Top tips for dealing with panic attacks

Mairéad shares what works for her when dealing with panic attacks.

Written by Mairead Butler


1. Talk to someone

Unsurprising, tip numero uno is to tell someone about what is going on. The reason this is repeated over and over again is because it truly is the best/ fastest way of dealing with the issue. When I first started telling people I was suffering from panic attacks over half of them responded that they had experienced exactly the same thing but were too embarrassed to tell anyone. This is so hugely important because sharing the burden with someone helps ease the stress of trying to keep it a secret (which only increases anxiety levels further). It also gives you the opportunity to explain why you are feeling that way and will give you some perspective. Anyone I have discussed panic attacks with has told me they are too nervous to tell friends and family of what is going on, as they don’t want them to look at them differently or see them as ‘crazy’. They won’t. Because you’re not (see point 2).

2. Figure out the root cause

One of the biggest problems I had with panic attacks was that I couldn’t understand why they were happening. I was at a very good point in my life with everything working out exactly as I had been hoping and then CURVE BALL …I experienced my first panic attack. I was so distressed because I really felt as though I must be going crazy because there was no reason that I would be experiencing panic attacks. After speaking to someone in a stress management clinic I eventually realised that the trigger was something that had happened two years prior to that but was only resurfacing now. Once I realised why they were happening I was able to deal with them much more easily and they almost immediately stopped. Sometimes it can be incredibly hard to figure out what has brought them on. Typically, they are caused by a new change in one’s life (new job, new house, new relationship). Even if the change is a positive one it can still cause anxiety, as it’s fresh territory! When you have identified the problem and everything is on the up, you may see it as a major setback when you experience another panic attack. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution in these situations as different things can trigger them at different times. It’s important to sit back and take a look at what’s going on in your life and try to find a way to relieve the pressure there.

3. Give yourself a break

The idea that people who suffer from anxiety are weak is completely untrue and is definitely starting to change in the public sphere. Life is tough. Terrible things happen. We are all expected to pick up the pieces and just move on. I was always the type of person that if something bad happened I would push it to the back of my mind and try to ignore it until it went away. I found that panic attacks were my body’s way of asking me to slow down and take a look at what had happened. They forced me to try and start focusing on my problems. Maybe the reason you’re experiencing anxiety and panic attacks is because you are struggling with something. Even if you don’t realise it, your body might. Listen to your body and cut yourself some slack. These days there is pressure coming from every angle and it’s incredibly hard to keep pushing. Take a step back and accept that you have a lot of incredibly tricky things to deal with. You are not suffering panic attacks because you’re weak; you’re suffering because you have a lot more on your plate than most people. Be proud of yourself for how far you’ve come already.

4. Exercise

Sometimes panic attacks can be caused by a buildup of nervous energy. When a lot of people leave school and start in college, their exercise rates decrease dramatically. For example, I would have obeyed a strict exercise regime in school (training 3/ 4 times a week) and completely stopped exercising once I went to college. Most students replace their Saturday morning matches with hangovers. A change in your level of exercise can increase anxiety levels so it’s very important to make sure you are still regularly exercising and eating well.

5. Alcohol

As illustrated by the point above, large amounts of alcohol can be detrimental to your anxiety levels. If you’re experiencing high levels of anxiety over a period of time, drink/drugs should be some of the first things to go. Coupling anxiety and Sunday night fear is a recipe for disaster.

6. Do the Math

Bit of a weird one, but it’s one of the best tips I found for distracting myself during a panic attack. The reason that people offer glasses of water during panic attacks is because the person will now have to concentrate on holding the glass. The aim here is try and trick your brain into forgetting that it’s panicking. So, as soon as I felt an attack coming on I started calculating very complex problems in my brain and essentially turned it off panic mode. Try it and see what happens.

7. Try to stop panicking about panic attacks

One of the biggest triggers for panic attacks was the fact I was fearful of the next one would come. However, the sooner you realise that panic attacks are in no way life threatening the easier it is to rid yourself of them. If you feel a panic attack coming on, instead of trying to fight it and flee the scene, acknowledge that it’s there and carry on as normal. The maximum it will last is 10 minutes, as by this point your body will have realised that it is a non-threatening situation and calmed down. I used to work myself into a frenzy as I worried I would suffer an attack at various different times. However, now I know that it will be over in a matter of minutes and I will come to absolutely no harm. I also don’t fear them any longer as I don’t see them as an enemy out to attack, but rather my body letting me know that I need to take a breather.

Everyone is different and everyone has different ways of dealing with things. There is no quick fix for eliminating panic attacks but overcoming them is definitely my biggest achievement. I would not be the person I am today had I not experienced those difficult periods and I am incredibly happy I went through it.

So I’ll leave you with three things to keep in mind:

  • You are absolutely fine. This is completely normal and the people you are most scared of telling have probably experienced this in some shape or form or know someone who has.
  • There is nothing to be frightened of. Panic attacks cannot harm you. They can only make you stronger.
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