In late elementary or early middle school, I had my first panic attack. I was up late--my parents had already gone to bed--laying on the couch and watching television, when I suddenly and acutely became aware of my mortality. I'm not sure how I got there, but it put me in a paralyzing state of panic. It felt as though I was falling through a black hole and that black hole was my mind. And it persisted. I ran to my parents' room, curled up in their bed, and talked myself to sleep.
It wasn't until college, and several more panic attacks over the years, that I realized what it was, or told anyone about it. My second year of teaching, one of my beloved seventh grade students had one, and she told me it felt like she was dying. We talked about it and that lifted the stigma.
Panic attacks are fickle and terrifying (even debilitating) things--you can go for a year or two without one, and then experience them so frequently it's as if they're making up for that lost time. They can stop as soon as they start or persist for what feels an eternity (my record is twenty minutes); either way, they leave you feeling uneasy for days.
I've come to a point where I can anticipate the onset of one and, more often than not, prevent it. I'm not a specialist, just sharing my experience, but I would suggest that you always prevent it when you can. I used to wonder if I let a panic attack run its course, I'd be rid of them. My finding is no, there is nothing productive about letting it run its course.
Here are some steps I've found to be helpful in calming down a panic attack.
1 Breathe. If you're about to have or having a panic attack, chances are, you're either holding your breath or hyperventilating. The more steady your breathing is, the more stable you'll feel.
2 Say no. It sounds ridiculous, but by saying it out loud, you command control of a situation that would otherwise cause you to spiral out of control. Tell yourself you will not have a panic attack and then will yourself to not have it.
3 Refocus your thought(s). Think of anything other than the thought that led you here--something that brings you joy, what to eat for your next meal, anything other than.
4 Positive self-talk. Once you find yourself more stable, reinforce it with encouragement. As your mood lifts, so does the feeling of dread. Preventing a panic attack is no mean feat, and you should absolutely be proud of yourself!
5 Hold on to something or someone stable. It's a physical and tangible reminder that you are here in the present, and it provides comfort. If you have a pet, I'm sure it would be happy to oblige.
6 Warm up under a blanket and/or with a cup of tea or something sweet. It's like how Harry eats a chocolate after being around dementors.
Some long-term steps: identify the source and manage it. Panic attacks and anxiety attacks aren't quite the same, but anxiety and stress certainly don't keep panic attacks at bay, and learning to manage both can help (and positively impact your general mental and even physical health). Develop routines that help you relax and decompress. Listening to music, journaling, pampering, and light exercise all help me maintain a feeling of ease. Find what feels good. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, seek therapy/counseling. Every individual and situation is unique, and panic attacks and anxiety are not things you have to resign to or live with. At the very least, seeking therapy or counseling could provide you with an outlet to a nonjudgmental and knowledgeable party.
I hope this is of use to someone out there! Please feel free to share any steps you find helpful, how you manage anxiety or stress, or what routines help you relax, decompress, and feel good. xx