I hate panic attacks. I seem to be getting them a lot at the moment, and usually in the middle of the night when I’m overthinking about things. I’m never very good at knowing how to or being able to calm myself down and I always end up just sort of lying there thinking “oh fuck, am I literally dying right now?” because that’s how it feels.
It normally starts out by being triggered by something, and for me that is usually ruminating over past conversations or worrying about something that I’ve done or said. The thoughts start to snowball and the more that they happen, my body starts reacting; my heart races, my chest feels tight, and I start struggling to breathe. The more I panic, the more these symptoms intensify and I start overheating and feeling sick and dizzy too. It’s a very horrible thing to go though, and although rationally like right now I can say I know it’s only a build up of stress chemicals in my body, I really feel like I’m going to die. I picture it like the film, Inside Out. It’s a Pixar film, which everyone knows I’m a big child and love films like that. It shows how inside your head works represented by different emotions like Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust and Panic. Panic is definitely ruling the control room of my brain right now.
Last night I lay awake for three hours with this going on, over and over. Worrying, thinking, panicking. My chain of thought normally tends to go a bit like this:
Specific thought > overthink conversations/actions > apply overthinking to most interactions > notice chest is tight, worry that I’m having an asthma attack > worry that I’ve touched latex in the past 24 hours and not noticed > worry about anaphylaxis > where is my epi pen? > worry about going to court, go straight to worst case scenarios > feel sick, struggle to breathe > am I dying? > worry about my family dying (don’t ask, it just seems to happen) > worry about if I died how the hell would my funeral work, would it be here?? > panic that I’m nearly 30 and really don’t have my shit together > get upset about abortion > feel guilty > guilt turns to sadness > miss my brother > anxiety levels back up about being alone > shit I’m so sweaty > I think I’m dying > chest hurts > start wheezing > random thought > overthink it to death > think about something that happened like 8 years ago??? > overthink that > downward spirals of panic and impending doom > implode.
Absolutely ridiculous, right?
I try my very hardest to help myself but more than anything I wish someone could say that it’s all going to be alright. They happen so often that I don’t like to say to anyone about it because I’m sure it just becomes annoying after a while. I also understand that from someone’s else’s perspective it can feel a bit daunting knowing what to do or say to someone who is in such an irrational frame of mind.
When my panic attacks aren’t too bad, the things that I’ve found that seem to help me are to have someone speak to me. Not necessarily about what is going on, but it can be about anything; I generally find the distraction of someone telling me about something can be enough to keep me more present instead of my mind racing ahead of itself. It also helps me (if it’s possible, it isn’t always) to get up, and move around. The change of scenery seems to help.
Now, for the factual bit. Everybody knows I’m a bit of a science nerd so I do try to remind myself that it’s just one division of my body’s Automatic Nervous System kicking in – the Sympathetic Nervous System. The SNS is responsible for the “fight or flight” reaction that takes place during a panic attack, and it’s this that releases adrenaline and cortisol. That is all a panic attack is. It’s just your body responding to stress stimuli and trying to protect you further from it – but seriously body, thanks but no thanks. One of the main ways I’ve found from my obsessive researching to reduce the overall levels of stress in your body is to breathe through your abdomen instead of your chest. Deep abdominal breathing is how babies naturally breathe, as well as people who frequently practice yoga. It feels quite strange to begin with, but the more practice that is done you do notice changes within your body – I’ve noticed that my shoulders tend to drop which obviously goes to show that the stress and tension is subconsciously spread all over.
Most of my panic attacks happen when I’m at home because it gives me more opportunity to ruminate. I have occasionally had a few whilst I’ve been out but I desperately have to try to hide it. I probably just look really wide eyed and crazy whilst all of the above is going on completely internally. My PTSD tends to go hand-in-hand with panic attacks, and seeing as I don’t have much control over that as yet it seems to be happening more and more.
They leave me feeling totally exhausted. This morning I feel so tired and all of my muscles ache from being so tense and uptight. I have someone coming to the house shortly for a piano lesson, and so I need to give myself a shake and put on the whole happy go lucky act while I put dealing with this on the back burner which will no doubt trigger another one later on.