I am not a doctor. Please do not mistake this post for medical advice. If you experience strange symptoms (especially anything related to your heart or your breathing) you should seek emergency medical services.
Panic Attacks get a superficial rep in conversation. Just think of the last stressful time you had at work or at school — someone probably told you not to have a panic attack about it.
I know people on Twitter are all up on making light of a serious issue by reference to panic attacks when searching for a Taco Bell, panic attacks when you leave your car windows down in the rain, etc. Which is all fine, because sometimes being PC is overrated. Actually, I probably used that phrase a lot myself. Until I had one.
My panic attack experience
I had my first panic attack on October 10th of last year. I will remember that date forever, because it was a traumatic experience for me. If you’ve never experienced one, I’m not sure i can do it justice. and if you have, you might have trouble reading this.
I simply thought I was dying. I couldn’t speak. All I could do was stare at the ceiling, clutching my chest, wondering if this was my last experience of being alive. I thought about my husband (standing over me, terrified, as he called 911), my family, what it would feel like to die, and so on. Mentally, it was traumatic.
Physically, it was very interesting. My heart started thumping like what I imagine a hummingbird feels like all the time. It’s cliche, but that is the pulse I felt — thunderous galloping, like it was about to collapse at any moment. I felt flashes of hot and cold all over, and a cold chill that flowed through the main parts of my body (much like how it felt when you’re having a CAT scan — a cold flow of water through your blood from head to toe). I was afraid to breathe or to move, and I was crying.
Like most things related to the nervous system and emotions, panic attacks happen for a number of reasons as well as randomly. I can’t pretend to understand why they happen to most people, but I am getting an idea of why they happen to me.
I believe my panic attacks are related to my thyroid condition. When things aren’t going so well, my thyroid levels profoundly affect my hormones. I suspect my panic attacks are hormonal because when they happen they happen around 7pm at night and 10pm at night, right around specific hormone drops.
Until I hear back from my doctor, this is the theory I’m going with. So I’m being religious with my thyroid medicine and Vitamin D supplement.
What to do when you have a panic attack
When I feel the familiar pangs of a panic attack on its way (usually a sudden drop in mood and a dark feeling in my stomach, akin to “sensing something is going wrong”), I take a Xanax and begin my nighttime routine, if I haven’t already.
Here are things that I have found to be very helpful:
- Being very careful about my diet. Sugar and caffeine are known emotional disturbers and can make you feel more sensitive, jittery, unsettled, etc. They can also delay falling asleep, which can trigger panic.
- Being very careful about what I think, say, and do at night. Talking about anything not-awesome (such as worrying about the budget, trying to figure out how to react to extended family crises, or anything stressful) once the sun goes down is a no-no. In this instance, you really need to choose your attitude by looking at fun books, websites, or TV shows. My show of choice is Futurama for the light content and familiarity (I’ve watched it over and over and over again). I also need to be careful about how much work I leave for myself in the evening, be it writing, housework, or cooking prep.
- Finding non-stressful ways to express myself. In this instance, I’ve been stressed about keeping the blog useful and public but also honest and personal. To get a little relief, I’ve started a visual journal to take the pressure off of my writing. I am hoping I can draw out (literally) what I am deeply worried about and work through it with JHubbs and my own mental dances.
Being very careful about my bedtime routines. A hot shower with Kiss My Face soap. Great lotion (sometimes with lavender oil in it for a familiar smell) and stretching while I watch Futurama. Hot tea (Nighty Night tea, and in the past I’ve used Kava Kava root) and sleeping in certain positions is helpful.
This Wiki has an interesting rundown of ideas that made me feel a lot better. I’m not sure it’s all very scientific, though.