Before I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (which you can read more about here), I struggled with my mental health. One of the most glaring examples of that was my propensity for panic attacks. Over seven years ago, I was planning my wedding and then had to adjust to life as a married person. Those two things can be both delightful and stressful. If you’ve never had a panic attack, consider yourself lucky. For me, it manifested as shortness of breath, extreme anxiety and the desire to avoid EVERYONE, including my amazing husband. I still don’t know how he loved me through that time in my life. I am proud to say that with my thyroid medication and a lot of personal work, I haven’t had a panic attack in over 2 years, and I significantly reduced the amount and severity of them even before then. If you are struggling with panic attacks, you have my love and sympathy. Here are some things that helped me that I hope will help you before or during your next panic attack.
Pay attention to what causes your panic attacks
My panic attacks always come on in situations of extreme stress. The last one I ever had, two years ago, happened when my husband and I were in the middle of trying to buy a new house. We’d picked one out, put in a bid and he had texted me to say that the inspection revealed a lot of problems. Furthermore, he’d found out the mortgage payments were going to be much higher than we’d anticipated. I was driving to work at the time and had to pull over, because my anxiety ratcheted up so far that I was worried I might crash. I called him and he managed to talk me down. (By the way, we ended up not buying that house.)
The takeaway for you is that when you can, take note of what brings on your panic attacks. For some people, it seems to be nothing at all, but sometimes there are certain triggers. You can try keeping a journal to see if there are any patterns you can discover. Knowing what you’re up against can help a great deal.
Getting through an attack
The obvious advice may still be the best – keep breathing. Make sure that you are inhaling and exhaling fully. Sometimes we have a tendency to shorten our breath when we’re upset. Just focusing on breathing in and out slowly and evenly can help. Consciously relax your muscles – the mind has the ability to go where the body leads it.
One of the best techniques I’ve discovered engages each of your senses in turn. When a panic attack starts and you recognize it, look around you. Find five different things that you can see. Say them to yourself, or even out loud. Then, find four different things that you can touch, three different things that you can hear, two things that you can smell, and one thing that you can taste. When I discovered this technique, it was life-changing. The few times I have to use it now, I often feel much more relaxed by the time I get to the hearing part.
Don’t beat yourself up
Whatever you do, don’t think that you’re somehow a bad person for suffering from panic attacks. Our minds are complex and not always good to us. You deserve to feel happy and safe. If you’re concerned that this advice may not be enough, I strongly encourage you to reach out to a doctor or therapist. Just because I didn’t need an anti-depressant for my panic attacks doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t benefit from using one. You don’t have to compare your experience to mine. There’s nothing “wrong” with you if you need to utilize modern medicine to feel better.
If you have a strategy for managing your panic attacks that I haven’t listed here, I would love to hear from you. We all grow stronger when we support each other.