As someone who lives with three anxiety disorders, I have a panic attack every day. I’m a Neapolitan pack of anxiety. The panic attack is the cherry on top of the anxiety disorder sundae. Look, it’s either poke fun at it or, you know, feel like I’m going to die. I do what I can to choose fun. Here is one of my coping techniques for panic attacks. And, as a disclaimer, you should know that it isn’t for everyone.
Meet My Three Anxiety Disorders That Cause Panic Attacks
As a child, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Essentially, this means I worry about everything, all of the time. I’ve always done my best to live with it. For example, sitting in my living room, sometimes I worry that my roof will randomly collapse in and kill me, my son, and my dogs. My husband, too, if he’s home. Oh, the roof, by the way, is just a few years old. Therefore, the likelihood of this happening is quite slim.
I was also diagnosed with OCD as a child. No, it isn’t germs or cleaning. I am obsessed with time and numbers (not repeating them). I can’t have a clock in my bedroom. I can’t have a clock where I can see it. I can wear a watch. I can carry a cell phone, but I turn it upside down or I will obsessively check it to see what time it is. The root is childhood trauma. I am on one medication for it. It helps somewhat, especially with the panic attacks (and no, that’s not the coping mechanism I plan to tell you about…the medication only made the panic a bit less severe).
In 2012, I was diagnosed with CPTSD from a previous marriage that involved domestic violence. This year, 2021, has been quite the shit-show. It’s everything that 2020 wished it could have been which certainly exacerbated my stress. My primary care physician noted a marked increase and said that she now considers even that to be “severe.” So, yay. Good times.
But as someone who decided from the time I was old enough to raise hell that I would have a good life regardless of whether others wanted me to or not (you know, be a spite fighter…DO IT FOR SPITE!), I don’t give up. It’s just one more thing to overcome. So, here’s what I do. I read this in a book. I’d like to say it was a Dr. Joe Dispenza book, but in the midst of a lupus flare, I might be incorrect.
How I Handle Panic Attacks
Again, this isn’t for everyone. It also takes practice. I do recommend practicing it. It felt weird to me for quite a while, but it does work…particularly if I am having a bad overall period of days or even weeks.
When we go into panic attacks, we are often reliving the past (CPTSD), worrying about the future, or both. I tend to go between the two which is why I believe this works well for me. You can do one of the following or do both.
- The past does not exist. I know…it seems dumb because of course the past exists or you wouldn’t have PTSD. You would’t still be upset about what so-and-so did to you or whatever. I know it’s a weird concept. However, with PTSD and panic in general, our brain is literally acting as a time machine and going back in time. You have to break that loop. You are not in the past. You are right now. You are in the present. The past does not exist. What exists is right now. What exists is whatever is in front of you right now. And, yes, I do have to keep saying that to myself to keep myself in the present. If it were me as I write this, it would be the pillow on my left with its little muddy prints courtesy of my min pin, my 12 year old autistic son on the couch eating the pizza he helped make, my senior pit bull sleeping in the floor, and the sun going down. It’s quiet…just kind of a chill evening.
- The future does not exist. I know, again, it seems dumb because the electric company, the mortgage company, and the water company disagree with me. Everything has a due date and no accepts thoughts and prayers as payments! Much like the past does not exist, the point of this is to bring yourself back from ruminating on the future (like a time machine) to today. Tomorrow does NOT exist because there is always a tomorrow. All you literally have is today. This does not mean you should not plan. All it means is to focus on what you CAN do and what is happening NOW. And, again, for me, there are times where I must say it and focus on it over and over again…just like meditation, especially if I am getting overwhelmed.
Related: How to Be Enough in the Moment
All coping skills for panic attacks take practice. There is no doing away with them overnight. You should have more than one coping skill that you can practice. This is just one of mine. What is your favorite coping skill?