There you are, pushing your cart through the aisles of your local grocery store, minding your own business and just heading to pick up the next item on your list when it hits you.
Your heart starts to pound so hard you’re pretty sure people on the other side of the store can hear it, your vision tunnels and goes fuzzy, your legs shake and your feet tingle. You can think of absolutely nothing and you hear nothing but the voice inside your head yelling at you to run. You concede and begin pushing your cart towards the exit. Abandoning the cart would have been an option, but you’re afraid you might not keep your balance without it. Your eyes are wide and your panic deepens as you fear that you might not make it to the exit before the tunnel around your vision completely closes in and you collapse to the floor. You begin to envision other shoppers rushing around you, calling 911 and trying to rouse you as you lie unconscious. You reprimand yourself for ever thinking you were up for the task of grocery shopping, you knew this would happen, it always does, if you had only stayed home.
As someone who has battled panic attacks for several years and sought out several different types of treatment, let me come alongside you and provide some tips and tricks on how to survive them.
- Don’t Panic – Stupid, right? I mean, a little too late for that. In spite of what your body is currently doing, you are still in control of your mind. Remind yourself that it’s just a panic attack, it will pass.
- Take Deep Breaths – Again, sounds so simple, but it really works. For me, it never completely alleviated the attack but if I felt any relief after taking a few deep breaths, I knew it was just panic. I’m pretty sure deep breathing is not a treatment for an actual heart attack, so if it helps, you’re probably not actually having one.
- Give Yourself a Break – You’re putting up one heck of a fight right now. Take a little break, maybe step outside, but try not to run away completely. Calm down and get back to those groceries. You are the boss, not the panic.
- Note that You Survived – Yes, it sucked. No, you don’t ever want to go through it again. BUT…you got through it. In fact, you’ve always gotten through it. Maybe you’re not knocking on death’s door after all.
- Let a Friend Know What’s Going On – I used to keep the fact that I was panicking completely to myself at all times, even when I was with friends or my husband. You don’t have to make a big scene, but let someone know that you need a minute and you’ll catch up. Giving yourself those breaks makes all the difference.
- Leave – You’ve tried everything you could think of to give yourself some relief but the panic is just not subsiding. Go ahead and make like a tree…it’s OK. If you know you worked as hard as you could and you are committed to continuing to work and not become a lifelong hermit, then go spend the rest of the day hermit-ing your heart out.
- Get Moving – Don’t stand or sit in one place while the panic courses through your veins. That’s pure adrenaline! Put it to work: exercise, clean something, put on some gangster rap and own it, just move that body and work it out.
- Practice Yoga, Meditate, Listen to Relaxation Tapes – I did all of these and didn’t necessarily find any of them to reduce my overall anxiety, HOWEVER, when I did have a panic attack, it helped to have something in my memory I could easily pull up because I had practiced it so much.
- Don’t Beat Yourself Up – One of the first responses our anxious brains tend to have in a panic situation is to immediately self-criticize. “Why did you try to go shopping today anyway, you knew this would happen.” “What is wrong with you?” “No one else is having this problem, pull yourself together.” “Why are you so weak?” “Why can’t you just make this stop.” DON’T DO THIS. Tell yourself you are awesome (because you are) and keep on breathing.
- Don’t Avoid Certain Locations – So you’ve had a panic attack every time you’ve been to this grocery store since 2002. Unless there is an actual threat to your personal safety by going there, keep going. It’s not the grocery store and as you work to get better, you will eventually have a panic-free shopping day at that very same store. Nothing will feel better than walking around your previous torture store like a boss.