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Tell Panic Attacks to Go Suck It

panic-attacks-01If you frequent this site I’m going to guess that at one time or another you may have enjoyed the crippling embrace of a panic attack. How could I predict such a thing??? Because people who suffer from anxiety tend to be smarty-pants-creative types, aka NERDISTS. Folks not blessed with the gift of hyper-self-awareness don’t really understand the rush of liquid fear that floods the body. They just think we’re being “kooky.” I have a joke in my act about trying to describe the feeling of a full-blown panic attack: “Imagine being F*CKED in the HEART.”

I had my very first panic attack at about age 10. Adorable! For some reason or other I thought I had eaten rat poison and was convinced that the flush I felt running through me was, in fact, poison-related. Fortunately I’m here to say that it was not poison, or at least INCREDIBLY slow-acting poison (maybe I should call my doctor). After that episode I didn’t get them again until college. Unaware of the concept of a panic attack, I was convinced that something was horribly wrong with me and I couldn’t leave my apartment for a month. The prospect of having it happen in public kept me under emotional house-arrest. It wasn’t until a friend of mine pointed out, “Oh yeah, that’s a thing. Lots of people have those.” The sheer knowledge that I wasn’t a freak helped ebb the panic tide for a while but every now and again I’d still get the hilariously familiar, “No…wait…THIS time it’s something fatal.” I’m here to tell you that not only are panic attacks NOT fatal, but I don’t get them anymore. THAT CAN ABSOLUTELY HAPPEN FOR YOU. In this article I’d like to share a few tips that I’ve learned over the years while navigating the anxiety steeplechase.

KEEP YOUR HEARTRATE DOWN
This could be the single most important thing to remember. It’s easy to believe that panic is purely emotional, but it’s not. It’s physiological. Emotions may set it off, but once the trigger has been pulled it’s “100% pure adrenaline!” as Point Break would say. (It would also say, “Ayeee am an FBI AyyyGENT!!!” and then we would hold Point Break while rocking and patting it and saying, “Shhhhh…of course you are….”) What your body is ACTUALLY plunging into is survival mode, or the classic Fight or Flight response. This explains is why you want to punch the air or run yourself into a wall like a 28 Days Later chimp. This impulse is left over from our forest dwelling days and is usually reserved for actual life or death situations. Think of it as an evolutionary gift that keeps on giving. And giving.

I’m not purporting to have a complete grasp of neuroscience, but if I were to take a guess I would say that our brain isn’t some wonder-organ that all of the sudden just appeared from the Ether and existed in harmonious wholeness (sorry, Creation Museum). It is the result of millions of years of more and more complex layers lumping over our lizard stems like a bad spackle job. When you feel that first twinge of panic your body is asking itself, “Am I in danger?” and for panic sufferers the answer is usually, “WHY, IN FACT I AM!!!” even though they’re not really—the brain is just misfiring, bless it. It means well. It’s just trying to protect us REAL HARD. The body then takes us down the adrenaline river ride that we all know and love, shedding our higher brain functions along the way until we end up a heap of panting flesh not knowing which way to run, reduced to LOLcat syntax as our means of communication: “Me wan tare skin noff!” It’s a survival mechanism with abject terror as a delightful side-effect.

Let’s examine that first point of entry, “Am I in danger?” Sometimes it might be enough to gently say, “No,” or at least acknowledge, “OK, I know what this is…” But if that don’t cut the cerebral mustard try to remind yourself how adrenaline gets through your body: though a fast-pumping heart. That is why it is CRUCIAL to keep your heart rate down. If your heart is slow and normal, you cannot experience anxiety. It is impossible to exist in both states. Remember, this is a chemical thing. Rather than focusing on how “You might really be dying this time,” focus on the SCIENCE of what’s happening to you. Your instinct may be to fight, but that just makes it worse. Focus on actually making your heart beat SLOWER. Pretend it’s a game and first prize is sanity.

AVOID CAFFEINE
As you probably know, panic & caffeine have an electrical sexual chemistry: the former comes right after the latter (terrible pun mostly not intended). About eight years ago my attacks flared up again after having been dormant for some time. “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING AGAIN???!” I pondered over a nice hot cup of coffee one day about five minutes before another one hit. When I went over the timetable of events in my head, there seemed to be a connection. Just for the hell of it, I Googled “coffee & panic attacks” and proceeded to enjoy the two million pages that popped up, warning of the atomic dangers of caffeine to the panic-stricken. I know, coffee is a bitchin’ dominatrix that kicks your ass through the day with a 20 oz. boot, but at what cost? If you can let it go, you should. You will experience almost instant results. Like not thinking you’re dying.

BREATHE, MAN, BREATHE!
Just think, if you had a panic attack 500 years ago they’d have thought you were possessed by some manner of dark spirit and you’d’ve had the panic burned or bled out of you! Stupid Middle Ages! Today, we know that simple yet proper breathing techniques are helpful with no loss of blood necessary. At the onset of an attack it will feel counter-intuitive but you have to trust that it works. Take slow breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth and let the oxygen fill your lungs as you push your tummy out (yes, I am a grown man who uses ‘tummy.’ I find it more palatable than ‘food bag’ or ‘shit garage’.) This process will help you in two ways: 1) A slowed heart can’t pump fear through your body, and 2) The very act of focusing on a measured activity will take your thoughts away from your panic.

Most people breathe very shallowly, up in their chest, and this is very true of panicky-types. Especially when you feel that chest tighten. When you take a good, productive breath your stomach should extend outward because you’re getting air all the way into your lungs. When you exhale, your stomach will go back in, pushing the air out. If you can sit quietly for a few minutes while doing this, you will start to feel your chest relax and warm, tingly bits in the pit of your tummy. Imagine those are spreading though your body. You will feel all keen. Remember, you need oxygen to live so get that stuff into you. Take a yoga class…learn to meditate…buy some new age-y book on breathing…play a sitar…whatever it takes. It’s worth it because you’re worth it.

EPILOGUE

Welp, I hope you’ve gained some insight today and that, if you are a panic sufferer, you know that you have hope, which sometimes by itself is enough to make the panic dragons stop dining on your soul. But keeping that heart rate below “NASCAR” isn’t just for panic attacks anymore! It’s also good for quelling anger, hysteria and just plain old stress (the vanilla of neuroses). Why share my failures and deeply personal experiences with you? Because I want you to feel better. No one should have to live in fear of oneself ESPECIALLY when the threat isn’t real. Don’t let your body trick you. It is possible to ignore your brain. It’s a process but you can do it. If you forget any of this stuff in the middle of the night, you can always bookmark this page and come back to it because the Internet is FOREVER. Now please get out of my head!!!

*As a tribute to the theme of this post, I’m including at no additional charge this classic Hard ‘n Phirm video that is an en fuego Latin love song celebrating the ubiquitous nature of the word that pops up in every Spanish song: El Corazón—THE HEART.
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143 comments

  • I visited your site it is really awesome. i really felt nice on seeing your work and efforts.
    I think your panic section of the site was really worth. i am looking forward to more stuff like that.
    thanks

  • Yes – that’s IT eggzactly. Not only did you nail the whole panic experience (seriously -doncha think that it qualifies as a thrill ride in a theme park?), but I laughed my rational head off. Lots of comments on yummy Rx to help, but I thought I’d add that for me it helps to occupy my higher functioning brain bits with important tasks (Nintendo DS works well here) thus giving my reptilian brain a chance to chill. I don’t seem to have a problem w/caffeine, but I stopped all alcohol-based drinking and that really made a difference eliminating post-hangover panic attacks for me. Hey – maybe that’s why I *started* having panic attacks in college? Hmmmmm…..

  • Hello,

    I came across this today after yet AGAIN waking up from a panic attack. They all started 4 days after going on Zoloft for depression and anxiety. Since then I stopped the medication and feel better, but I still wake up and go into panic attacks. Things feel not-real and I feel like I’m unable to fully wake up. You are very right about the breathing. I try to sit in a dark room (lights become more of a panic trigger in this state) and practice breathing exercises and alternate between using a paper bag and breathing normally.

    This sucks because I never experienced these like this before going on that medication. I feel like my life has been hell for this past week trying to fight them off. Finding info like this is helpful to not feel alone. Now I have to learn to not be afraid to go to sleep. Ugh. I’ll keep this info bookmarked for when I feel panicky and like crap :)!

  • I’ve managed to quell my panic attacks after having them for over twenty years. It started very young with night terrors and that nagging fear of death but my first insanely irrational one came when I was about 9. The flesh-eating disease was big then and I thought I had it. POISON IVY!!! *Shakes fist*

    I’ve found that recognition of the situation is the best medicine. I particularly liked the point you made about not fighting it. Something I coined as “riding the wave”.
    I still have them from time to time but not nearly as severe as they used to be. Where you locked yourself up for a month, I became a phobia-ridden hermit for two years in my teens from it. If a head-case like myself can conquer this asinine response to stimuli, any jackass can. Great article. Ride the wave peoples!

  • i have written my own panic disorder post on my website, hippiedenmother.com i had my “break” in 2006. i was stuck in my room and getting 30 minutes of sleep a night, if that. i was revved up. i sought out therapy immediately and unfortunately i was put on meds. i didn’t want to but i couldn’t get to the problems without managing the symptoms.

    for me, even on the meds i sometimes feel panicky. when i do i stop and ask myself out loud, “what are you upset about? what are you ignoring?” it immediately brings it down and i usually find that i am trying to push feelings away or not being “true to myself” like barb mentioned. when i first started having them i thought i was going crazy and then i came across a blog by a man named andy. i realized i wasn’t alone and that is why i wrote a blog about it and i give kudos to you chris for doing the same.

    when i realized i wasn’t alone it made me feel SO MUCH BETTER. and i think it’s even more awesome that you are well known and wrote such a piece. i do think it happens more to those of us that are “enlightened” i always think about things that get my friends to say, “what? i never think about that” but that’s ok. when i started listening to myself and my needs more the panic went away.

    it’s hard for me to know what is doing it though, me or the meds. i’m in the process now of getting off of them and i’m doing cognitive therapy to recognize my emotions and not let them overwhelm me. i’m so scared that if i stop taking the meds they’ll come back but i also know that i will survive, i won’t die from it. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

    p.s. i cut out caffeine immediately. i also don’t do sugar in large amounts. i do however smoke, but feel that doesn’t effect it nearly as much as caffeine and sugar.

  • Hi Chris,
    Great info and insight. I’ve studied panic attacks (as well their subsequent counterpart- agoraphobia) extensively, but have never recieved such positive affirmation: these attacks are evidence of apparent creative genius! Thanks.
    I just wanted to share a little gem that has helped me tremendously. When I am shamelessly genuine and true to myself, my waves of panic are less frequent. It may sound simple and unfounded, but it absolutely works. Like you alluded to, our self-awareness (concern over how others see us) is part of the whole equation. When we discover our true selves and enjoy who that is, we release a great deal of pressure. Besides, in a growing culture of freaks and geeks, what better time to be ourselves?
    Anyhow, that’s my bit. Wonder if anyone will read this or has everyone moved on to Nerdimals?

  • I came across this thread doing research for my dissertation on panic disorder and agoraphobia, or the fear of being in a vulnerable public setting away from safety cues. Great job detailing the experience of having a panic attack, I think the surprising strength of these things combined with the feeling like you must be crazy help make panic attacks natures little “gift that keeps on giving.” one thing that seems to help is to not fight the panic itself but to accept it as a shitty thing you are experiencing. Trying to make it go away makes it worse, and it is not dangerous. You can’t control your thoughts, feelings, or bodily reactions very well directly, but you can control your interpretations, which has an indirect influence on your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. It’s kinds like a catch 22.Think, “this shit sucks, but it’s how my body shows anxiety. I won’t die and it’ll pass soon enough.”

  • Thanks. that was funny, but at the same time made a lot of sense. I’ve only had two or three major panic attacks, but that was enough. Coffee can suck it.

  • Thanks, mate,
    A humorous, straight forward, peer-written and very comforting piece.
    Just the kind of tone one needs to remember when that adrenaline starts flowing.
    Cheers!

  • I remember my first panic attack. I was around 16 years old and out walking one night by myself. Suddenly I thought I was dying. I ran down the street screaming for someone to help. No one did. I ran home and told my mom. It was like Teenwolf…my mom says “oh yeah…that runs in our family…I was hoping it would skip a generation…”…No Mom…it landed right on my face.

    I do all the things listed in the blog now…including watching my diet and avoiding gluten as often as possible.

    Panic attacks will take every bit of your self esteem and flush it down the toilet. Making you feel helpless and trapped. The converse is also true. When you are down on yourself you will find that panic attacks will creep in. Us artist types are prone to be harsh on ourselves and tearing our own selves down. So stop that.

    Brian Dunaway

  • Also here via Wil, and so very happy I followed that lead!!!

    I’ve had massive anxiety for about 12 years now, and like others have mentioned above, it’s so extreme that it even extends to having anxiety about anti-anxiety meds. As a result, I’ve gone unmedicated most of that time. I, too, am afraid of having anxiety attacks in public. It’s happened hundreds of times, and has even cost me a great job making more money than I ever thought I’d make.

    In this wonderful digital age we live in, when I can do birthday and holiday shopping online, do 100% of my work online through telecommuting, and even have my groceries delivered directly to my house, I have found that over the last two years I’ve only left the house to go to a doctor or the emergency room. I’ve become a shut-in, and my world has shrunk so much that it consists essentially of staying in the same room day after day barely interacting with even my friends and family.

    I suffer from sleep apnea, and as part of finally wishing to take steps to alleviate that problem, I have started cutting back significantly on my coffee intake. Whereas before I *always* had a cup of coffee in-hand (is this also common of creative types in high-tech careers?), I have recently had a few days where I’ve not even had a single cup.

    Perhaps as a result of getting better sleep and the reduced caffeine intake, I’ve noticed that I’m feeling noticeably better much of the time. I even went to the store on my own volition recently, and while I suffered from anxiety the whole time, it was manageable.

    The steps you outline above seem perfectly logical, easy, and effective. In over 12 years of seeing dozens of doctors, why have none of them been able to articulate such methods? Why was not even one doctor able to so clearly and compellingly explain why I should consider quitting coffee?

    Thanks for the great post, you’ve got me all fired up and enthusiastic, and I’m sure that I’m not the only one who feels this way!

  • I’ve dealt with panic attacks frequently over the years as well.

    I feared that it would completely be my undoing while in college. Thankfully, I was able to not only get a B.S. but also a M.S. in mathematics. Currently, I teach multiple levels of algebra, trig & calculus at a college campus. I am open with my students about my past anxieties and how this affected my education. Hopefully, some of them hear me and discover that they are not alone. That for me was one of the worst parts of having panic attacks. I honestly thought that I was a freak & this garbage did not happen to normal sane people. I now know that this is not the case. Thankfully, the students that seem to really need reassurance do come see me. Sometimes, my previous students even drag their friends to come talk with me. Don’t worry; I make it very clear that I am NOT a professional counselor. Mostly, I share my experiences with them and listen when they need to be heard by someone who has been down this road.

    A couple of years ago, a friend told me about something called Combat Breathing. It turns out that the military often uses it to help soldiers regain/stay calm in extremely stressful situations. It has the desired side effects of slowing & deepening your breathing. In addition, it typically slows down a racing heart.

    Combat Breathing:
    Repeat the following steps 3 -5 times (do it at least for the 3).
    1. Breathe in mentally counting 1, 2, 3, 4…
    2. Pause & hold your breath mentally counting 1, 2, 3, 4…
    3. Now exhale mentally counting 1, 2, 3, 4…
    4. Pause & hold your breath mentally counting 1, 2, 3, 4…

    Actually trying to see each separate number in your mind, may also help you regain control of the mental anxiety.

    I have no idea if this will be helpful to anybody else, but maybe it will.
    {There is one other odd bit of advice, but it sounds dumb. So, I haven’t included it here.}

    Peace & calm to you all.

  • Hi Chirs, i just watched the movie Mystic River and i noticed you kind of have a look of my fav actor Tim Robbins in the pic of you in the suite. You look great in there.

    I love Coffee, Tea, Chocolate and Cigarettes. I have tried everything to cure this evil parasite of Panic Disorder with agoraphobia. quit all the meds taking nightmearish 4months, and now have only light fear rush time to time uncomparably mild to attacks i used to have. i avoided cafein and cigarettes for certain time, but somehow igonored the caffein in Decafe, Mate-tea, Chocolate, Cocoa and such and managed indulge in consuming one of them untill recently. kept having phisical problems such as tightness in chest, neck, heavy body, joints and nerve pains, uncomfortablity in intestine…, BUT, since i determined to quit even a trace amount of cafein, my body is dramatically light these days. still getting nicotin boosts, though. i read some even thinks trace caffein is the cause of all these. hope anyone can find some relief from this info. GOOD LUK

  • My first panic attack was in high school. Thanks to the public school system (in the late 80’s) for having classes on crack, AIDS, and the holes in the ozone. WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! I would lie awake at night thinking about the amount of dirty diapers in our landfills that, if stacked, could go to the moon and back seventy billion times. WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! Or that if I even looked at a boy I would get an STD. Or the movie they showed with the Eight is Enough dad having pain down one arm via heart attack or stroke. We’re all going to die from AIDS contracted through our crack addiction which will eventually give us a heart attack and a brain bleed from the thought of not recycling our own diapers as infants.

    Don’t even get me started on the list of diseases I have convinced myself I had. Before the Internet kids, there was a thing called Merks Manual.

  • For me, caffeine has had ZERO influence on the scope or character of my panic attacks. They were all stress induced (horrible train wreck of a marriage). All of the above advice is exactly correct and works as a great coping mechanism. But the best results I ever had were using EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique. It looks a little silly but after ten years of sometimes debilitating panic attacks, mine were gone with only two self-administered sessions of EFT. Yeah, really gone. Don’t know how. It’s kinda weird, but I recommend it. Try it before you scoff at it. There’s a free book at that web-site somewhere that describes it at length.

    Good luck!

  • Great advice. I used to have panic attacks a lot and would often faint in public places. One time it happened at a crowded concert and my glasses fell off my face when i hit the floor and a bunch of people stepped on them. How is that for the ultimate nerd tragedy. I haven’t had one for at least 4 years and I know for certain that it was because I cut down on caffeine.

  • I had a panic attack in 7th grade at a state UIL science competition. Hours and hours of advanced (for a 7th grader) science flash cards made me feel so trapped. I haven’t had one since, but I’m about to go off to college in the fall so who knows if the will return or not.

  • Alex, you described me almost perfectly. The quitting school thing, I did that because of my panic, twice. The girlfriend thing, i had a girlfriend of two years, and i ended it because i was having some anxitey and wanted to be alone for a while. Now shes with someone else and wants nothing to do with me. I need a job, but im nervous about that. I know exactly how you feel.

  • My friend, now you’re talkin’ my language. I am Captain Anxiety. In fact, I’m so nervous that I wouldn’t even post my real email address. The best thing to do is just accept the imagined catastrophe. Just think to yourself, “Yes. It is possible that everyone will notice my odd behavior and think that I’m on drugs.” Or, “I may in fact scream at the top of my lungs on this airplane, and ‘endure’ the subsequent flight attendant body-pile. But none of these things will kill me. And, afterward, I will explain that I have some sort of panic disorder (I’ll make up a name).”
    Anyway, just let it happen. Unless you’re standing on a ledge. Don’t let that happen.

  • I’d love to hear pierre say that to tony sorprano. You would ridicule someone for being open on this subject? Are you what they call a troll, or just a gobby cocksucker.

  • Great to read this article, blog, whatever. I have yet to have found anyone in person who suffers (or admits to suffering) from panic as I do. Just recently decided to get support on line and find a lot of people just like me. A relief, yes, but why can’t we stop this awful “disease”??? Everyone’s symptoms seem so text book. There should be a simple cure all to end it but I guess, just not that easy… Anyway it great to be able to read everyone’s tips and experiences. Thanks for giving Anxiety a voice!!

    I also am really struggling with travel issues right now (as well as the trapped feeling in public places). Have kids at home and need to be able to respond to their needs instead of always worrying about myself. Have been really trying the breathing thing. My mind is soooo strong that it makes it hard to focus on anything but the panic, though. Hey, I am the creative type too….is there a link here? Thanks again,

    KC

  • seeing these make me feel not alone, i still cant get over having panic attacks..it controls my life, its the reason i dropped out of school. it the reason why i dont have a girlfriend anymore…im tired of it..but also dont really have alot of family/friend support with it… i live silently in fear… i have them about everything, being alone with a girl i like, being stuck in a room with people i dont know…sometimes i think of crazy people in the instituion and fear of being like one of them, or being a crazy killer. it just makes me think how they were thinking, maybe they had panic attacks and just went crazy for no reason…. loved ur post though, i thought it was funny and very true, i need to use ur methods..

  • Asthma is also related to panic attacks… and what can be more nerdier than an inhaler! My first panic attack was in highschool and then about twice a year there after.

    As a starving student low on cash I once participated in a study about the relation between in asthma and panic attacks. The study paid me 25 bucks each time I went and performed these weird tasks. One time they spun me around in a chair in closed room that was all white to induce a panic attack. They succeded but failed at the same time since I left and never went back. 25 bucks is not worth having panic attacks.

    Thanks Chris! I think you’ve inspired me to write my own blog post about the subject too.

  • Thanks so much for this article. I started having panic attacks a few years ago, but now I don’t have them anymore. I wish that I knew then what you put in this article, because panic attacks are the worst thing EVER.

  • Tim,

    Those are the kind of panic attacks I get also. It’s the trapped feelings that get to me. I don’t get them at home or at friends houses, I get them during class, when I sit far away from the door and shit like that. The one thing about me is that once I realize it’s happening I tell myself, “hey dumbshit, there’s nothing wrong with you, just relax and try not to freak out”, and things usually get better within minutes. Breathing works too. It’s being taken out of my comfort zone that gets my “Fight or Flight” going.

    Great to see I am not alone. I hope you find my remedy useful. I like to degrade myself as often as possible. It humbles me and I can’t get a dominatrix to come over after the last incident.

    Michael

  • I used to freak out during meetings at work. As soon as someone closed the door and I felt trapped I would become a whimpering mess desparately trying not to be noticed. Breathing carefully and mentally telling myself nothing was wrong helped enough for me to get a grip. It takes practice and doesn’t work immediately but you can train your brain not to escalate a panic attack to the point where you vomit onto the conference table……

  • Thanks for this post, Chris. For what it’s worth, here’s my contribution:

    Light weightlifting helps very much. 3 sets, 15-20 reps each, of any weightlifting exercises you choose, 4 to 10 pounds or a little more.

    Avoid coffee and sodas, most any tea is a much better choice, and green tea is the best.

    Also try Valerian Root if needed. And as much as possible, get appropriate amounts of quality night-time sleep.

  • I seldom get them. But still it helps to know how to deal with them once they happen.

    For me the best thing I can do is avoid stimulants.

    Caffiene, Nicotine, or anything else that rhymes with “een” for that matter.

  • Panic Attacks Suck! I know that sounded sixth gradish, but it’s true. I have suffered from them for a while now and most of the time they happened at night when I wake up for some unknown reason. Either that or they happen when I am trying to get something done that NEEDS to be done at the moment; i.e. Christmas Shopping or doctors office, whatever.

    Breathing is the key. Slow steady breathing. I am sure that the breathing and oxygen help in relieving the attack, but for me, it’s just the focusing on breathing that takes everything away. Makes me realize it’s all in my head. Anxiety attacks can make you feel like you are dying for some reason. Your heart is racing and you are sure it’s going to leap out of our chest and run down the street, leaving you holding the empty crap sack that used to be your body. It’s a bad feeling and I am glad that someone as smart and focused, like Chris is able to admit he suffers from them also.

    Knowing that others, people MUCH smarter than I am, suffer from these horrible things makes me feel a little more relaxed. I did give up Caffeine about ten years ago and it was the best thing that has ever happened to me. I rarely drink sugar drinks at all anymore, two or three a week is my maximum, usually during extended roleplaying sessions. Yes I am a total geek and still play AD&D so sue me. The crashing is over and the constant headaches when weening yourself from caffeine are a bitch, but once you get through to the otherside, (obscure Doors reference not withstanding) you feel so much better and less tired all the time.

    Thanks Chris, I don’t feel so alone anymore.

    Michael

  • I have attacks way to often and I need to relax. I am going to use this post and use it and hope it helps because at this point it does not hurt to try. And yea I drink way to much coffee and soda so taking them out the picture should help me a great deal.

  • I would add: know your limits. Besides the excellent advice about avoiding caffeine (and cigarettes–they contain nicotine, which is also a stimulant), try not to add any more stress to your life than you need to. Try not to take on more than you can handle. You’ll start thinking you need to accomplish a lot of things that no one else is actually expecting you to do, then that accumulated stress can bring on panic attacks “out of the blue”. Backtrack (after the attack) and see what you can jettison from your life that is stressing you out.

    As to breathing: that freaks me out, for some reason–paying attention to the breathing process is just weird for me. Chanting a mantra to Ganesha helps me focus on the words and on the god. It works the same as the breathing, but I’m focusing on something a lot more positive, to me.

    Thanks for this post. Seriously.

  • Really great article (was it an article, oh who knows) whatever it is, it is fantastic! As like many others, I have suffered through panic attacks for years, and only recently began to fully understand what was happening to me. I’ve lost jobs, life experiences, and even “potential sexnasty” due to the fear of the attacks. Then the fear of being in public and having an attack made me become as isolated as possible.
    I hope everyone who has been afflicted with this condition can find the answers they need so they can live their life fully, with joy, and without fear.

  • I’ve been controlling panic attacks for many years – I call it ‘The Grip’, due to the way my chest feels when an attack hits – and I agree with you wholeheartedly about the vestigial nature of them. I don’t think it comes out of left field, though (unless you’re afraid of left field). We, the smart (or in my case, the pseudosmart) DO get afraid of things, just not the same things that one would normally assume to be triggers, like tiger attacks or warning klaxons. Global warming? Impending financial doom? 2012? Trying to imagine what non-existence feels like? These are the triggers of the higher-minded, and are no less capable of setting off an episode. As the man said, “ignorance is bliss; awareness is hell.” Becoming at peace with these things goes a long way to alleviating the onset of attacks and, more importantly, preventing them.

  • Great post. After reading the comments, I had to chime in because so many of the things I read are true for me. I thought I was the only one afraid of my medications. I’m supposed to be on meds for ADD and depression…”may cause increased heart rate.” WTF? You’re giving this to someone with panic attacks?

    The breathing does work well. In through the nose, and out through the mouth…at least it works until you have a stuffed nose and can’t breathe and find a new reason to have a panic attack. Oh, I can breath in through my mouth as well? cool!

    Someone mentioned getting them at night…I can’t sleep in any position where I might “hear” or otherwise feel my pulse. Exercise can be doubly fun, too. Why? It raises my @#$% heart rate!

  • also here via Wil…this was a great read. Another technique that the intarwebs taught me and that I’ve found helpful is having a go-to memory of a time when I couldn’t stop laughing. If I can go there and start to chuckle, I can often head off the attack. Thanks for the tips!