Managing a panic attack is far easier when you’re prepared for it. Create your anxiety crisis kit full of essential tools and useful techniques to stop your next panic attack.
A panic attack is terrifying. The symptoms include: pounding heart, sweating, shaking arms and legs, and difficulty breathing. It’s important to remember this: YOU have the power to control your panic attacks and return to a normal, less-anxious state. Those who suffer panic attacks often describe the feeling as fear that they’re going to die. While the experience is horrible, anxiety and panic attacks rarely cause long-term physical harm.A panic attack is something we create with our own thoughts, which means we also have the power to lessen and eliminate the attack. If panic attacks are controlling your life, you can regain that control.Click To Tweet
Therapy is always my first and most-recommended suggestion. Trained psychotherapists will provide you with behavioral techniques to use over time to focus on the trigger or cause of your anxiety to eliminate it. Many therapists use variations of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques.
Below is a podcast episode created by Dennis Simsek, founder of The Anxiety Guy, about using visualization and CBT to address anxiety. I highly recommend you consider following his blog and YouTube Channel for more helpful advice on a range of topics related to anxiety. There are also numerous apps available, which I’ll expand on below.
The suggestions below, however, are focused more on the immediate reduction of the scary-as-hell symptoms of a panic attack.
First, we’ll cover how to stop an anxiety or panic attack quickly and effectively with a few of the following techniques:
1. Remind yourself that you’re going to be okay. Your body chemistry and thought process is slightly off-kilter when you experience a panic attack. Continuing irrational thoughts and further panic will only intensify the attack. The sooner you’re able to relax, the more quickly the attack will pass.
I’ve created a set of worksheets to help you learn to recognize the irrational thoughts your brain produces during an panic attack. If you learn to separate the irrational from the rational, you’ll find managing your panic attacks becomes much easier.
You can grab your anxiety worksheets–along with full-access to the Living Simply Freebies Library full of other helpful resources–by clicking on the image below.
2. Breathe deeply. Breathing is the only part of human physiology over which we have complete control. Anytime you’re awake, you can choose to breathe faster, slower, deeper, shallower, or hold your breath.
• Slow, deep breathing will slow your heartrate, and you’ll begin to feel better.
• Below is a video created by Dr. Becky Spelman of London. The video includes a simple deep breathing technique she recommends using in conjunction with other CBT techniques.
Note: I recommend you watch the entire video. Dr. Spelman provides incredibly helpful advice about specific CBT techniques you may also find helpful. (https://theprivatetherapyclinic.co.uk/overcoming-panic-attacks-dr-becky-spelman/)
3. Massage. This, of course, may not always be practical, but if you have someone supportive nearby, ask them to rub your neck and shoulders, and especially your scalp. You can even do this yourself. Massaging your scalp will move a greater volume of blood through your brain and will help relax the muscles of your head and neck, which are generally very tense during an attack.
The effects of a massage can last for days. (Yes, please!) Try to get a massage regularly. If the cost of a professional massage is too high, grab some essential oils to create a fabulous massage oil, and put that man (or woman) of yours to work!
4. Visualization. Do your best to imagine something pleasant and relaxing. It might be hard to think of something positive in the moment, so have a few ideas written down or kept in the notes app on your phone before a panic attack strikes.
You might also want to create a playlist of guided visualizations, either video or audio. I’ve included a short guided, calming visualization video below.
5. Move. Movement will help eliminate the chemicals that are creating the feeling of panic. If you’re in a place that makes immediate aerobic activity impractical, roll your head, wrists, and ankles. You could also do a few rounds on the company stairwell. Everyone else is using the elevator anyway!
6. Warm your hands. Ever noticed your hands are cold when you’re stressed? Warming your hands can help reverse the biochemical storm happening in your body during a panic attack. Run warm water over your hands or hold a cup of warm coffee or tea in your hands.
7. Listen to relaxing music. Few things can change your mood faster than the right music. Create a playlist of at least 10 songs you find comforting and relaxing. Listen to your music at the first sign of a panic attack, and take slow, deep breaths while you listen.
8. Magnesium. Magnesium has a profound calming effect on the body. There are magnesium supplements available. Dark chocolate also contains high levels of magnesium and is so much more fun than swallowing a pill! An Epsom salt bath will also cause your body to absorb high levels of magnesium.
9. Be proactive. If you suffer a panic attack, you were already stressed about something. Calming yourself before the panic attack is much more practical than waiting until you’re having a crisis. Take control before you lose control.
Let’s focus a bit longer on having a proactive mindset, and talk about some of the items we can use to prepare for or head off a panic attack.
Be Proactive + Create a Plan
The preferred outcome is to prevent an attack from occurring, but that’s simply not realistic all the time. Following is a list of items you can carry with you while you’re out and about, or have on hand at home to use in the event of a panic attack.
Put a few of these in your bag when you head off to work. And if you’re at home, perhaps create a pretty basket full of your supplies. The idea is that you can easily reach for something calming immediately once you begin to feel the onset of an attack.
1. Magnesium. Since we discussed it earlier I’ll start here. We now know magnesium can benefit our bodies and help calm us. Dark chocolate, Epsom salt, and magnesium supplements are all easily accessible.
I use this bath salt all the time. The smell lasts forever and it may also help you sleep! There are also quite a few other calming bath salts available.
2. Headphones + Calming Playlists. As we discussed above, music can be incredibly grounding. Create a playlist of songs you find calming, relaxing, and comforting. Add the playlist to your phone, iPod, or whatever device you carry around with you on a regular basis.
When you begin to feel overwhelmed and anxious, put on your headphones, close your eyes while you listen, and try to use the breathing technique above. Slowly breathe in through your nose; out through your mouth.
If you don’t already own noise-canceling headphones, there are several different variations available.
3. Your phone. If you’re alone, and it comforts you to have a loved one talking you through an attack, having your phone with you at all times becomes essential. Create a list of contacts you can call in a crisis, and make it easily accessible in your phone.
There are also a wide range of apps available via your phone. The apps currently rated by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) are available HERE. In addition, the video below is the recording of a webinar hosted by ADAA in April of 2017 about the various benefits of the variety of apps available.
4. Fidget toy or small item to hold in your hand. Fidget spinners have become a bit trendy, but they’ve been around for quite some time and they do have an actual purpose other than annoying teachers during class. Fidget toys can be used to keep your hands busy.
For many, just having something in your hand to feel and manipulate can be very soothing and again, grounding. Try out different items: a smooth rock, a rabbit’s foot, Playdoh, anything you find soothing when you feel it. There are LOTS of options that provide sensory relief. Below are a couple of my favorite items.
5. Anxiety Medication, Tylenol, and Tums. If you’ve been prescribed anxiety medication to help with your attacks, it’s important to always keep a small dose of that with you at all times—just in case.
Only you know what your panic attacks may bring. If you tend to get bad headaches or even a migraine, take a preventative dose of Tylenol or Excedrin as you begin to feel symptoms. If you tend to have stomach problems, take some Zantac, Tums, or Imodium. You know your symptoms and you know the treatments that work best for you. Use that information to your advantage.
Important note: I don’t mean for this to be an everyday occurrence. Don’t take the meds mentioned above on a continual basis unless you’ve been specifically advised to do so by a medical professional. Otherwise, use the over the counter meds discussed above on an as-needed basis.
6. Hard Candy, Gum, Chapstick, etc. Having something on hand to distract you from habits that arise during an attack such as biting your nails, picking at your lips or skin, pulling your hair. You know the habits you begin to see when you begin to panic. Use that to create a list of items that will help you avoid those habits, and add them to your crisis kit!
7. Essential Oils. Many find some essential oils calming, and the benefits of essential oils on our bodies has been well documented. If you find a particular oil or blend that helps you relax, use it!
If you’re away from home, add the oil to a cotton ball, a roller ball, or a spray bottle to use on the go. If you’re at home add your favorite oil to your favorite diffuser and keep it nearby, or add it to a calming bath, spray, etc.
I recommend you use therapeutic-grade oils to ensure their quality. Below are a few recommendations if you don’t currently have any oils on hand.
8. Adult coloring books. There are a ton of these available now, which I think is awesome! Find one that makes you laugh, or one you find soothing, or one that contains quotes to remind you be grateful. The bottom line is that you need to find one you love, and use it to keep both your hands and your mind busy and distracted from your anxiety-ridden thoughts.
There are endless options available. The ones below are some I absolutely love. They speak to my sense of humor and serve as a reminder that it’s okay to use laughter and humor as a defense mechanism. My sense of humor has been a HUGE part of my recovery from both depression and anxiety.
Content warning: if you don’t like raunchy language, just skip on down past this section.
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Yes, there are more conservative and flower-filled coloring books available too. But, c’mon—those are hilarious! And if you need to grab some colored pencils, THESE are the ones I’m currently using.
I’m hopeful you find some of these tools and techniques useful. Panic attacks are so very frightening and uncomfortable. It’s important to remember this: YOU have the power to control your panic attacks and return to a normal state. Do your best to prevent panic attacks from occurring, but if a panic attack does strike, use these strategies and tools to help subdue it, and regain control.
Do you have some things you’ve found to be super useful during a panic attack? Tell us down in the comments what you find calming when you’re faced with anxious thoughts!
As always . . . with warm fuzzies,
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