I’m going to quickly start by saying that I am no medical professional and that this post is based on my experiences and personal opinion. If you are suffering from an unchecked anxiety or panic disorder I highly recommend seeking professional help. I know I can bash them a lot but there IS help out there (both medical and therapeutic) and having someone to turn to when things get rough that is trained to help you handle it can be a real LIFE SAVER.
Secondly, I’d like to point out that even after you understand that I’m not licensed or trained to give you or anyone else any sort of guidance or advice, you have to take into account that mental disorders are highly individual. Not everyone experiences their attacks the same way, has the same symptoms or is able to use the same coping methods. While this is frustrating to say the least, it is unfortunately one of the biggest downsides (apart from having one/any at all) of all mental illnesses.
Lets get on with it then shall we…
Back around a week ago I shared my experiences with Anxiety vs Panic. While I do find it important that people (the ones that are stuck going through them, their loved ones and their care givers) understand they are two different things, it is important to note that there are also a lot of similarities. There are a lot of overlap of symptoms, so….no wonder there’s so much confusion over which is which, but this also means that we can use some of the same coping and self care methods no matter what kind of attack we’re under. So in this post I hope to tackle explaining some of the ways to manage both anxiety and panic attacks.
If you’re a long time sufferer at this point you’re already going “what the hell”. No I’m not about to try and spout some miracle way that you can prevent ever having a panic attack or anxiety attack again (chances are you’ve probably already seen those adds, books, tonics, workshops etc). I wish I had that kind of trick up my sleeve but I don’t. My General Anxiety Disorder and my Panic Disorder are more than triggers and stress that can be dissolved, my brain processes and distributes chemicals wrong and it fires off bad signals. There is no 100% prevention, but it is worth a try and having LESS attacks is much more mentally (and physically and emotionally) healthy than just letting them take over.
When stress and anxious feelings are low, prevention is simply keeping it that way. Consciously aiming to not overfill my ‘plate’, not taking on too much, making sure I take time to relax, trying to get enough sleep, remembering to have fun and laugh. For me personally, this guarantees no anxiety attacks if a day stays like that. Does it always work… No, are you crazy? If I was that good, I’d be the next Tony Robins….or maybe half way to enlightenment somewhere off in Tibet. It’s still well worth the effort (who doesn’t want to aim to have a good day every day in the first place, am I right?) and practicing anxiety lowering methods on a daily basis makes it take less and less effort and it just becomes habit.
With panic, it’s a little more roll of the dice.While high anxiety days are much more likely to produce panic attacks and more likely to see them in clusters they still do happen even on the most ideal of stress light days. The advantage here is having the energy to cope with it a lot better so that an attack doesn’t guarentee that tomorrow is high stress and extremely anxious.
Batten down the hatches, so they say. Prevention hasn’t worked, or simply you’ve been stuck in a high anxiety rut and it’s time to prepare for the worst. At a certain point naivety has to become a thing of the past and you have to accept it’s coming. Like I’ve said before with panic this is both NEVER and ALWAYS the case, you usually don’t get a lot of preparation time once you know it’s coming, but if you’ve suffered from them long enough, by now you probably have a ‘long range forecast’ sense for it so to speak. Anxiety attacks on the other hand usually do a good job letting you know that they mean business.
When heightened anxiety hits and I can feel a storm brewing inside, it’s time to makes some changes and prepare for being hit with the blasts. I cancel plans if I can, I plan on staying in, I make sure I have easy food and lots of water and a really sobby chick flick (I find crying at movies to be incredibly relieving). I keep lots of little distractions around the house and I make sure not to do anything dangerous.
I’ve had my fair share of public displays of anxiety and panic attacks and let me just say NO THANK YOU! The fear of judgement on top of what you’re already going through makes it all the more worse and in the end, knowing that and being anxious about it can add to triggering an attack instead of helping prevent one by staying home. Anxiety attacks hit me much slower than panic attacks, so there’s a lot less risk of injury there. Panic however takes hold in seconds and I can go from chopping spinach to squirting ab-neg in a flash. No knives, no candles, no high heels. I’m a klutz as it is, so preventing an even worse accident from taking place while in the thralls of panic is a must.
All the other preparation tidbits aren’t much different than if you were home sick with a cold/flu bug. Take care, take it easy and rest up to save that energy because you know you’re going to need it.
You ever have that one second that feels like it lasts a life time? You know the one in cheesy romances where their true loves kiss stops time or in action movies the explosion gets held still in the space time continuum? Well that moment for people with an anxiety or panic disorder is when their attack reaches its climax. In this one moment everything stops and there’s just you and this overwhelming force taking over. There may be a huge buildup to this moment (like for me and my anxiety) or it may take over in a split second out of nowhere (how my panic attacks hit) either way, this usually is the hardest time to really do anything for yourself.
Most of my time in therapy in my younger years was trying to find a way to manage THIS moment in time and ya know what, maybe I’m a little different than others but so far there’s nothing I’ve really tried that works to make it any more tolerable or hit less hard than it planned. Like a hurricane hitting, you can’t make the storm stop and when it’s bad enough, there’s not too much you can do if you’re trapped in the mean time other than tell yourself that you are OK and that you’ll live through this.
Finding one short phrase to repeat through the worst of it is really the only thing I’ve found to make it seem to pass faster (note, I don’t think it makes it pass faster, just that it gives me something to do and to focus on). “You’re not dying right now””Your family loves you””You’re not in real danger”. I find things like “its all in your head” or “it’s just your messed up brain” to be a little self harmful in the end, even if it might be true, it’s negative enough that it ends up impacting recovery time and energy later on. Finding something short, neutral, (even positive if you can swing it) and truthful would be the way to go.
Post Attack Aftercare
I find this is where there can be a lot of personal difference. Both between anxiety and panic attack (though there is a lot of symptom overlap) and between how each individual experiences their disorder….heck between each attack there can be a lot of difference in management. Because of the differences here and the fact that this post is already horrendously long (sorry about that), I will be breaking it up into handling both types of attacks separately.
In both cases though, the main goal is to manage your individual symptoms as they hit and to recover. Anxiety and panic attacks take a lot out of you and residual symptoms like nausea, fatigue, anxiety (I know right…), cold sweats, etc can last for hours even days after a single attack. Taking care of yourself and learning how to manage those symptoms can greatly reduce the time you spend recovering and honestly in my opinion it’s the most important way to get your power back and realize that an anxiety or panic disorder really doesn’t have to take over your life.
Things Your Doctor Can Do
First and foremost they can ask you questions, run some tests and put it in your file. There are a lot of connections between the mental and physical health worlds and even if we don’t know a lot about those connections, it’s important that our medical staff knows about what’s going on. Their tests can also pinpoint if there’s a hormone, chemical or vitamin/mineral imbalance that might be the root cause of the problem (which means it could be fixed, YAY!)
They can offer medication. I’ll be the first one to say, this is a frustrating road but it can be worth it for severe cases. Personally I’ve never found something that works well for me that hasn’t had worse side effects that offset the benefits. I also take a butt-load of medications for other stuff, so interactions with those and my preexisting physical conditions makes it a very difficult situation. If your quality of life is effected and self care methods aren’t cutting it, take it into consideration (it doesn’t make you weak and it doesn’t mean you’re crazy). This should be something you discuss with your doctor and not something you order online or get through a friend of a friend.
They can point you in the direction of a therapist or support group. I can’t stress enough that being able to talk about what has been going on in my brain helped me so much as I was learning to cope and accept that my panic disorder was going to forever be a part of my life. Before I was so open and comfortable talking to friends, family and the wide open interweb I was very fortunate to have a great psychologist who really helped me come to grips with it all. At the very least, having someone to come to with the burden is an incredibly important coping mechanism and if you click with them, they can also be an invaluable part of your ability to manage your disorder.