For one performance of my university’s rendition of Pirates of Penzance, I played a manly pirate.
Now, I know that the phrase “have a panic attack” is a regular saying in American culture. People use the phrase to express an experience of sudden worrying, where they were like, “OH NO!!” And it is something people laugh about later.
But for people with anxiety problems, having an actual panic attack is nothing to take lightly.
What does a panic attack look like?
WebMD.com lists some of the side affects of having a panic attack.
- “Racing” heart
- Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
- Sense of terror, or impending doom or death
- Feeling sweaty or having chills
- Chest pains
- Breathing difficulties
- Feeling a loss of control
I have a panic disorder, which means I am prone to these kinds of things.
They usually happen this way:
1. I am alone.
2. I am thinking about all sorts of things.
3. Something happens that makes me afraid and/or triggers one of my worst fears.
4. My mind cannot help but go down the worst possible outcome of that fear.
5. I think one of the following: “I’M GOING TO DIE!” “I MUST HAVE CANCER!” “I’M GOING BLIND!” “I’M GOING TO GET RAPED!” “THIS STICKSHIFT CAR IS GOING TO ROLL INTO ANOTHER CAR AS SOON AS I TAKE MY FOOT OFF THE BRAKES!!,” because apparently, those are my worst fears. And they are all equally scary in my mind when it comes to having an attack.
At this point, I’m exhibiting most of those lovely symptoms listed above. But the worst part is, I can’t talk myself down. I can’t distract myself or get myself to think about happier thoughts. All I can think about is how horrible it will be when this fear comes true (as it obviously is immediately coming true). I feel paralyzed. And I’m usually close to weeping by this point.
In a nutshell, a panic attack is what happens when you worry about something and your brain’s ability to cope with the idea shuts down. Your ability to rationally deal with it breaks.Your fear center overreacts. And that can be super scary.
Are you one of the unfortunate people who know what I’m going through?
If you have a panic attack, this is what I would advise you to do (only because it has helped me):
1. Try to slow down your breathing. Focus on the sound of your own breathing–make it nice and even.
2. Stop being alone. Find a friend. Find a family member. Heck, go knock on your neighbor’s door (that is how I made friends with the girl whose wedding I’m officiating next week). Be with someone. Explain to them that you need to talk out your fears. I always appreciate hugs.
3. Talk it out. If you feel brave, tell them what triggered the attack and why it scared you.
4. Bravely answer the question, “what if it were true?” and make an action plan in case that worst case senario would actually happen.
5. Remind yourself that you may have freaked out over nothing. Just maybe.
6. After ten minutes, you will be shaken, but recovered. Eat something and tell yourself it was just a bad dream.
7. Go talk to your doctor about it. I started taking medicine for my panic disorder and it has really helped me.
The important thing to remember is this: You will feel very afraid. But actually, you are one of the bravest people I know. Because you face your fears.
And panic attacks help you understand when other people are afraid. They teach you to take action against being trapped by fear.
Panic attacks remind you that your fears are lies and that you are not powerless.
You can do something.
You can hold on to the truth: you are loved by God and nothing can destroy you when you are in His hands.
Have you ever had a panic attack? Were yours ever like mine?