On The Brink Of A Panic Attack

You are feeling uneasy. It’s like standing on the edge of a cliff and at any second you could fall off. You are apprehensive. Pensive. Your mind is racing. In order to keep yourself safe you have constricted every muscle in your body. You feel really tense. Concerned. Something really bad could happen at any moment. Your nervous systems feels like it could go into fight/flight at any second. You can feel your body trembling. Your stomach feels unwell. You are hanging on, hoping that you will not lose control. Every strange sensation in your body and every frightening thought in your mind threatens to push you over the edge into a full blown panic attack.

But wait. Hold on. Hang on. As uneasy and frightening as it feels, you can maintain control. Keep your breathing as regular as possible. Take off your shoes and socks and walk barefoot on the ground. Place your feet firmly on the ground. Force yourself to do this. Wiggle the hell out of your toes. Write in a journal. Draw. Play a musical instrument. Splash your face with cold water, over and over. Do whatever you can to get yourself out of your head. It is your thoughts about what could happen, about what you fear happening at any second that is the hand that is threatening to push you over the edge.

You have to take an active role in keeping yourself grounded. You have to trust that you can do this. Like holding something really fragile in your hands, you can hold this uneasiness without allowing it to break apart. Be patient. The fear/terror and uneasiness will come and go in waves until it gradually dissolves. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable, without freaking out, for a little bit. You have to be willing to stand still at the edge of the cliff, look down and trust that you are not going to fall off. You have to believe that you got this. That you can keep yourself controlled and grounded, while the storm gradually plays itself out within you.

Breathe. Feel your feet touching the ground. Notice your body trembling. Notice your palms sweating. Notice your mind racing. Notice that your body feels like it is on high alert. Notice that the back of your neck, your throat and your chest has tightened up. Wiggle your toes. Breathe. Notice that you feel a bit dizzy. You feel like you can not think straight. Maybe there is a strange taste in your mouth. Maybe you feel like you are dissociating. Just notice all of this without freaking out. Carry this extreme discomfort, just like you would carefully carry anything that might freak you out. Use every inner muscle you have to remain calm.

Notice how the threatening waves come and go. Kind of like how a stomach ache comes and goes. One minute you are feeling a little better and the next minute a strong wave comes back again that threatens to knock you off your feet. Notice that it comes in waves and when it gets intense again, remember that it is a wave. It will pass just like the last one did. All you need to do is keep yourself grounded. Feel your feet on the ground. Notice that your feet have contracted and force yourself to place them flat on the ground. Wiggle your toes. Keep your breathing as regular and deep as possible. Hold on. Do not freak out. This will pass through.

Remember that your thoughts are not telling you the truth. They are the hand that wants to push you over the edge. You have to do whatever you can to get out of your head. To stop identifying with your terrifying thoughts. If you do not want to have a full-blown panic attack- this is your one responsibility. You have to make this effort. Don’t be too afraid. There is too high of a price to pay for not being willing to get out of your head. Do something, even though you feel like freezing up. Write an email on your phone. Draw. Play a musical instrument. Walk barefoot on grass. Take a cold shower. Get out of your car and walk around barefoot. Focus on anything other than your thoughts. Keep your breathing as regular as possible. Stay out of your head as much as possible. Just hold it for a little while longer, without freaking out. And then notice what happens.

Suddenly you will feel better, like you have some control back. Suddenly it will feel like the worst part of the horrifying storm has passed through. Your nervous system will feel like it has relaxed a bit. Your heart rate has come down. You will wait and wonder if it is really over. You might feel hypervigilant for a moment. You are not feeling as dizzy now. You no longer feel as dissociated. The alarm in your head is fading away. Can you trust this? Is the worst part really over or will it return at any second? You will wait, searching for any sign of its possible return.

But then you will realize things are safe now. You can turn around and walk away from the edge of the cliff now. The storm has passed. You made it through. You will feel immense relief. I am so glad that is over now, you will think. You might even feel really happy, like you just escaped potential catastrophe. You can hear sounds again. You chest, neck, back and brain have all loosened up. Its like being reborn, almost. Phew, you dodged a bullet. Now you have a new lease on life. You are ok now. You might feel really exhausted. You made it through. You survived that one without freaking out. Good work.

Now you know how to do it. Now you know how to ride it out the next time it happens. Keep practicing. Riding waves that feel really horrifying takes practice but now you know that it can be done. Remember, like all things in life, the immense fear and discomfort that you are feeling when you are on the brink of having a panic attack is impermanent. It will, without a doubt, pass. Your job is to learn how to hold on, without freaking out.

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