I’ve already defined panic attacks. To be quite honest with you, they can be pretty terrifying (the clue is in the name). In my experience, they are characterized by an overwhelming feel of a loss of control. That fact may make it very difficult to see how on earth you could possibly treat them. After all, how can you treat something that you are not in control of?
But it is possible – I promise you. I know this from personal experience. It is largely down one thing – attitude.
You shouldn’t try to “beat” panic attacks. There isn’t a line you cross where you can consider to have “beaten” your panic attack. You may not understand what I am getting here, so I will try to make myself more clear.
Let’s say you feel a panic attack coming on. You may be in a situation which has triggered panic attacks in the past (and as such, the anxiety in expectation of a panic attack can be enough on its own to bring it on, but dealing with that is for another article). The familiar feelings to start to wash over you in seemingly uncontrollable waves. It is of course a highly unpleasant feeling. You may suffer from a number of symptoms during your attack – I personally was prone to extreme nausea (my biggest fear was throwing up in public due to my panic attacks). I would also have a near-uncontrollable urge to “get away” from my current situation.
In such a moment, what would you consider as “victory” over your panic attack? Would it be stopping it from happening? Or simply enduring it without any embarrassment? Or any other number of outcomes? Treatment of panic attacks, as they happen, is not a zero sum game. You don’t “win” or “lose”. It is all about what you are able to do in the circumstances. It is about wresting control over your panic attacks, over time.
It is not the purpose of this article to talk about medication that can reduce the likelihood of panic attacks (although I personally used Citalopram, with a good outcome). Because at some point, you have to come off the medication (or you certainly should!), and the key is how you cope with panic attacks then. You need to get yourself into a position where you don’t need medication to handle your panic attacks.
How do you do that? With attitude - as I mentioned above.
Don’t try to “beat” your panic attacks. Just try to wrest control over them, bit by bit. Conquering your panic attacks is a war of attrition, not a quick skirmish that results in an outright winner.
When I suffered from panic attacks, I sought solace in the “little victories”. For instance, a common tactic I used to manage my panic attacks was to excuse myself and go to the toilet (usually when I didn’t actually need to go). This gave me a few precious moments to gather myself and try to control my intense feelings of panic. The problem was, when I returned to the table, I would inevitably have a fresh wave of panic over the fact that if I were to excuse myself again, it would seem most unusual.
So a success for me in that context would be not having to excuse myself at all. Yes, I might still experience a panic attack, and it might be a pretty horrible experience, but I was able to control it to an extent so that I didn’t have to rely upon the “crutch” of excusing myself. It was a small step, but if you take plenty of small steps, you will eventually go a long way.
Accept The Inevitable
When your tendency towards panic attacks are at their worst, it can be rather liberating to simply accept that they are going to happen. Treat them as an unwelcome visitor that you tolerate for the time being, whilst you figure out how you are going to get rid of him.
Think of the most irritating person you know. More often than not, such people feed upon the reactions of others. They act as they do in order to get a response. If they stop getting a response, they tend to lose interest. Panic attacks are similar in a way. If you simply accept their presence but don’t afford them your attention (as much as you can), their effects tend to be dampened over time. And eventually, they will slip away.
So please, don’t concentrate on “beating” your anxiety attacks. Focus instead on improving your reaction to them, bit by bit. Praise yourself for the little advancements you make, and recognize that you will lose battles, but you will not lose the war.