Three or four years ago, I was taking a shower before work in my apartment when I was suddenly overcome with an intense panic. My heart started to race, my breathing became shallow, and I jumped out of the shower not knowing what hit me. Part of me knew I was in no mortal danger, however that didn't seem to be the part controlling my body at the time. I turned on my computer, and did a quick Internet search for “panic attacks.”
As I started to read through a few web pages, I came across a very similar version of the following instructions for coping with panic attacks, which I began to repeat to myself over and over…
1. Remember panic feelings are only normal reactions that are exaggerated.
2. They are not harmful and nothing worse will happen.
3. Notice what is happening in your body now. Stay with the present. Slow down, relax but keep going.
4. Thinking about what might happen is unhelpful. Only now matters.
5. Accept the feelings. Let them run through you and they will disappear more quickly.
6. Monitor your level of anxiety: 10 (worst) to 0 (least). Watch the level go down.
7. Stay in the situation. If you run away, avoid or escape, it will be more difficult in the future.
8. Take a few slow, deep breaths.
9. Consciously relax your tense muscles. Feel yourself relaxing.
10. Now begin to concentrate again on what you were doing before.
Eventually I got myself to work, where I mentioned what had happened to my very understanding boss. The first day or two after the initial event were very difficult. I felt as though I was going to have the experience again at any moment. I was literally scared of being scared…even paranoid. It was awful.
Over the following months and years, I became more in-tune with my mind and body, and what I could do to help decrease the likelihood of having another panic attack. While I was challenged many more times, the severity was never equal to that first occasion. I carry the list of rules above with me in my wallet, just in case. I ensure time for regular exercise, writing, and socializing. When I do these three things routinely, I greatly minimize any irrational fears of impending death as a result of minor aches and pains. If you've never had a panic attack, this might sound a little weird, however the problem is simply a physical fight or flight response to non-threatening experiences (a subconscious overreaction).
I wanted to ensure these tips were posted to my blog should I need to call on them during my backpacking trip around the world.