Everyone gets nervous and panicked from time to time. Sweaty palms before exams, slight trembles before giving a speech or elevated heart rates when you see that guy who once smiled at you in a way you think must mean he's as in love with you as you secretly are with him. Ahem.
Unfortunately, some of us have known the joys of severe panic attacks, which are apparently a natural 'fight or flight' reaction. Quite how that works is beyond me - my panic attacks neither seem like fighting spirit or an act of flight seeing as I tend to be found cowering on the floor, incapable of movement and feeling like I'm drowning. I've heard people trivialise and doubt the intensity of panic attacks before, I see your point - they probably look quite funny and seem a bit silly to onlookers what with the frantic breaths and runny nose - however panic attacks are commonly mistaken for heart attacks which perhaps illustrates how earth-shattering and terrifying they can feel. Research has shown that experiencing panic attacks frequently causes sufferers to be even more apprehensive, often avoiding situations that could trigger an attack.
Panic attacks come on suddenly, sometimes triggered by the most trivial of things and often with a feeling of intense terror and impending doom. Those symptoms are accompanied by shortness of breath, a pounding heart, dizziness, and chest pain and what I'd describe as walls closing in and crushing me. A barrel of laughs all round.
But what do I do when I'm feeling on edge? I've had a tonne of CBT and medication, have tried soothing music and hypno-recordings while I nap, and have read about bizarre breathing techniques akin to yodelling. I'd like to think these have made me calmer in general but I've no way of measuring that kind of thing. Ultimately once I'm having a panic attack I can't reverse it, nothing will make me 'snap out' of something that's gripping me by the throat but there are things I find help.
Understanding the condition has helped - I know that a surge of adrenaline is a result of this so called fight/flight conundrum and I have had all its symptoms explained to me. I no longer worry that I have an undiagnosed heart condition that is about to kill me. This means when I have a panic attack, although it's scary as hell, I know where I'm at and I try to let it take its course.
I try to remind myself that a high state of anxiety cannot last forever, most panic attacks only last for 15 minutes. I repeat that this will pass, this will pass, this will pass. Simple but effective.
The ever-famous breathing exercises which are admittedly different for everyone, and admittedly sometimes difficult to remember in the height of anxiety. Breathing though, is the key. I close my eyes, and breathe deeply into my stomach. I breathe in for 5 seconds and out for 3, and gradually work up to 7 seconds in and 5 out, but this does take a while especially when the instinct is to snatch as many breaths as possible.
Once my breathing's a bit steadier, I find a spot on the wall/ceiling-maybe a photo if there's one nearby-and focus on it whilst continuing my breathing just to give me something to concentrate on. Alternatively I'll go through the lyrics of a song over and over and hum that to myself. Usually it's Mama you've been on my mind by Jeff Buckley, for no known reason to me.
I know that a panic attack could come back at any point, and as much as I hate them I'm slowly growing to be ok with it, I feel like I'm anchored for any storms that blow my way.