greater.
If you resist a situation out of fear, the fear around that
issue will persist. How do you stop resisting–you move
directly into it, into the path of the anxiety, and by doing so
it cannot persist.
In essence what this means is that if you daily
voluntarily seek to have a panic attack, you cannot have
one. Try in this very moment to have a panic attack and I
will guarantee you cannot. You may not realize it but you
have always decided to panic. You make the choice by
saying this is beyond my control whether it be consciously or
Another way to appreciate this is to imagine having a
panic attack as like standing on a cliff’s edge. The anxiety
seemingly pushes you closer to falling over the edge. To be
rid of the fear you must metaphorically jump. You must
jump off the cliff edge and into the anxiety and fear and all
the things that you fear most. How do you jump? You jump by wanting to have a panic attack. You go about your day asking for anxiety and panic attacks to appear.
Your real safety is the fact that a panic attack will never
harm you. That is a medical fact. You are safe, the
sensations are wild but no harm will come to you. Your heart
is racing but no harm will come to you. The jump becomes
nothing more than a two foot drop! It’s perfectly safe.
Anxiety causes an imbalance in your life whereby all of
the mental worry creates a top-heavy sensation. All of your
focus is moved from the center of your body to the head.
Schools of meditation often like to demonstrate an example
of this top-heavy imbalance by showing how easily the body
can lose its sense of center.
How to Relax during a Panic Attack?
The key to overcoming panic attacks is to relax. That’s
easy to say but difficult to do. A good way to do this is to
concentrate on your breathing making sure it is slow and
steady. One of the first signs of a panic attack is difficulty
breathing, and you may find yourself panting to catch a
breath. When you focus on making those breaths even,
your heart rate will slow down and the panic will subside.
Breathing more slowly and deeply has a calming effect.
A good way to breathe easier is to let all the air out of your
lungs. This forces your lungs to reach for a deeper breath
next time. Continue to focus on your out-breath, letting all
the air out of your lungs and soon you’ll find your breathing
is deeper and you feel calmer.
Ideally, you want to take the focus off the fact that you
are having a panic attack. Try to press your feet, one at a
time, into the ground. Feel how connected and rooted they
are to the ground.
An even better way is to lie down with your bottom
near a wall. Place your feet against the wall (your knees are
bent) and press your feet one at a time into the wall. If you
can breathe in as you press your foot against the wall, and
breathe out as you release it, it will be more effective. You
should alternate between your feet. Do this for 10 – 15
minutes or until the panic subsides.
Use all of your senses to take full notice of what you
see, hear, feel, and smell in your environment. This will help
you to remain present. Panic is generally associated with
remembering upsetting events from the past or anticipating
something upsetting in the future. Anything that helps keep
you focused in the present will be calming. Try holding a
pet; looking around your room and noticing the colors,
textures, and shapes; listening closely to the sounds you
hear; call a friend; or smell the smells that are near you.
Many people strongly advocate aromatherapy to deal
with panic and anxiety. Lavender can have an especially
calming and soothing effect when you smell it. You can find
essential oil of lavender at many stores. Keep it handy and
take a sniff when you start feeling anxious.
Using Essential Oils for Panic Attacks
Try putting a few drops of lavender essence oil into
some oil (olive or grape seed oil will do) and rub on your
body. Keep a prepared mixture in a dark glass bottle for
when you need it. You can even prepare several bottles,
with a small one to carry with you.
Other essential oils known to help panic and panic
attacks are helichrysum, frankincense, and marjoram. Smell
each of them, and use what smells best to you, or a
combination of your favorite oils mixed in olive or grape
I recently wrote an article about the best essential oils for anxiety.
You can find the article by clicking here.
You may want to prepare yourself BEFORE a panic
attack happens. When you’re not in a panicked state, make
a list of the things that you’re afraid will happen. Then write
out calming things that tell you the opposite of your fears.
Then you can repeat these things to yourself when the panic
starts to come.
Prepare a list of things to do in case of panicked
feelings, and it will be ready for you when you need it. Fill it
with lots of soothing messages and ideas of calming things
to do. I find this to be a very helpful tool and am never
without my small notebook that has these positive
affirmations in it.
Panic can be a very scary thing to go through,
especially if you’re alone. Preparing for when the panic
comes can really help reduce the panic, and even sometimes
help to prevent it.
There you go, I told you it was a long post, but I hope that it had provided
the information and solutions you were looking for to manage panic attacks.
Leave your comments below, I will be very happy hearing from you.