how to stop a panic attack

Case-Study: How I Learned How to Stop a Panic Attack

Anyone that has ever experienced a panic attack immediately wants to learn how to stop a panic attack.

This is my story.

I experienced my first anxiety attack in my late 20’s. I was living on my own at the time in a small flat close to my place of work. I had come home from work in the middle of the day to make lunch and check the mail as I was waiting for a new credit card. I was opening the mail at the dining table in the kitchen and I could see through to my bedroom.

I glanced into the bedroom and saw some shoes under the bed. I had recently bought a new slat bed on legs, so you could see underneath it. As I continued opening the mail my thoughts went something like this: “Those aren’t my shoes, I haven’t put anything under the bed, perhaps the friend who helped me install the bed left them there.” These thoughts raced through my mind as I finished opening the mail.

I slowly lowered myself down to see the shoes better and saw they were attached to legs, and that the legs were attached to a body. I then thought it was perhaps my friend playing a joke on me.

The legs and body started to move and slowly this intruder crawled out from under the bed. He stood up and we stared at each other. I bolted, grabbed the phone, and ran out to the footpath dialling the police, while he ran out after me, stopped, gave me an angry look and took off.

The police were great and arrived only minutes later. One policeman came with a dog which took off in the direction the intruder had run off in. I had to call my manager and tell him what had happened and that I wouldn’t be back to work that day.

He was concerned and told me to take as long as I needed. The police were wonderfully supportive. They took fingerprints and photos of where the intruder had broken in through the back door. They took my statement and even drove me to the police station to sit with their guy who draws the identikit pictures so they had an image of the intruder.

Later that day, a friend came round and we put extra locks and bolts on the doors and windows. After the initial adrenaline rush and shock, I actually felt fine. I was really surprised at how fine I felt about it all. Friends said I should move, but at the time I couldn’t afford to pack up and move house and, as I was feeling okay, I thought I should just get on with it and put it behind me.

The First Signs of a Panic Attack

Two days later, I was driving to work and saw a guy walking down the street wearing a black puffer jacket and black beanie, which looked the same as the clothing the intruder had been wearing. I immediately felt panicked and frightened and couldn’t breathe properly. All I could think of was that he was there. I was shaking and felt sick. I had to pull over and try to calm myself down. That didn’t work, so I took off back to work and hid in my office.

Focusing on work distracted me a bit. Then, later in the day at work, I saw a guy from our warehouse wearing a similar jacket and beanie. The panic started again. I was shaking and crying and I couldn’t stop and took off to the toilets and hid. It took an hour before I felt calm enough to go back to my desk.

That night I started to see shadows. It just seemed like out of the corner of my eye I could see someone or a shadow of someone walk past. That kicked off the panic again. I spent most of the night wandering around the house and checking the locks and looking out the window in case the intruder was watching. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it and it felt like I couldn’t breathe or stop the shaking.

People would ask me about what had happened and, as I told them, I would feel the panic rise as I talked about it. A couple of people said I was lucky the intruder hadn’t attacked me or tried to hit me over the head when I walked in the door. True, but I sure wasn’t feeling lucky about the whole thing and, after people saying that, those scenarios played a loop in my head.

I wasn’t sleeping, friends were telling me I looked tired and stressed. I felt I  wanted to yell at them “If you had been through this you would look tired and stressed too!.” I felt like I was wound up like a spinning top. The panic attacks were just getting worse. I was not sleeping, not eating. I seemed to see someone wearing the same jacket and beanie everywhere. I was in the supermarket when I saw what I thought was the same jacket and beanie, the panic started and I just left the trolley where it was and left. I ended up just staying home all the time, not going out anywhere.

Finding Panic Attack Help

Thankfully, I had a really caring manager at my work who had seen what the panic attacks were doing. He encouraged me to go to a counsellor and offered that the company would pay for the counselling sessions. I had never been to a counsellor before and had no idea what to expect. I met with a woman who was a qualified psychologist. At the first session, I just cried and had another attack as I relived the whole experience. At the end of the session, I asked “Is there anything to stop this?” and she said yes. I had a moment of hope.

I had a second counselling session two days later and was in a more receptive and calmer state to listen to the psychologist.  She explained that I was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and the panic attacks were a result of the experience with the intruder and that seeing the jacket and beanie was the trigger.

We talked about different panic attack treatment methods and about the option of using panic attack meditation. I wasn’t keen to take medication at first, not if there was something else I could do, but at least now I knew there was something I could take if I didn’t get the attacks under control.

The next step was to try and change my view of the panic attacks and to do a breathing/self-talk exercise whenever they occurred.

The psychologist explained that, as soon as I felt the panic coming on, I should remove myself from the situation and go somewhere quiet. If I was at work, I should just go straight to the ladies toilets or my office. If I was out and about I should go straight back to my car. The next thing to do was to stop and start by taking deep breaths, and keep taking them while saying out loud, “It’s not real” and repeating it.  Breathe, “It’s not real.”

I got to test this the next day at work when I saw the guy with the jacket and beanie again and felt the panic come on. I immediately went to an empty office, sat down, said: “Just deep breathe, it’s not real, just deep breathe, it’s not real, it’s not real”. I just kept repeating “It’s not real” over and over again while taking deep breaths. Ten minutes later I was really surprised that I felt a lot calmer. Still a bit rattled, but definitely a lot calmer. That night, when I saw a shadow, I just did the same thing. Deep breath, it’s not real and repeat again. Once again, after 10 minutes or so I was able to slow my breathing and calm my thoughts.

Finally, Panic Attack Help

That night, I made the first of what I now call a meditation, figuring that if I had the breathing and words recorded, that it would be easier to just put my headphones on and listen to myself speaking those words. I recorded my own voice, speaking the words to breathe, it’s not real and repeating this. I then added some positive affirmations I found online and spoke those. Having audio software on my computer, I then added some slow, gentle music. That night I put it on loop and listened to it as I went to bed and slept peacefully for the first time since the event.

I continued to see the psychologist and kept listening to my meditation and, as the weeks went by, the moments of panic occurred less and less. I was feeling better because at least now I had a way of controlling them.

Following that whole experience, I became fascinated with how changing your thinking can change how you see the world or a situation you’re in. I read many books and listened to a lot of meditations that were available. For me, what worked best was to hear the meditations in my own voice. It was as if my subconscious was talking to me and whatever negative thoughts were playing through my head immediately stopped when I heard my voice telling me something positive.

Having gone through my experience, I now have an empathy for people who suffer from panic and anxiety attacks.

They are debilitating.

I understand now that there are a variety of reasons for their onset, be it physical or mental health issues, a traumatic situation or prolonged periods of stress. When I’m asked what my advice would be to someone suffering panic or anxiety attacks I advise that, firstly, you should see a professional, such as a doctor or therapist, be open to medication if required, and be open to trying other things such as listening to meditations or affirmations and possibly recording your own. It’s a matter of finding what works for you.