Panic Attack Toolkit
As someone who has dealt with anxiety and panic attacks for most of my life, I can’t stress enough the importance of learning your own needs. Once you do that, you can put together what I call a Panic Attack Toolkit.
These are the things you can prepare BEFORE a panic attack so that you have a clear course of action to follow when an attack pops up. Preparedness is everything!
Anxiety can be unpredictable, even when you have it mostly under control. Having tools at the ready can at least take the edge off.
*Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional or therapist. I am just someone who deals with mental illness and wants to share things that have helped me. Consult with your doctor for medical advice.*
What I Have Learned About Panic Attacks
Before I learned about mental illnesses and the way they work, I always felt pretty helpless during my attacks.
I should point out that I am very religious. For a long time, I thought I was supposed to pray my way through a panic attack and wait for God to make the panic stop.
But the more I’ve learned about spirit and the spiritual, I have come to understand that times of physical and psychological panic are not the times to seek spiritual confirmations. You can pray for comfort, of course, if that helps you. But the spiritual realm is vast. There are forces that would take any chance to twist the thoughts and feelings in your head.
When you are in a state of panic, I believe it is better to key in on and reconnect with the physical. You have to ground yourself. You have to bring yourself back to the present, to this tangible world, so that you can slow things back down and regain control over yourself.
My New System For Panic Attacks
Obviously, we have to start with the actual attack.
This can take some time to get through – there are breathing practices to do that.
Here are a few meditations from my podcast that may help:
But even when that part is “over” (i.e. you aren’t shaking and sobbing uncontrollably anymore), your body is still in a hypersensitive state. If you don’t help all of your systems come back into balance, you will continue to feel this unbalance/fidgetiness/overwhelm/underlying dread for days to come.
So, I have collected a list of things that help me balance my sensitivities and get back to normal.
I am lucky to have my husband home with me. If you are alone, you should identify someone you can contact if you have an attack.
Come up with whatever code is comfortable. Maybe just texting an emoji and a time you would like them to check on you. When you start spiraling, or when you have the presence of mind, let your person know that you are struggling and are starting your plan. Then turn off your phone, or put it away, until that time.
This is when you put your toolkit to work.
This Is My Panic Attack Toolkit
Low lights –
Take away stressors and anything harsh. Remember, you are in a state of hypersensitivity.
Blankets and Pillows –
For weight. Creating a little proprioceptive input will recenter your body awareness.
Stop the spiral. Put on a show that will distract you and give your brain a rest.
Eat something that makes you feel good. I find it helps to munch on something – again, reconnecting to the physical and grounding myself in my body. Keep a treat on hand at all times! (Or at least ingredients.) This connects to my next tool.
MEAL PREP. This one habit has helped me on countless occasions. It’s not just about making healthy meals ahead of time so you don’t eat out or so that you can reach your fitness goals. When I’m in panic mode, I have zero energy to cook or think about cooking. Which means if there is nothing ready, I will probably go without eating. Having good food ready to eat ensures I will eat – which is important to reset my body after the physical exertion of an attack. I’ll have to write another post about how I do my meal prep – but there are so many resources out there if you need inspiration.
Walk Outside –
Sunshine and movement. There is something healing about light, and natural sunlight can be a powerful medicine. This may not be what you want to hear, but going for a short walk outside can be a great way to reset.
Epsom salt and oils. This is a tool I use regularly, not just after an attack. I love epsom salt baths! This article from byrdie.com is a fun read about why they are so beneficial. It has to do with magnesium and how it helps manage stress. Put some essential oils in a diffuser or apply topically for an added therapy.
The thing we need but are scared to try after an attack. Sleeping really is one of the most important things we can do for our body and mind. Hopefully after you have worked through the rest of your toolkit, you will have quieted your brain enough to allow for sleep.
How It Works
Once you have contacted your person and put away your phone, you can grab your blankets and pillows, set yourself in front of the TV, and turn on a show or movie to which you can absolutely hand over your mind. Choose something comforting to watch, maybe a childhood favorite or a comedy that you love.
Turn on a fan if the room is hot and lay the blankets over and around you – this is for the weight. I’ve heard actual weighted blankets are great, but regular ones will still help. Having pressure (proprioceptive input) will assist your body in coming back to present. It will calm your system. The movie will take your thoughts away from whatever triggered your panic, and will present you with other thoughts to fill your head.
At some point you’ll want to get something to eat, either a treat or food that has already been prepped.
Eventually, once your system has calmed, you may want to brave the outdoors and take short walk in the sunshine to get your blood flowing again. The light exercise will also help to promote deeper breathing – something you NEED to do.
Then you can run an epsom salt bath and soak for awhile. Maybe turn on music or a funny show or podcast so your thoughts can still rest.
By the end of the list you should be ready to embrace sleep, whether it’s a nap or for the night.
Conclusion on Panic Attack Toolkits
I usually find that if I do all of these things, I’m more centered on the other side and have less residual panic after an attack.
To me, it is worth taking some time to reset rather than pushing myself even harder after panic attacks to try and make up lost time. It has taken time to learn what helps me and to create habits that make sure my toolkit is prepared, but that is all part of healing from mental illnesses! The fact that I’ve been able to recognize my tendencies and create a toolkit for myself marks huge progress.
If you haven’t made your own yet, I highly recommend putting a toolkit together for yourself and writing everything down. You are welcome to steal my ideas or come up with your own! Hopefully this gives you a good blueprint to get started.