Picture this, you have a big day tomorrow, a presentation at work, lunch with a new friend, then you will travel home quickly because you have a first date with the person you’ve been chatting to online.
The familiar feeling of panic has been rising in you for a few days. Your heartbeat has been feeling faster. You are noticing that you have less patience and are a little more irritable. You have even realised that you are a bit sweaty at times. You would forgive someone for thinking you are nervous about the first date. After all, who does not feel slightly awkward about meeting someone new for dinner.
Your work colleagues bow their heads as you walk by for fear of getting the wrath of your sharp tongue. You are not always like this. Aware that it is a nerve-racking thing, the colleagues that know you well, ask how you feel about the presentation. It is bound to cause heightened anxiety. Only when you try to work out why you feel puzzled. You cannot find a reason. You present to your colleagues every week. The feedback is always supreme, the content you deliver is relevant and appreciated by all. When you think about presenting to your team you find that you feel good about it.
You feel excited about meeting a new friend for lunch. You clicked as soon as you met each other but you do not know how to get to the café.
Normally a first date would get you into a bit of a tizz, thinking about what to wear, whether you are going to have anything to talk about, the awkwardness of – heaven forbid – spilling food down yourself. This time though, you are carefree. You have been speaking to each other on the phone for months. As a result of the Government’s Covid requirements you have been restricted to Zoom. Games played over the internet, date nights with a screen and film nights with you each shouting from your own sofa “1,2,3, play”.
So, what is it that is causing the increasing anxiety? You strategically search through every plan you have until it hits you. Hard. Thud in your face.
The feeling of terror
You feel terrified that you will have another panic attack.
You have only experienced a panic attack once. It was three years ago, and you were walking through the shopping centre to grab some lunch before heading back to the office. It had been a busy week and you had some things running through your mind, but your life is busy. This is how you thrive. You could not tell exactly when it began but suddenly your heart started to race so fast and so powerfully that you stopped in urgency, terrified about what was happening to you. As you stopped you realised that you could not catch your breath. You were breathing heavily and quickly but you could not get enough air. Your chest felt tight. You were starting to wobble with the dizziness but got yourself to the toilet where you thought you might be sick. Instead you sat down on the toilet and cried.
What had just happened to you?
After what felt like hours but was really minutes you made it back to the office where you sat – stunned – for a while. After speaking to the doctor and some friends you concluded that you had experienced your first panic attack.
Fear of panic
Ever since that day, whenever you must do something that involves being seen by others, you get into an anxious state. The anxiety is based on a fear of having another panic attack. What will you do if you are overwhelmed with the physical feelings just before you step up in front of your colleagues? Or as you walk into the restaurant to meet your date. Even the thought of meeting your new friend fills you will dread as you fear the thought of another panic attack.
Sadly, this is the experience of so many people who are generally confident and self-assured. The fear of having a panic attack is so strong that it causes extreme anxiety, or in some cases – panic attacks!
If you resonate with this feeling there are some things that you can do to let this anxiety go. Knowing that without the fear of a panic attack you can live your live happily and optimistically.
It is more natural to fixate on the experiences we do not enjoy and question the physical reactions when they are uncomfortable. The pleasurable moments lost in the by the by of normality.
Bring mindfulness into your life by exploring yourself in all moments of your day.
True followers of mindfulness accept all feelings without judgement. They do not label feelings as good or bad. They simply, are.
As you mindfully travel through your body throughout the day, take note of the different feelings within you. Are there tingles within your arms and legs or do they feel heavy? What can you feel within your stomach and are you breathing into your abdomen or chest?
You will find that you can learn what your body feels like physically when you feel at peace mentally. When you recognise your mind and body are moving towards the anxious state you can ease it and reinstate calm by recreating the physical feelings of peace.
Take time for yourself
When you rush from place to place, meeting the needs of everyone else around you there is little time to notice if you own needs are being neglected. Diarising a regular slot for you to spend with yourself, each week gives you time to check in. Always take a portion of the time to journal if you do not already. This helps you to understand yourself so that you can be aware of what is going on for you. To learn more about self care click here.
Break the connection between life and panic
If you have connected your panic attack to a particular experience, there will be a part of you that prevents yourself from having the same experience again. Often panic attacks come out of the blue, unrelated to what is happening at the time. Just like you may have a sore throat at the same time as you meet a friend for coffee. It does not mean that whenever you meet the friend for coffee you will have a sore throat. Allow yourself to experience the things that bring you joy or comfort knowing that it is unlikely you will have a panic attack.
Use your senses
In the rare situation that you do notice a panic attack happening, one of the best ways to focus your mind and calm your body is to use your senses. Begin by naming five things you can see. Say it out loud, it is more helpful. Take your time to do it and when you have finished name four things you can hear. Listen carefully and notice something that you may not have done in the past. Find three things to touch, choose textures as different as possible and explore the contrast. Search for two things that you can smell and finally one thing you can taste.
Some people always carry a sensory toolbox in their bag. It contains essential oils, materials with different textures, a snack box – nuts for example, an MP3 player with relaxing music and some pictures to look at. With this there is something there whenever you need it.