Panic attacks – like everything with mental health – effect everyone differently. So this post is about my experience of them. I’m sorry if this whole blog appears to be about me me me, but seriously it’s all about you – and helping you listen to your own mind & body.
I got diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder at the age of 27. It suddenly made a lot of aspects of my life make sense. The nausea when leaving the house. The late night sudden pangs of deep worry which lead me to wondering if I’ve left the oven on, the front door open or forgotten something really important. I will get overwhelmed by the deep urge that something really terrible has happened or is about to happen.
This is the part where I start to get chest pains and tightness at completely random times which often leads to tears. It particularly happens after I’ve done something like public speaking, a big party and during sport. As a kid, PE lessons were a nightmare as I’d be told I was unfit – where in reality I now know the sensation I was told was a ‘stitch’ is actually my chest tightening. I have run a marathon, play on a football team and am a trainee pro wrestler who can do 150 bur-pees and i still get that chest tightness almost every time my adrenaline goes up.
Trouble is, panic attacks look and sound very dramatic when they happen. Since I hit my bumpy patch in my mid-twenties the panic attacks can now also be triggered by loud bangs, sudden movements or someone giving me a fright.
I even get them sometimes when I’m having a brilliant time. I once had a panic attack in the middle of a lazer tag venue in Coventry. I think the adrenaline was pumping around and I was over stimulated but the familiar chest pangs started so I crawled into a corner and took cover. My friend Rich soon discovered me. Once he checked I was OK, he shot me anyway. That’s what true friends are for.
So basically. I have them a lot. I’d say I have them two or three times a week on average. Quite frequently, at work. I can feel one coming on and I’m good at controlling my breathing these days so I can sometimes fight them off. But often, I need to deal with it quietly and calmly.
If I feel my chest tightening and my breath becoming shallower, I will calmly walk with my eyes fixed to the floor, to the nearest toilet cubicle, fire escape or stationery cupboard. I find if I crouch down into a ball, put my head between my knees and take deep breaths it really helps.
When I first learnt to breathe during an anxiety attack I was shown an animation similar to this by my therapist at the time (image credit).
I also have found – if there’s nowhere to run to or hide – the courage to just let a panic attack out. This isn’t for everyone and the first few times it was very weird but I just explained it afterwards and now I’m much more comfortable with it. But my close friends, football team mates and pro wrestling coaches are pretty used to it now and are really supportive when it happens. It’s still very new and it does surprise people how open I am about it.
Better out than in, so if you’re in the middle of a football pitch or a crowded club and you need a good panic.
You got this.
Just get somewhere quiet, curl up, close your eyes and breathe.