I've been seeing a lot on this board about panic attacks, and as someone who has had them and learned how to deal with them I thought I'd share a bit of that with people here.
A panic or anxiety attack is the most radical and quick acting physiological reaction the human body can have to fear. As people who have know true and profound fear we survivors are more prone to them than most. It's a part of Rape Trauma syndrome. If you have them, you are not alone. Most people here have had them.
During a panic attack, the entire body and every major system is affected. Cardiovascular-Heart beats faster, Respiritory-Start breathing quick and shallow. Digestive-The entire digestive system shuts down, which is why many people who have a lot of them lose their appetites.
Some signs of panic attacks that I know of are.
1.) Heart beating quickly or seems to be skipping a beat.
2.) Difficulty breathing or catching your breath.
3.) Constant shaking and/or twitching
4.) Can't think straight: Can't make decisions or too many thoughts bouncing around in your head.
5.) Dry mouth, hard to swallow
6.) Tingling in the hands, feet or other parts of the body (I get it in my back)
7.) Tense muscles, clenched jaws
There are many more, but these are some of the major ones. Keep in mind, you don't need to have all of these to be having a panic attack. A friend of mine only has difficulty breathing but she was diagnosed as having panic attacks. If you have some of these symptoms you should definitely talk to a counselor about them.
I have some techniques that have helped me, but first some thoughts on dealing with them.
1.) It's OK to be having them. It doesn't make you wierd or abnormal. You'd be surprised at how many people have them. In fact, I had dinner with three other girlfriends and told them about my panic attacks, and they all told me that they also have panic attacks. We decided that only BORING people don't have them.
2.) A lot of people are terrified of having one in public, at work or school etc. First of all, even though you feel like you are going nuts, there are few outward symptoms. If you are terrified of having one in public give yourself permission to go to the bathroom and spend some time by yourself.
3.) A lot of people are terrified of having them. Look at it as practice, to gain control of them and learn techniques to deal with them, what works, what doesn't. Fearing them gives the panic reaction more power over you than it deserves.
4.) Putting pressure on yourself to deal with them RIGHT now is not a great idea. It makes them worse. Try and give yourself permission to have them wherever you are. Permission to step aside, go to the bathroom, go outside...whatever makes you comfortable.
Anyway...some things that have helped me.
Breathing techniques. This is so important.
Taking deep breaths from the stomach, not the lungs. Lie down and watch your tummy move up and down to practice these deep breaths. Someone gave the tip of lying down with a book on your stomach and watching the book. I don't remember who, but I can't take credit for this brilliant idea.
I try to stay focused on my breathing, by counting the breaths or just thinking.
I might inhale and thing "Focused" Exhale and think "Centered"
Sometimes I inhale and think "It's going to be..." Exhale..."Okay"
Some really simple repetitive task can help. At work, I used to make flashcards. Dull, but focusing. One good idea might be to organize all of the change in your pockets. Put the pennies in year order, then the nickels, then the dimes, then the quarters. Just a stupid non-thinking but focusing task. Count how many people are wearing red and how many are wearing blue and compare the numbers...I don't know...something to hold on to.
I've heard meditation can help. I've never tried it though. Anyone?
While you try these it's important to think positively. Thinking "Why isn't this working? It has to start working!" doesn't help and makes the situation worse. It may take a few minutes, it may take more. That doesn't mean that you are doing anything wrong. It just means that it's taking time.
Also, getting to know your physical symptoms helps. I know that the first sign of an attack is tingling in my back, and my hair standing up on end. If that happens, I start breathing right away, making tea for myself doing a few of the herbal rememdies.
Any other suggestions out there? I think panic attacks are a real problem for people here.
Since I am a great believer in herbal medicine, I tried some herbal remedies. I know a great herbologist who can fix up packages to anyone who needs help. He'd include lots of different things, including Kava Kava, and an herbal sleep aid. He's part of my family and he makes these himself. Let me know if you want any.
If not there are some herbal things available at most grocery stores.
1. Celestial Seasonings Wellness Tea, Tension Tamer Extra with Kava Kava. This tea is quite helpful. For trouble sleeping, try the Sleepytime Extra by the same people. They should be Extra, not the regular stuff.
2.) Lavender Essential Oil. I wore it as perfume for a month straight. It's a very calming scent.
3.) I think Tom's of Maine has come out with some herbal tonics that you could try.
4.) At health food stores, you may be able to find something called Rescue Remedy. It's a liquid stress reliever. It's small enough to fit in a pocket or purse, and all you have to do is put a few drops under your tongue.
I must add that I still carry a big bottle of Ativan around with me. Even though I am a great believer in herbal remedies, an appropriate med can do a world of good.
Please if you are having them, talk to a counselor or go call RAINN. They will be able to direct you further. These are just a few little things that have helped me. I'm not at all a professional expert.
Does anyone have any book suggestions? I know there are good ones out there. I read Don't Panic by R. Reid Wilson, but there are others out there that are more specific to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome that would probably be more helpful.
I hope this helps people. Panic attacks are controllable. Good luck and email me if you need anything. firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want herbal remedies you can email me to discuss them since I have taken them, or TheRosemaryHouse@aol.com to request information.
(Edited by mistral at 6:42 pm on June 24, 2001)