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Fight or Flight: Panic attacks and what you can do about them

By Brandy Browne

            It was a hot summer night. Our fan was blowing, and the air conditioning in our little home was cranked down about as low as it could go. I had endured a particularly stressful day. My father had suffered a stroke, and we had spent hours in the emergency room, and then several more hours in intensive care after he was administered a clot busting drug. I had fallen asleep exhausted, physically and mentally. At 2:00 A.M., however, I jolted wide awake. My tee shirt was drenched in sweat. My heart was beating wildly. My head was pulsing, and there was a loud buzzing in my ears. As my hands shook, I struggled to regain control of myself. I was having a panic attack, unbeknownst to the sweet young preschooler and my husband snoozing beside me. I stumbled out of bed to get a glass of water. As I sat in the quiet of my living room, I tried to focus my breathing. It’s crazy how someone with as much mental health training as I’ve had can still struggle with panic attacks. That’s the thing about anxiety, though…it is not reserved for a certain demographic, age, etc. We are all victim to it from time to time.

            If you find yourselves in the throws of an anxiety attack like I do from time to time, I would like to offer a couple suggestions to help you pull out of it and regain control. First, give “grounding” a try. No, I’m not sending you to your room until you are calmer. Grounding refers to focusing your attention on your five senses in an effort to focus your attention elsewhere. First, focus on what you can see around you. Is it light? Is it dark? Who is around you? Where are you? Next, focus on the sounds. In my case, that was very helpful, as the night was still and quiet, which is exactly what I needed. Third, what can you touch? I could feel the cool chair beneath me, the fuzzy blanket I had tossed over my legs, and my smooth hair as I raked my fingers through it. Fourth, can you taste anything? I could taste the cold water sliding down my throat. Finally, what can you smell? I smelled the remnants of leftover pizza in the kitchen and our scentsy, which usually has some form of vanilla or fall scent going year round (fall is my favorite smell).

            Also, if you are in a position with animals, try grounding with a furry friend. When I hold my rabbit, her smooth fur is very soothing to me. Her little squeaks and twitching nose give me something else to focus on. Or, you could step outside. Nature offers us a bounty of sensory experiences. We live on a farm, so I am always smelling and hearing the animals (not all those smells are pleasant, of course). However, I definitely have something else to focus on. Above all, remember that panic attacks are often fleeting if you are able to ground yourself back to the here and now again. You are not alone. Panic disorders of some sort affect over six million adults nationwide, and women are twice as likely to be affected as men (retrieved from http://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics). Be sure to get with your primary care physician or mental health team to come up with a treatment plan for your specific needs, but, in the meantime, try the above tricks to regain tranquility and calm in your mental state.

Reference

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2020). Facts and Statistics. http://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

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