“I know what a panic attack feels like and so do some of my pod guests. Here’s how we deal”
At some point, says the Mental Health Foundation, 13.2 per cent of us will experience a panic attack. Although symptoms vary, typical ones include: a sudden feeling of intense fear, often with physical symptoms such as a racing heart, rapid breathing or an upset stomach.
A few months ago I was super-anxious about life. I was overwhelmed and felt bombarded by the constant little mental challenges offered. This led to a patch of insomnia and my old friend ‘the night-time panic attack’ spurred by what I thought were premonitions of a very negative and unruly nature.
I spoke about this with Stacey Solomon on my podcast as she has experienced exactly the same. I started to believe these awful thoughts and panic that I was having a vision that would, down the line, come to fruition. I was lucky enough to work with a therapist to unpick this attack of my own compulsive mind and get to the bottom of it.
It seems an anxiety about messing up at work and being unable to support my family led to this weird compulsive thought that almost became obsessive. With a little more understanding, I was able to see the root of the problem and how my mind had cruelly wrapped this negative idea up into the faux form of a premonition. We can wipe out fear and concern about using intuition by only inviting in the good stuff. We have the power and autonomy to do this.
Night-time: It’s a mare
How I experience this in the worst possible way is I get these night-time panic attacks. So say, I have a new job in the morning. I’m working with someone I haven’t worked with before. Or it’s not a project that I’ve come up with. I’ll go to bed intellectually knowing tomorrow you’re safe. You can do the job. It’s going to be fine. You might even enjoy it. But my body… I don’t know if this is through a hangover mentally of inexperience, but my body goes into panic.
What does it feel like?
So my heart starts racing. Obviously, sleep does not arrive and my body goes into this feeling of like I’m running a sprint, like I’m Usaine Bolt, and my heart is racing. It’s obviously a mental sort of torment and I can really feel how that’s all working together. In those moments, I feel slightly out of control. If I’m honest, even if my brain is saying, look, you’re safe. My body still keeps doing its own thing. I’ve spoken to lots of other people that have experienced the same.
Here, I ask some of my podcast guests how they deal…
STACEY SOLOMON: Focus on one thing
Stacey: When I feel out of control I have to focus my mind on a task. That can be either tidying something, organising, or even sitting there and making something, crafting something. My whole brain then has to focus on the task at hand and all those thoughts that will sit there and haunt and scare me have no time to be in my head, because I’m completely focused on one thing.
SARAH WILSON: Just do anxiety once
Sarah: The thing I often say to people is: do anxiety once. So, yes, you haven’t slept, but just have that level of pain. Don’t then get anxious about being anxious. And then what happens is you get anxious about being anxious — about being anxious!
And, of course, you’re kind of becoming exponentially sucked in. A panic attack only lasts 20 to 30 minutes. When you know that you just have to sit in it, write it out and you do it once. And you can recover and hopefully move forward, get on with it and learn from it.”
DEEPAK CHOPRA: Break the circuit
Fearne: Obviously, there are millions of people out there who have panic attacks due to the stress of the modern world. What is the way to mitigate that? How do we rein in control or, if it’s the opposite, letting go in those moments where we feel completely out of control.
Deepak: You can do that in many ways. One is before you react to any situation, you press the pause button and you observe the reaction to react. That’s it. You observe your reaction to react and that breaks the circuit and then you do whatever you need to do – that’s one way. The second way is to observe the panic. Observe. You cannot change anything unless you’re aware of it and you feel it. Because if you go into denial, that thing builds up even more.
It builds up even more. So you observe it, you feel it and you feel the sensations until they dissipate. This is a very interesting thing, you don’t have to visualise or bring light or golden rays of divine being there. Just feel it. And if you feel it, it dissipates. Why? Because awareness by itself is healing.
Fearne: Yes, and that goes back again to your ‘go for the easiest route’, which is not to resist. It’s just to go, Okay. I can see that I’m panicking… Fine. Yes, I have had that experience, and I have noticed that it does dissipate way more quickly than if I am again, like you said, trying to visualise some sort of archangel floating over my bed, et cetera.
And on the flipside of that, looking at the body-mind. If stress can physically manifest in ways that are inconvenient or cause pain or suffering, of course, then seeking out stillness, meditating and finding that peace is going to then manifest positively physically.
The NHS suggests techniques to help treat panic attack symptoms:
Slow deep breathing Try breathing slowly and deeply while counting to three on each breath in and out.
Challenge your fear Constantly remind yourself that what you fear isn’t real and that it will pass in a few minutes.
Focus During an attack, try to focus on something that’s non-threatening and visible, such as the time passing on your watch
Creative visualisation Think of a place or a situation that makes you feel peaceful, relaxed or at ease.