I won’t venture to say I’m completely recovered, because setbacks are natural and normal, but I haven’t had panic attacks in a while now – just last month, I had them almost everyday. My first panic attack was February of this year. Then in October, I was hit by nervous fatigue for a week (exhaustion, nausea, loss of appetite, blurry vision, dizziness, pains, depression and crying, thinking I was going nuts, you name it), then panic attacks for a week and a half after. I’ve had anxiety most of my life (I’m 28) but this October was so bad that I spent quite a lot of time wondering if I was going to die. So much of the anxiety surrounding panic attacks comes from not understanding the symptoms themselves, which are varied – everything from chest/arm pains to blurred vision, sweating and vomiting, a constant buzzy/jittery feeling throughout your body, not being able to sleep, etc. You find yourself thinking you’re having a stroke, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, everything – I went to the emergency room twice thinking I was having a heart attack.
I would say that just learning about what’s physically happening during a panic attack can take away a great amount of anxiety, because worrying about the symptoms is what prolongs the anxiety. That’s layer 1 of how to cope. The other 2 layers are dealing with stress and anxiety on a daily level, and taking steps to resolve emotional issues.
I got so angry at what the panic attacks were doing to me, especially at a time when I was getting ready to make big changes in my life, that I tried to attack the problem on as many fronts as I could think of. I got counselling, changed my eating, started a yoga class, meditated more, read books on anxiety, took Bach Remedy, got massages, donated to charity, started talking to and helping people on an anxiety forum, worked on resolving childhood and parental issues, did affirmations, and asked deep and hard questions about what I’d do with my life if I knew I didn’t have long to go – which may sound morbid, but if you find the answer, it’s incredibly liberating. What’s funny is that a lot of things I’ve done in this period are things I’d been too shy or hesitant to do before the attacks started. I suppose a part of me just felt that enough was enough and that nothing was worth feeling this afraid. Ironically, the panic attacks have freed me somewhat – they’ve taught me a lot, opened up new interests in healing, pushed me to forgive myself and others, and shown me that I can be more proactive. It’s also increased my faith in people, which is no small thing. I’ve had trouble asking for help most of my life. When these attacks started I realised that one of my major problems was thinking that I had to bottle up everything, and hide what I was feeling from others. I now think that a good deal of extreme anxiety comes from stuffing emotions and ignoring ‘mundane’ fears – the fear of change, of being alone – and when you’ve ignored these fears or needs long enough, the body gets your attention by way of a panic attack. From then on, your life becomes smaller and more constricted, so that your whole life becomes about dealing with the problem. Which isn’t a bad thing if you do deal with it, instead of mourning the loss of your freedom. Easier said then done, I know.
One of the best resources I’ve come across, which was recommended to me by a fellow sufferer, is the work of Claire Weekes. Look on Amazon for her books. They’re a few decades old but they are extremely reassuring, written by someone who knows the terrain of anxiety well – the symptoms, phobias, thoughts, fears, what to expect when in recovery – and how to move through it.
Also extremely extremely helpful is joining an anxiety forum and talking to other people who’ve suffered and are or have recovered. A lot of additional anxiety stems from not knowing what’s happening to you, and talking to others can bring it home that yes, this happens to others and they don’t die from it! You soon realise that many more people out there deal with this problem than you expected, and that they tend to be very sympathetic to others – when you’ve been through something that bad you don’t want others to go through it any more than they have to – and much pain can come from feeling like nobody around understands – ever been told to ‘just pull up your socks’, ‘go do something and distract yourself’? They mean well – they just don’t know the terrain you’re on.
Other things that I’ve found to be important: letting go of perfectionism. Letting go of the need for people to see you a certain way. Letting go of the need for things to be 100% good or ‘normal’ now. Letting go of the need to be 100% anything! Learning to accept that setbacks are a normal part of recovery and that they don’t mean that all your previous progress was for nothing. Consciously taking better care of yourself in frequent and little ways. Staying in touch with your body. Staying grounded and present – so, SO important. Stop multi-tasking, information overload, and take up a practice that encourages body-awareness and going at your own pace, like yoga. Do short meditations – counting twenty slow breaths can make a big difference if done several times a day. Don’t wait for panic attacks to work on your breathing – take a minute or two several times a day to breathe in deeply and slowly. A lot of tense people have difficulty breathing deeply, so this is something you practice and ease into. Think not in terms of fighting or eliminating anxiety, stretching your comfort range gradually. It was to be gradual because otherwise you’re not present, or in Claire Weekes’ words, ‘accepting’. Freedom starts from knowing where you are, not fighting it. Stretch your comfort levels without straining them, and don’t fall prey to the idea that continually punishing yourself is making you a better person.
Good luck on all your journeys. 5 years ago