The first time it happened, I thought I had a heart attack, chest pain, light-headedness, shortness of breath, and body shakes. I collapsed as I tried to reach the front door, desperate for fresh air. My housemate said my face was white as a ghost and called an ambulance. When the ambulance arrived, I sat at a resting heart rate of 190 BPM. When I arrived at the hospital and rushed to the cardiac ward, I did not know what or why? This was happening to me, and I made terms with the fact that this could be my last day here on earth. It was so real, the sensation in my body, pain in my chest, inability to breathe - the experience of my first panic attack.
It's been three years since that day, and it's been a life-changing journey, to say the least; my panic attacks started occurring more frequently, from once a month to once a week to almost every day, and waking me up from my sleep, it quickly moved into panic disorder.
I didn't believe this was panic. I was happy, my mind felt sound, and I was loving life, proud of what I had achieved, running my business and living my dream. So, I thought something was wrong with me, with my heart, and it took a long time to accept.
For anyone who experiences anxiety or panic, I want to start by saying you are not alone. I want to offer you support, love and understanding. I know how hard it is. I have lived it for the past three now and only just starting to learn how to overcome it.
First, let's define the differences between anxiety and panic and understand thats how we treat them is completely different.
Anxiety attacks - Worry, fear, and physical discomfort in anticipation of an event or life situation. It comes on slowly, triggered by a particular life situation. It can cause hyperventilation.
Panic attacks - overwhelming fear that comes on suddenly and unexpectedly and can come out of nowhere. (usually caused by old trauma which has not been dealt with) and underlying subconscious anxiety.
Panic disorder - (repeated panic attacks) derealization, fear of fear and fear of heart attack.
Generally, with all of the above, you can use relaxation techniques such as DRNS or yoga nidra, yin yoga, tapping, general stress management, breathwork techniques, and meditation.
Now let's get more specific...
Bet you have heard this line before… "Try to take a deep breath to calm yourself down" - while this works for anxiety attacks, this is the exact wrong advice for panic attacks (trying to make them go away can cause more panic attacks)
Why? Because panic attacks are fear of fear. When you start feeling anxious and scared, the body sends a message to the brain to say "the anxiety" you are experiencing is dangerous. Your body then produces chemicals to take you into the fright, flight, freeze response.
To summarise, in the event of a panic attack - Deep breathing can make the panic attack worse.
So, what should we do? We need to rewire the brain.
How? dont label sensations as harmful or dangerous - it's ok to have a fast heartbeat and feel these sensations.
Instead of saying to yourself, "ohh no!" it's happening again..
You will now say..
This feels uncomfortable, but it's not dangerous, I can handle this feeling, and it will pass.
I am going to be ok I am safe, and the sensation I am having will not hurt me.
Physiological sigh- make sure you try this. It has been life-changing for me.
Inhale fully from the nose, then inhale again at the top of the breath - followed by a long, extended exhale.
This breathing pattern is optimal for reducing stress and anxiety in real-time and can be used when those first feelings of unease arise.
It is the best way to shift from a sympathetic to a para-sympathetic response. The physiological sign is not a hack or a breathwork technique. But, something the body does naturally, subconsciously and involuntarily to wind down and rebalance carbon dioxide and oxygen in the system. Done repeatedly over 5 minutes or longer daily is a game changer.
I can go on and on about this and other breathwork techniques, but I will stop at that and say that these two tips above, used with tapping and other techniques, which I hope to share with you soon, have been my liberation from panic disorder. I hope this knowledge can help you or someone close to you who suffers from anxiety or panic.