My first and biggest panic attack occurred about 3 years ago. It was at the dinner table over Sunday lunch, and I was discussing my running plan with my mum (an experienced marathon runner). I guess you could argue that I was rather tired that day as I’d had a 5am start at work – other than that, there was nothing untoward about the way I was feeling. That was when a family member suggested that I find something other than running to do, and to leave all the running to my mum. In that sudden instant my breathing became more and more shallow and I took myself to the bathroom as I had a sudden urge to cry. Then it happened; I just couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t control myself, I fell into the sink, becoming more and more alarmed and upset which only accentuated the wheezing and desperate attempts to get air into my lungs.
I then had a clear run of almost a year without any panic attacks. I met a new boyfriend and was (still am, in fact) enjoying my life in London. That was when the second panic attack ensued. I had just been laughing with my boyfriend when my chest tightened up and suddenly I was panicked and scared and certain I would die. The transition was so quick.
Having had many panic attacks since the second episode as mentioned above, I have figured out my own coping method to the sudden incapability to breathe. Whether or not this is going to help someone I’m not sure but it’s worth a shot I think.
My panic attacks often occur on my runs (please please please don’t be so absent minded as to think of these as just me losing breath from running – I understand the difference very clearly). When I feel one coming on (usually as a result of my negative internal thinking process of not being a good enough runner), these are the steps that I take to try and stop it in its tracks:
- Accept and acknowledge that it is happening – don’t tell yourself to stop thinking about it or struggle through it. The sooner you accept that you are afraid and panicked you can work on getting your breathing back to a normal rhythm.
- Stop what I’m doing immediately (in my case running) to give myself time to recover. It is important that you don’t put pressure on yourself to leave the vicinity immediately.
- Train my eye on a particular object and focus intently on breathing slowly, right from my belly.
- I love the phrase “This too, shall pass” – a panic attack, no matter how bad it seems – will be over at some point in the very near future. Accept that although you are afraid now, this feeling WILL pass.
I don’t know much about other people and what their panic attacks feel like, but due to the immediacy and sudden effects of my own I know that they are not preventable, but the negative effects can be eased using the process above.