When you were a kid did you ever suddenly wonder how your body was breathing then suddenly feel your chest tighten and think that maybe you couldn’t or wouldn’t keep breathing? O.K. I was considered strange by my brothers, I did and you didn’t, but it does illustrate a point I’d like to make. The point being that we do so many things naturally until we begin to think about it. Now thinking, most of the time, is a good thing. But thinking about whether or not you have cancer or whether or not you can sleep or whether or not you can breathe, only increases anxiety and that’s what happens in a panic attack. Something triggers the attack and it could be anything. Let’s say your parents got a divorce when you were a kid and you didn’t know who you were going to live with, whether or not it was your fault, whether or not your parents were still going to love you and so on. Now, grow yourself up about thirty years and begin having a hard time at work, your boss is too tough on you, making new demands on you, you’re not sure whether or not you can do what he/she is asking and then you’re out somewhere and you begin to feel like you’re having a heart attack or something. You feel out of breath, you’re dizzy, maybe nauseous,clammy, frightened, you don’t know whether or not you should have someone call an ambulance so a friend drives you to the ER (if you really believe you’re having a heart attach and haven’t been diagnosed with panic or anxiety disorder, please do call an ambulance) and you, upon examination, learn you’re not having a heart attack and upon further testing find out your heart is just fine. It’s pretty likely then that you’ve had a panic attack. It’s also reasonable for me, as your therapist, to suspect that there’s a link between your fear of failure at work and your experience of your parent’s divorce. Now you’re not going to know this as it’s all buried in your subconscious but what you will notice, if you continue to have panic attacks, is that paying attention to a panic attack is like wondering how your body is breathing. The more you focus on it the worse it gets. Your fear feeds itself and the panic mounts. Here are a few tips if you think you might have panic or anxiety attacks (always get checked out by a medical doctor first to rule out anything physical):
1.Notice your breathing. People who are very anxious tend to breathe from the top third of their lungs and rapidly. Slow your breathing down and take deep, long breaths in, and slow, long exhalations out.
2.Tell yourself that you aren’t going to die, that nothing bad is happening and that the worst thing that can possibly happen is that you’ll pass out from hyperventilation and your body will return to normal.
3.Focus on something and study it. For instance, if you are sitting in a chair, begin to study the arm of the chair. Is it upholstered, wood, what kind of wood, what color, what shape? Study the arm of the chair like you’re going to take an examination on chair arms. Or focus on anything close to you and do the same thing.
4.Or begin talking to someone, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, someone in line that looks like a nice person. Once you begin talking you will take your mind away from what is going on with your body which is anxiety feeding anxiety at that point you notice it. The same goes with studying something close to you, it takes your mind off of your body.
5.Or begin writing without taking your pen from the paper, write fast and don’t edit or punctuate. Write whatever comes into your mind and don’t stop for fifteen minutes.
6.If possible begin walking fast, around the block, through a park, across a parking lot, because you dump adrenaline into your system during a panic attack and walking fast will help burn it off.
Whatever exercise above you chose to do, continue to breathe slowly and deeply.
These are just a few suggestions to try. Contacting a therapist for an appointment to see if some therapy would help, is a good idea as well.