As somebody who has been battling anxiety disorder for most of my life, I have faced more than my fair share of panic attacks.
A panic attack is defined as "a sudden acute and overwhelming feeling of anxiety or panic" - for onlookers panic attacks can be very distressing to witness and for the sufferer it can literally feel like you are dying.
Now that I've been living with anxiety for so long, I recognise the attacks for what they are - but back when they first started I remember feeling that what was happening to me was far too physical to be merely something happening in my head as a result of panic.
There is a real misconception that panic attacks are all in the mind and while the root cause of the attack certainly is, they can have very real physical symptoms.
I have found myself in hospital on more than one occasion suffering with severe heart palpitations and breathlessness, convinced that something was seriously wrong with me, only to be told I was actually suffering a panic attack.
Now, after more than 15 years of suffering these attacks, I recognise the signs of them creeping up on me and this usually means I can take action to stop it from getting a real grip.
Of course on some occasions the panic will be too much for me to control or will creep up on me out of the blue, and will result in a full blown attack - but thankfully I am able to control them around 85% of the time at the moment thanks to a variety of coping techniques I've learned over the years.
The thing with panic & anxiety is that there is no cure-all remedy for everybody - we all have different triggers and we will all find different coping techniques to be effective or ineffective. It is a matter of trying a variety of things until you find something that works for you personally.
If you feel that you suffer from anxiety, you should always discuss the matter with your GP as there are various therapies and medications available to you.
Personally, after a short spell of trying medication to begin with and not getting on well with it, I have decided that route is not for me at the moment and that I would prefer to try to manage the anxiety without it for the time being, which I do using all of the below methods.
Here are my Top 5 Tips for dealing with Anxiety and panic attacks.
1. Know Your Triggers
For me the most important step in managing my anxiety has been learning exactly what causes it. Understanding what triggers my attacks has been the most beneficial tool in reducing them, as by avoiding my triggers I can usually avoid an attack.
My main trigger is a fear of death and this is a very difficult one as the subject of death crops up surprisingly often throughout any given day - from topics discussed on TV shows or even in adverts, to articles shared on social media - there will usually be between 5-10 mentions of something relating to death that I encounter each day, and so avoiding that can be difficult.
Another trigger of mine is being alone and unsure of where I am or how to get home.
At the moment, I manage my triggers by trying my best to avoid putting myself into a situation where I am alone and feeling unsure and by avoiding TV shows which are likely to heavily focus on death (the news, for example, is a definite no-go for me!) - I also avoid it as best I can on social media by unfollowing sites or people who are likely to share sad stories.
2. Feeling anxious? There's An App For That!
I find that being pro-active in managing my mood is something that helps, and so I try to intentionally focus on happy things at least once a day - I recently downloaded an app called Happier which is great for encouraging me to do this as it requires me to recall a happy moment from my day and record it on the app.
Once a day the app also pops up with a random Happy Moment from the ones I have submitted.
There is also a similar app called Happijar which has the same basic principle - you record a happy moment from each day and deposit it into your happijar - you can add photos, video or sound if you choose to.
What I like about Happijar is that you can go into the app and shake your jar whenever you're feeling a bit down or panicked, and it will bring up one of your Happy moments to make you smile! It works pretty well for me...especially as pretty much all of my Happijar moments are about the kids, and being reminded of something funny Tyne said or a cute snap of Noah is almost guaranteed to help me to snap out of my dark place.
I also use an app called Calm.com which allows you to choose from a number of calming scenes and sounds, and guides you through a short meditation - I find this very relaxing and particularly useful to use before bed or when I can feel the start of a panic attack coming on.
When I feel that a panic attack is starting, the best way for me to stave it off is to distract my mind - this can be difficult to do as I'm aware of the impending panic and it feels like I'm racing against myself for control of my mind, desperately trying to help my "sane mind" to beat my "panicked mind"!
I have tried lots of distraction techniques over the years but the one that work best for me is to be drawn into a conversation about a topic that interests me - Jon knows this and so we have developed a "Keyword" which I use to let him know that I am starting to feel panicky, and so he then tries to draw me into a conversation - this is a particularly useful approach if we're in public or with other people as its a way of asking for help without needing to let anybody else know whats happening!
I have also found that drawing myself into something light hearted and funny is a perfect distraction - for me the TV show "Friends" has always been my go-to as I know its fun and easy to watch - when I feel panic starting, often just putting a Friends DVD on can ease me out of it before it gets a grip.
4. Breathing Techniques
Of course there are times when the distraction techniques don't work and the panic does get a grip of me - when this happens and an attack is in full swing, the only way to get out of it is with controlled breathing.
My therapist taught me to always remove my shoes and socks, place my feet firmly on the ground and sit up straight - preferably with my back against a wall if possible as this encourages us to sit up as straight as possible and makes breathing easier.
Having our feet firmly on the floor helps to give us a feeling of being grounded - while taking slow and steady breathes in through my nose and out through my mouth, I close my eyes and try to visualise the panic in me as a blue light, I try to visualise where in my body the panic is located and then imagine that blue light drifting down my body, down my legs and out from the soles of my feet into the ground.
Another technique that was recently recommended to me by a reader on my Facebook page is square breathing - to do this you locate a square object in your line of vision and then breathe in as you trace the top line with your eyes, and then out along the side line - you repeat this around the square as many times as necessary. I tried this recently as I felt a panic attack start and found it worked very well! Thank you to the lady who suggested this!
5. Herbal Remedies
As I mentioned, I have personally chosen to try to manage my anxiety without medication after having some negative experiences previously - however there are many herbal remedies on the market which I have found quite useful.
Kalms tablets and Rescue remedy drops are products that I always have to hand, and the drops in particular are something I find particularly helpful if I start to feel panicked when out and about as they are discreet to use and carry with me and I find that the physical act of putting drops onto my tongue helps to convince me that I'm taking action against the panic and seems to therefore ease it.
I also find chamomile tea very calming to sip on when I feel panicked.
I hope that these tips can be helpful to any of you who find yourselves suffering with panic, please leave a comment and let me know if you have any tips or techniques of your own as I am always keen to hear how other people handle their attacks and try out new suggestions.