Meloncauli is a former nurse and anxiety management therapist. She hopes everyone can take something away from her articles.
I spent half of my life suffering with panic disorder. I know the cunning side of the irrational beast very well, and although I haven’t had a panic attack in years, I remember them all too well.
An ex-panic-attack sufferer can truly empathize with someone who lives their life waiting for the next attack; the anticipatory anxiety that constantly dictates their life. Living with fear day in day out is a true test for anyone. Many people learn to adapt their behavior and lifestyle to accommodate panic disorder, but they never feel happy with themselves or the world.
Panic disorder can affect every corner of your life causing other problems such as:
- General phobias / OCD
- Health anxiety
It is hard to describe a panic attack. Imagine you have just been told to jump out of an airplane without a parachute and you are scared of heights, and you might have a vague idea. Even though you can have several attacks a day, each one will feel just as bad as the one before. You don’t get used to feeling like you will pass out or die; you simply get to the other side and dread the next time.
For most people they will last around twenty five minutes, but sometimes it may feel like the symptoms are almost continuous, as you appear to leave one attack and enter another. I had them around the clock, so they affected my sleep and physical health too. I had all of the above offshoots with panic disorder and felt I had a mountain to climb if I was to recover. I didn’t think I ever would! First I had to rid myself of panic attacks and this article will describe to you what I did to eliminate them.
Understanding Panic Attacks
The first thing you must do is understand what is happening to you. There is no real threat but you have told yourself that there is. This relays from the brain and sets up the flight/fight response. The effects of this response are felt in all the symptoms that you feel such as:
- Palpitations/racing heart
- Dry mouth
- An urge to move around
- Intense feeling of impending doom
A panic attack will not kill you; it will make you feel dreadful but you will not die because of one. It just doesn’t happen and if it did I would have died thousands of times. Read as much as you can about the flight/fight response and its effects on your body. It is there to save you not kill you, and we have to be glad we have such a natural response in case we are ever in a genuinely dangerous situation. The difference here is that there is no real danger and you only have a perceived threat. A panic attack within the realms of panic disorder is a physical and emotional reaction to misplaced fear based on a highly anxious state.
Trusting the facts is half of the battle. A battle depicts a fight, and you will soon see how important fighting is in relation to panicking.
Once you truly believe that you understand what a panic attack is and accept that it will not cause fatality, move on to the next step of addressing the problem.
What Happens During a Panic Attack?
This is probably what you have been doing or feeling when a panic attack strikes:
- Tensing up
- Moving around a lot
- Wanting to find help
- Fighting the feelings
- Distracting yourself
- Adding fear
I did all of the above for years, but little did I know that those very behaviors were helping to keep the fear and thus the panic alive. All of these behaviors have to go!
There is no Tiger to Fight!
Fighting a Panic Attack
When we try to fight the panic away, the symptoms feel more pronounced. All our muscles become even tenser. (They were already tense to a degree. My coordination was way off, but I would run around like someone possessed when an attack hit me. This made my heart beat faster, my dizziness worse and so I would become more afraid of what was happening to me. Fighting a panic attack will only ever result in more awful sensations.)
Do Not Fight a Panic Attack
There is an urge to stop it all happening but you don’t know how to begin with this so you add confusion, and yet more fear into the equation.
What to do When a Panic Attack Starts
There are several things to do when the panic hits you or when you feel the first signs of it coming on.
Sit still – Find a place to sit quietly and slump into the seat. Try your level best to loosen all your muscles. Check where there is tension and release it. Sink down into that chair! You have been effectively trying to climb over a huge wave of fear but now it is time to go under it. Sink INTO the feelings of panic and do not tense away from it.
Tell yourself you will not add more fear – Tell yourself that you will allow anything and everything to be there without a fight. Close your eyes, concentrate on releasing the tension and allow the attack to happen. Resist the urge to get up. Accept that this will pass more quickly if you do not add more fear.
Breathe in slowly through the nose and out through the mouth – You will probably be taking shallow breaths, over-breathing or feel like you can’t breathe at all. We tend to gulp air in through our mouths when fearful, so breathe in slowly through the nose and out through the mouth. Make sure your tummy is rising with the inhale and falling back with the exhale. Don’t worry if you can only manage two or three breaths; practice will develop this better breathing.
Be patient – Don’t be tempted to give up on your first attempt at staying with panic. You are trying to cultivate a different approach. It may be that it takes several attempts at the above before you start seeing real results. You have learned some bad habits and these need to be broken.
It takes great courage to confront a panic attack head on, but only you can make that first step. The above lessened the intensity of my panic attacks but did not make them completely go away, so if you are still struggling, read on.
Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing
What do you Fear?
The Truth about Panic Attacks
Your attitude towards your panic disorder and your behavior surrounding it is all habit and laid down in memory. Sadly, we can’t simply shut memory off but we can overwrite memories or make new ones. We need to have success no matter how small when dealing with panic attacks, so that we can remember what that success feels like. Success breeds more success and brings hope and confidence. Up until now you will have been feeling defeated and negative. Time for change!
If I had a pound for every person I have dealt with who has given up at the first hurdle when squaring up to their fears, I would be a rich lady! You have to want to address your panic issue willingly, enthusiastically and with utter determination. Because you have acquired bad habits, avoidance issues and negative mind chatter, you will have to change and changing often doesn’t come easily. You need to stay resolute no matter what it all throws at you.
My Cure for Panic Attacks
There were days I awoke feeling panicky and thought I couldn’t take another day of it all, but with practice at not fighting the attacks, I had managed to slowly build up a positive inner voice; a voice of reason with a little increase in confidence. Still, the panic attacks would come but they seemed to last only half of the time they used to and died down quite quickly. I also took up mindfulness meditation and this had helped my general anxiety state greatly.
One day out of the blue I had a huge panic attack and it shocked me as I had made much progress. The shock of it brought out a huge anger in me that I didn’t know existed. I sat and I shouted! I shouted for it to kill me! I told “it” I didn’t care any more and I really meant it. What happened next will live with me until the day I die. The panic attack stopped very quickly and I was left with an enormous feeling of accomplishment. I felt totally in control and knew I had found the crucial answer.
We “care” too much about how we feel. We “care” that we may die, may faint, may go mad. I stopped caring and therefore my fear fizzled out. You can’t fear something you actively want. Try bringing on a panic attack and you will see what I mean. When you want one you can’t have one. Challenge your panic attack to kill you and I can assure you it won’t. Want it to do its worst to you, will it to. It doesn’t like that and has nowhere to go.
Years have gone by and I have never had another panic attack. I worked on my general anxiety state after that day too, increasing my meditation and looked at how I handled stress generally. I don’t expect to have another out of the blue panic attack, but if I did I do not fear it as I know exactly what I have to do. I spent many years looking for a cure and bought into programs and therapy, but the answer was inside me all the time. With bravado and sheer determination anyone can cure their panic attacks.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
keef on June 30, 2017:
Will definitely try this approach, thanks
erg04668@. com on June 18, 2017:
I have depression, severe panic attacks, Epstein varr virus, high colesterol. Can you help me please.
meloncauli (author) from UK on November 09, 2014:
Thanks so much Audrey. Lovely of you to drop by and have a read. Blessings to you too :)
Audrey Selig from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on November 09, 2014:
Hi Meloncauli - This is one of the best panic attack articles I have ever read. It's the fear that gets us, and your description of your attacks and finally success will help others. You have performed a great service by your excellent descriptions and results. I have panic occasionally, and I do meditation and breathing techniques, as you mentioned. Thanks for sharing, and I will share. Good luck. Blessings, Audrey
meloncauli (author) from UK on July 16, 2014:
Thanks for dropping by lambservant. Glad you find it useful. You seem to be getting some improvement with your approach...well done!
Lori Colbo from United States on July 16, 2014:
I am sorry you suffered for so many years but have finally found recovery. Good for you. I learned to ride my panic attacks out just like you said. On the rare occasion that I have one (it is usually at home, often times in the middle of the night) I just sit or lay there and do the breathing. I say to myself "This is a panic attack, but I'm not in danger just going to breathe it out." I have no doubt usually that it will pass.
This is a very useful hub.
meloncauli (author) from UK on November 11, 2013:
You're welcome StephSev108 :)
Stephanie Marie Severson from Atlanta, GA on November 11, 2013:
Thank you for sharing. I will put your ideas to work.
meloncauli (author) from UK on November 10, 2013:
Thank you so much JayeWisdom. The actual concept is quite easy, the doing of it feels difficult but consistency pays off in the end. Thanks for dropping by. Take care :)
Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on November 10, 2013:
This is an excellent article for anyone who suffers from panic attacks. I've had a few earlier in my life, but not frequent ones. A dear friend of mine successfully overcame severe agoraphobia, so I know it's possible to train one's self to relax through even the worst panic and get through to the other side and calm. Ending the attacks, of course, is the best objective. I like the way you made your attacks stop. Will share this hub.
meloncauli (author) from UK on November 10, 2013:
Hi brakel2 Thanks for dropping by to read and leave a comment. A panic attack only effects you as much as the meaning you give to it. It's a natural response to fear, so be willing to 'let it do what it wants's to do'. Added second fear is what keeps it coming.
Audrey Selig from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on November 09, 2013:
Meloncauli Thanks for sharing this great hub on panic attacks. You are so right about not fighting it but let it just pass through your body and breathe. I do breathing exercises and meditation. My heart problem brings on panic or panic brings on my heart issue. They don't know which comes first. You are an expert , and I like the way you write. Pinning. Blessings. Audrey
meloncauli (author) from UK on March 06, 2013:
Hi Gail and thanks for your comment.
Yes I agree about the vitamin B12. I took B-complex vitamins bought over the counter and I swear they helped too. Thanks for the vote :)
Gail Meyers from Johnson County, Kansas on March 05, 2013:
I love your description of a panic attack as being told to jump out of an airplane without a parachute and you are scared of heights. I can chuckle about it now, but it certainly is not funny when you are in the grip of a panic attack. It really is difficult for someone who has never had a panic attack to grasp how awful they are, but that is a good description.
I had increasingly severe panic attacks for more than a decade, but I have not had one for more than 7 years now. I am also not on any medication, nor have I been on any medication during the last 7 years. I think you are giving good advice in this article, but I would add taking B12 shots. That was an easy, relatively inexpensive thing to do that also immediately helped. Voted up and useful.
meloncauli (author) from UK on December 14, 2012:
Thanks Melovy! You're right, the advice can be adapted for many fears, phobias or other anxiety issues. We tend to become hostile to our own anxious state out of frustration and anger.
Yvonne Spence from UK on December 14, 2012:
Ooh, I like this. Your advice not to fight it is great. I love your last 2 sentences in particular. The answer was inside you and anyone can cure their panic attacks. Yes I so agree. I haven't had a panic attack as such for years though I have a few anxious moments lately, and I think your advice is great for any anxiety, not just full blown panic. I always find that if I am feel stress it is because I have got into fighting feelings rather than allowing them.
One of my daughters has had a few panic attacks this year, and I encourage her to do exactly what you describe. It's easy to overlook breathing, but it is very important.
A great hub, I look forward to reading more from you.
meloncauli (author) from UK on December 13, 2012:
Hi catgypsy and thanks for dropping by :)
I do hope you can totally rid yourself of the attacks and come off the meds soon. I tried so many ways to address panic but this was the only way that worked for me.
catgypsy from the South on December 12, 2012:
As you know, I've suffered from anxiety and panic attacks most of my life. While I finally took (and still do) medication for it, I have also worked on ways to conquer it on my own. I have read so much about it I have a library of information in my head. What I have just read from you is probably some of the best advice I've ever read! I wish I could have read this years ago. Thank you for sharing how you handled it. Pointing out not to fight it is one of the things I did learn several years ago, and you are so right on with the advice you have given here. Great hub!
meloncauli (author) from UK on December 06, 2012:
Thanks for dropping by Om! I am glad your panic attacks have not been too severe. :)
Om Paramapoonya on December 06, 2012:
Thanks for your great advice. I have experienced a few panic attacks in my life, but they weren't really severe. I totally agree that it's always better to take a deep breath and simply acknowledge how you feel once your panic attack starts, rather than anxiously trying to fight it off.