I was on a plane, coming home from a family vacation, when we began to experience a great deal of turbulence.
Flying was already something I greatly disliked, so throwing in turbulence made me want to find the nearest exit and parachute out. As that wasn’t an option, I was forced to sit (slump) in my seat for 30 minutes, clinging to my husband for dear life, a barf bag close by, while my stomach churned, heart raced, and arms and legs went completely numb!
Possibly the worst thing about the experience was that my husband knew something was going on, but had no idea what to do. And I was too freaked out to talk, much less explain what I needed. Had he known what was happening, and what to do, I could have gotten some much needed panic attack relief.
The first question many people asked whenever they experience a similar situation is “did I just have a panic attack?”. So how do you know when you’re having a panic attack?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a panic attack is the abrupt onset of intense fear and discomfort that reaches its peak within minutes and includes at least 4 of the following symptoms:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feelings of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
- Chills or heat sensations
- Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
- Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
- Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- Fear of dying
- Scary stuff to read; much scarier to experience.
Once a person knows they’ve had a panic attack, they usually try to find relief. Unfortunately, panic attack relief can be hard to come by when you’re by yourself. This is true for one simple reason. For many people, a panic attack brings on a sense of disassociation, making it nearly impossible to think clearly.
This is why relief can be difficult to find, unless we have someone to “help” us. Even if you know what to do, letting others around you know what’s going on when you have an attack and what they can do, can be incredibly helpful in finding panic attack relief quicker.
Everyone is different so no panic attack relief plan is going to be the same. However, below are some things many people find helpful to have others do whenever they’re having a panic attack:
- Talk in a low, calm voice. People often like to be reassured that everything is going to be okay. Also, ask a person to help you regulate your breathing if you’re hyperventilating by guiding you to take some slow, deep breaths.
- Go somewhere quiet. If you’re at work, find a co-worker that can help. Have that person take you to a break room or the bathroom, someplace where you don’t have to deal with other people asking questions or crowding you. At home, have an appointed family member take you to a bedroom or someplace away from the hub of the house, some place calming.
- Divert attention. Most people become very focused on their breathing (or lack of) whenever they have a panic attack. Shifting focus to other senses can be helpful. Have someone rub ice your wrist, put your hands in cool water, turn on soft music, give you something to drink, put a cold towel on your forehead.
- Help with Grounding. In line with diversion is something called grounding. There are many different grounding techniques, most are very helpful for panic attacks. That’s because of what I mentioned earlier. Panic attacks leave many people feeling very disoriented, which in itself can be scary.
Grounding techniques bring us back to the here and now. A simple grounding technique to have someone guide you through is to ask the following questions:
Seeing: “What do you see?” Name 5 things you see around you.
Hearing: “What do you hear?” Listen, really, to sounds around you.
Feeling: “What are you feeling?” This is kind of a scary question for most, but verbalizing what you’re feeling has the amazing effect of taking away a lot of the fear.
Smelling: “What do you smell?” If you’re like me, you’ll smell nothing because I have zero sense of smell most of the time, but it’s worth thinking about.
Tasting: “What do you taste?” If chewing gum, or eating something calms you down, this would be a great time to pop those things in your mouth and notice, really notice, the flavors.
- Leave you alone. Sometimes those around us want to help, but end up making things worse. Let others around you know if you simply have to be alone during a panic attack. Also, if panic attack relief for you includes not being touched or not being talked to, let others know that as well.