(Note: panic attacks are “a sudden overwhelming feeling of acute and disabling anxiety.”)
For someone like myself who suffers from anxiety in certain situations, distractions are a very helpful tool.
Personally, I very quickly fall into OCD behaviors and have some that I have been doing for year and years, as I said in this post. So I have learnt to use outside distractions rather than too many self-made tools. Someone once told me to recite the alphabet backwards to calm down, which may work for you, but for me almost led me to slip into another habit to dwell on and obsess over.
Anxiety differs from person to person, and I doubt that there are many people who haven’t been touched by it in their lives or in the lives of those around them at some point. In other words, it is very common, but rarely ever the same; like fingerprints.
With people experiencing anxiety in such different ways, there are many different methods of calming down and feeling centered again in the midst of a panic attack or a prolonged feeling of overwhelming stress.
There are the usual tips to help people in this situation:
Breathe deeply (it actually does work — it is very calming and centers people in a situation where they feel like they aren’t tethered down to anything substantial enough to stop feeling so overwhelmed).
Listen to music (again, a foolproof method so long as you choose the right songs for you! Personally, I have a playlist ready for such occasions, with music that either distracts me, calms me or snaps me out of myself through humor or relatable material).
Remove yourself from the stressful environment (seriously, just leave. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about it. Screw social graces. You do what is best for you. If people judge you for that, punch them in the nose. That always does the trick).
Meditate (possibly don’t do this one if the place you are stressing out in is a busy nightclub — I refuse to be responsible for any broken toes or fingers if you take this advice out of context and sit down on the dance floor! This is mostly useful when you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed over a prolonged period of time rather than when you are having a panic attack.
For me, and many other people, these really work.
Mostly, you just need to find what works for YOU personally. Whether its watching your favorite TV show, reading a book, singing to yourself, listening to the radio or focusing on your breathing, find an activity or person or action or thought that centers you in a time of crisis.
Listen to your own body. Find the pattern in your panic attacks or feelings of being overwhelmed by stress and lock into the common denominator: then try to avoid that situation, person or feeling.
For me, drinking alcohol excessively (see: getting drunk and falling over) can be a recipe for disaster if it is within a situation that I don’t feel entirely comfortable in. If I am at a party or a gathering with friends that I love and trust and in a place that I know and understand, drinking will do what so many teenagers hope it will do: add up to a good time and an unforgettable night that, ultimately, you forget. But if I drink a lot in a night club where I feel unsafe or harassed, or at a party where I don’t know many people, I begin to feel really stressed out and hyper aware of absolutely everything that is going on around me. I can teeter on that precipice for quite a while until either I snap and have a full blown panic attack or get out of the situation and calm down.
There are also certain people and certain types of people who I can absolutely love and adore but who, in the wrong circumstances, can stress me right out. People who I feel I end up babysitting on nights out and are starting fights or going off and getting lost while drunk can contribute to an all out panic attack.
I have had many panic attacks in my life, big and small. Almost all of them I keep to myself. If you know me, I’m usually a very loud person who over shares and is scared of awkward silences. But at heart I am an introvert, and when I get to the point of panicking, I completely shut out everyone around me. Sometimes people around me can be completely unaware that I am having a panic attack because it can seem like I have just zoned out. My heart can be hammering, hands shaking and breath short and the people around me could be none the wiser.
Most of the time, I can calm myself down. I know how to deal with my own mind and body. And I’ve never really cared enough about what people think to feel like I can’t just get up and leave the night club or party or classroom.
For me, the worst ever panic attack that I have had, where I honestly felt like my heart was going to explode, was at the beginning of this year at my first ever university organised party. It was a huge outdoor rave with a crazy amount of people in a much too small space listening to very loud music, surrounded by very drunk friends while I was stone-cold sober. I had felt increasingly panicked as all my worst situations were colliding: babysitting drunk friends as they dove in and out of the crowd, being in a very constricted space with too many people pressing against me, with music that was loud enough that it felt like my whole body was vibrating. I had tried to break away from one of my friends, telling them that I needed to get out of the area and calm myself down, but being drunk as they were, they were not really listening and instead kept dragging me through the crowd to the very front and center — the exact place I did not want to be. I tried my hardest to leave, but wasn’t able to get away from their grasp. It was the first situation I had been in that I hadn’t been able to get out of the place or away from the person that was freaking me out quickly enough to allow myself time to calm down. Because of this, I absolutely panicked. I wrenched my hand away from my drunk friend (leaving her in the capable hands of another friend I found — I would never leave them to fend for themselves, do not worry!) and fought my way out of the throng of people, outside onto the grass a little while away. I completely broke down. I felt like I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs so I was hyperventilating, and sobbing loud enough to scare away all the people making out around me. I lay down on the grass and could not calm down. As I lay there, a random drunk guy ran up to me trying to kiss my hands as I cried, which freaked me out (and made me sob) even more, which luckily scared him off too. I had been getting progressively more stressed inside the rave, and by the time I got out and into a fully blown panic attack, I had had adrenaline pumping through my veins and my heart beating too fast for a solid amount of time, and was just so tired. Eventually that was what calmed me down — I was too utterly exhausted to go on in the state I was in. I was able to get up and find a cold metal seat to sit on (which was actually perfect for cooling me down) and a great friend who was at the same rave but hanging out in a different area called my phone, could tell I was stressed out, and came and found me. It is ALWAYS good to have nice, understanding people around you in times like that!
Now, I know not to get into those situations anymore.
When I do get too overwhelmed or I can feel myself slipping into panic mode, I listen to certain artists and songs who center me or I go for a walk/ride or listen to the comic stylings of Bo Burnham or rewatch an episode of Freaks and Geeks or drink a lot of water. I do what ever makes me feel better. If you ever find yourself in that situation, find what works for you and do it! You should be your own number one priority in that situation.
I don’t know if this will help anyone who suffers similarly to me or not, but I hope it does.
As for those of you who do not suffer from anxiety in any form but have friends or relatives who do, there are simple ways to make them feel better:
Tell them to breathe deeply
Ask them how you can help them feel better — don’t pressure them
Do not belittle their feelings of stress or anxiousness
If a situation is the cause, help them remove themselves from that situation
Be understanding, not judgmental — sometimes just knowing that someone cares can make all the difference
Panic attacks usually don’t last too long, even though they can feel like they are never going to end. Nine times out of ten (warning: I just made that statistic up. But 67% of all statistics are made up, so who cares?) the person who is in that situation just wants to know that you are there for them and that you care without judgement.
I know I always feel incredibly embarrassed once I’ve gotten over a panic attack. So be a good person, and make whoever you are around feel better about themselves when they go through it.
And for those of you who suffer themselves, do not be embarrassed. It is so common, so understandable and so very okay. Let yourself deal with the situation without the added difficulty of making yourself feel bad about it! Repeat after me: IT IS OKAY TO FEEL OVERWHELMED, OR SCARED, OR PANICKED. I AM ONLY HUMAN. I PEE ON DOGS. Sorry, the power of making you all repeat after me went straight to my head.
But in all seriousness, you are not alone. Don’t forget that.
P.S. Just for curiosity’s sake, these are the songs I listen to to calm down (each for their own reason):
P.P.S. I always find myself wanting to sign off blog posts with ‘Live long and prosper’. It just seems like the perfect way to sign off. So, just this once… Live long and prosper, goodbye!