So I was on the verge of getting an anxiety attack today at school. Luckily, my friends noticed something was off so they sat down with me and talked me through my feelings, telling me that I shouldn’t be ashamed of them. Yes. I have awesome friends.
The thing is, sometimes you’re on your own. Sometimes you’ve got to count on the person in the mirror to get you through it. Which is why, just in case you ever find yourself in such a situation, I’ve got some helpful tips lined up for you:
- Control your breathing. A lot of people know this, but they forget to breathe out longer than they breathe in. Most helpful for me is the 4-5-6 count. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for five, and breathe out for six. This will automatically slow down your heart rate. This is also a neat trick if you’re trying to fall asleep.
Hurt yourself. That sounds weird, but, well, there you have it. Just make sure you can’t do any lasting damage or anything like that. What helps for me is pinching the skin of my arms or digging my fingernails into my palms. When you’re in pain, your body releases endorphins, which are essentially pain killers. This usually makes you feel more relaxed. It goes without saying that you should be careful with this technique and know your own boundaries. Please don’t scratch your arms bloody and raw.
Okay so my cousin who studies Psychology let me know that this is actually a very harmful way to cope with stress because it can escalate from something “small” like this to being a much bigger issue. So just refrain from hurting yourself, ok? I don’t want you to have to deal with any additional complications.
- Focus on your surroundings. Whether it’s smells or colors or movement. I usually point out colors to myself, which basically means that if I see a brown door, a woman wearing a blue jacket and a green car, I’ll say, “brown, blue, green,” either out-loud or in my head. This way I’m forced to stay in the present so I can’t envision worst-case-scenarios like I usually do.
- Meditate. There’s this meditation technique I read about a few years back which is especially effective on cold, dreary days:
Close your eyes and feel your body. By feel your body I mean become super aware of your heartbeat, your lungs, your legs, your fingertips, the feel of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, the surface your butt is sitting on, all that jazz. Then, picture a small, but super powerful ball of energy, like a tiny sun, sitting on top of your head. Feel its weight. Feel its warmth on the crown of your head. Slowly, allow it to sink lower into your body. Allow it to pass from your head to your neck, to your shoulders, into your arms, and further down throughout your entire body. What I like about this exercise is that once you’ve spent enough time imagining it, you start to really feel the heat spreading through your body, from your fingers all the way down to your toes. You’re also in charge of setting the pace. This technique can take two minutes or two hours. It’s really up to you how far you want to take this.
- This one usually works for a quick fix: before or as you’re having a panic attack, sum up what you’re feeling in a non-judgmental way. Just, very calmly, put a name to the feelings you’re experiencing, and remind yourself that you’re allowed to feel bad. I usually go, “Ok, yes, my heart is beating super fast and I feel really uneasy and I kind of want to run away and I’m panicking. That’s okay. That’s allowed. These are feelings I’m experiencing and they will pass. Right now I feel bad. That’s okay. I’m allowed to feel bad. I’m allowed to feel crappy. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m still okay.
In general, I think it’s really important that you realize that you are allowed to feel crappy. I know feeling good is the goal and feeling bad sucks, but it’s not like you’re not allowed to feel that way. And no matter what you’re going through right now, you’re still important. You’re still worthy of happiness. Panic attacks are shite. They just are. There’s no way around it. But, with time and experience, you get them less and less.
I hope these tricks are helpful to anyone who could use them, whether it’s for themselves or someone else.