If You're Stuck in a Cycle of Panic Attacks, Here's What to Do ASAP
If you have ever had one panic attack, you already know it's not fun but if you have ever had a cycle of attacks . . . ugh.
It's absolutely horrifying and debilitating. Going through one attack will leave you fatigued, but if you experience a cycle of attacks that come either within the same day or same week, you know how frightening and upsetting it can be.
A year and a half ago, I experienced a cycle of panic attacks within a week. They came day after day . . . after day. I had never had a panic attack before that instance and since then, have not had any in a year.
The cycle of attacks came while I was driving, of all things. I would begin to get hot shortly after I got in the car and then hotter and hotter until my stomach dropped, chest hurt, heart raced, nondriving leg grew numb, and my throat felt like it was going to close. I couldn't understand why it was happening when I was driving, until I realized that that's when my mind went on autopilot and stopped worrying about my stressors (a divorce and finances) and could focus on taking my daily commute.
If you have experienced a cycle of attacks and don't know how to get it to stop until randomly they disappear on their own, follow my advice to get through and stop the cycle as quickly as you can.
1. Recognize the Trigger
Recognize that attacks may be repeatedly happening during a time of day or in one location because there is either an anxiety trigger or, like myself, it was a time of the day in which I could do a daily routine without being distracted by other demands. It was almost as if my body could finally release in the car. It couldn't anywhere else because most likely, I was with my daughter and busy or at work and busy. Recognize the trigger.
2. Don't Let It Stop You
I saw a therapist to address the divorce and attacks. One of the many things he told me that stuck with me was to not let it stop me. Oftentimes, people let the fear of an attack or an anxious thought stop them. I had to keep driving, keep getting in the car and not let the fear overtake me. If I let it stop me from driving, I would simply be feeding the anxiety and "trigger" more. By facing the fear head on, it reduced my anxiety, period.
3. Self Talk
During the time in which I had this cycle, I had to talk to myself to say:
- I had lived through the attack already a few times and still been fine.
- The attack is, technically, a fight or flight response and not a real heart attack or health issue.
- This will end.
My fear was very much that I would never be able to enter a car again without having an attack yet here I am, a year and a half later telling you, that it has been over a year since it happened. I didn't let myself "stop living" despite the cycle.
4. You Should Talk to Someone
A random panic attack shouldn't necessarily mean you should immediately go to therapy, but if you have a cycle, run, don't walk, to a therapist who specializes in anxiety. For me, speaking to someone helped me understand that my divorce and dealings with my ex were causing me to have this type of response. Even now when a year and a half later my divorce is still, and actually, more stressful, I have not had an attack because I understand why and how I interpret and absorb the divorce stress. Talk to someone.
5. Reduce It
Instead of being afraid over that next attack, reduce it. Tell yourself, "I have lived through an attack before and I will do it again." Become the superhero and turn that attack into a small reduction of what it is. It's just an attack. Not THE ATTACK. Or A PANIC ATTACK. It's an attack. It happens, and this will end.
6. If Trigger Is Changeable . . .
In my case, driving was not an "option," but if there is a person or thing that doesn't bring you joy and only brings you stress and panic attacks, reduce your exposure to the trigger but whatever you do, do not stop living because of the anxiety! Do not give up your life or make your life more complicated to avoid having an attack. Tell yourself, "It's just anxiety and so many of us have it."