Please note: The following is just my experience. I do not claim to know more than anyone nor do I claim to say these things from a professional standpoint. But breaking things down this way has helped me.
Sometimes the attacks come out of nowhere. One subtle thought leads to another and then the fear receptors override logic. This is what happens. Your fear receptors overreact and release calcium and cause a chemical reaction in the body. The mental calculations add up the stress, the chest gets tight, you can’t breathe, and you come to the point where you think you might die. You want to break away but you can’t because there’s nowhere to go.
Maybe the attacks are triggered by a conversation that link to a thought, which link to a feeling, that link us to our stressors to start the adding machine in our head, like a calculator gone wild, and the mental math goes on and on and out of control.
Emotion takes away logic to create worst case scenarios. Fear happens. Shame happens. Regret happens too. But let’s not forget guilt. Thoughts of rejection take place. Fears of abandonment take over. Fears of feeling exposed and vulnerable take place. Fears of losing happen. Fears of being hurt happen. Fears of shame come in. And again, you want to get away. But you can’t. You want to jump out your own skin. But you can’t do that either.
You want to get away from yourself and get away from your fears. You want to get away from mistakes you made or the things you said. You want to get away from old conversations that you can’t change no matter how many times you rehearse them in your mind. You want to do so many things but most of all, you don’t want to interact with the panic anymore, but yet, you are.
There are steps to take when the panic hits. I know about these steps but in some cases, the panic is so strong that even the simplest task is made complicated.
Take breathing for example. The exercise suggested is to breathe in deeply through the nose and then exhale out through the mouth. Close your eyes and do this in long slow breaths. This is to oxygenate the body. Keep your focus on your breathing. The stressors will be what they are but distraction is a key element to breaking down the panic. This will help the fear receptors to slow down.
(There is also an exercise that is helpful to breathe in through one nostril only by placing a finger on the right side of the nose and exhale through the other by switching fingers to the left side. I have done this and can admit to this being relaxing, but in attack mode, I breathe all in through the nose and out through the mouth.)
I have my own experiences with these attacks. When inhale through my nose, I breathe in and count to up to ten. Then when I exhale out through my mouth, I count to ten as well. Sometimes I count more and sometimes I count less. In either case, I pay attention to the way the air feels as it enters the nostrils. I concentrate on my chest as it fills. Then I concentrate on my exhale. I concentrate on the way my chest deflates and then inflates again.
Although we understand this is an attack; the suggestion to practice mindfulness can be intimidating. But again, I go to the need for distraction. Distraction slows the anxiety machine. Continue to breathe this way until there is relief.
Be mindful of the stations in your brain. There is the forebrain, the midbrain, and the hindbrain. The hindbrain is the oldest part of the brain. This is primitive survival. There is no emotion or feeling here. The midbrain is the second oldest. This is where thought occurs. This is where anxiety. This is where emotion, memory, and arousal come from. This is also where the panic centralizes. This is where the adding machine is and where we calculate our math. This is where insecurity comes in, fears, and rejection, self-rejection, and where all the panics centralize.
In an effort to win over my own anxieties and overcome my own stressors, I have created my own studies on this.
I have spoken with doctors and sought professional advice. However, although I have found this to be helpful, when attacks come, it’s hard to explain myself to those who do not have similar experiences.
I connect this with depression as well because the midbrain only wants comfort. But there is no comfort. The midbrain is a pathway to the part of the brain that is responsible for thinking and movement. All of these intricate pathways are details in the mind, like little bridges that lead us to opinions and predictions.
This is where those movies play out in our heads. The midbrain is where overthinking lives. However, this is not synonymous with truth or fact. Thoughts are neither fact nor fiction. Feeling is neither fact nor fiction. But here in the midbrain, thought is everything. Feeling is everything. And together, these two elements have a way of taking over.
This is what happens when panic hits. We become victim to our own mental biases and when the panic hits, this is the part of the brain we want to run from most. When the quake of a panic attack hits; this is the epicenter.
Then there is the forebrain. This is where the frontal lobe lives, this is where logic lives. There is no emotion here. There is no fear or concerns for rejection. This is where strategy lives. This is where plans come from.
During some attacks, as I inhale deeply through my nose, I will say to myself, “This isn’t real,” and by this time I will be at the top of my breath. When I exhale, I say to myself, “That isn’t happening.” At that point, I am at the bottom of my breath. I have my inner voice chant this as I breathe.
I have spoken with other and guided some who volunteered to call me when their panic attacks were just about to take off.
In some cases, a prayer was helpful for the volunteer. One person chose to say Hail Mary and broke the prayer down to coincide with the rhythm of breaths.
There are some that chose to envision the beach. Every time we inhaled, the waves came onto sand. Each time we exhaled, the water returned to sea.
In some cases, I chanted “I am” statements to the volunteers with positive affirmations to follow. I instructed to hear this as their own internal voice.
I am feeling better.
I am improving.
I am relieved.
I am breathing.
I am healing.
I am calm.
I am relaxed.
I am stepping toward peace.
I once had a conversation with someone about stress disorder and their answer was both asinine and simple. “Just remove the stressors from your life.” I hated that suggestion. I still do but there might be something to this, which I overlooked.
I am firm believer that yes, moving forward and moving on may be a difficult thing to do, but in order to do this, one needs to let go.
I struggle with letting go. I have a hard time with letting go of old emotions, passed regrets, mistakes, old thoughts of shamefulness, fears of exposure, and vulnerability.
I believe in the need for closure, which in some cases, childishly, I think closure might be another way of saying, “Getting the last word.” But either way, whatever closure is; I see this as binary, consisting of two parts, thought and feeling. Both are necessary when it comes to closing an old chapter and moving on.
For social anxiety disorders, I am careful when it comes to my interactions. There are times when I have to eliminate conversations with certain people because this brings on the attacks. In some cases, however, elimination is not possible. So in this case, I mindfully limit my interaction. In other words, I do what I have to, say what I have to, and then I keep it moving.
Social media is also a strange trigger. I find it helpful to stay away from ages and profiles that link me to stressful thought. I am careful of the mental masturbation that comes with this.
I allow resentment to pass to the best of my ability. I cannot hold too much; otherwise, the anxiety grows, the stress builds, and then the panic comes hand in hand.
Mental health, like our physical well-being, is a process and an exercise. Breathing and self-assurance, mindfulness and meditation are truly helpful. This is also what sparked my interest in hypnosis and visualization therapy. I know these things have helped me.
They just might help you too