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5 Truths About Panic Attacks (from somebody who has had hundreds of them)


If you aren’t familiar with my story, I struggled with severe panic disorder and agoraphobia for fifteen years. And during that time, I experienced hundreds of panic attacks (sometimes, even multiple a day)! I spent those years living in fear of the thoughts and sensations that came along with panic.


After struggling for so long, my life began to revolve around the question “How can I not panic?”. And, for obvious reasons, this question made my life become really, really small. The panic would cause me to constantly worry about something bad happening, being alone, feeling trapped, and even losing control. But if I knew back then what I know now, I wouldn’t have struggled for so long. Because I would have known that all along, I was safe. So many of my responses to the anxious sensations were actually what was keeping me stuck.


I know these five truths will help you get unstuck, and even help you to stop engaging in unhelpful behaviors (more on that later!). If I could go back, this is exactly what I would tell younger Shannon when she was struggling. But before we get started, I want you to know that panic attack recovery is possible. It was possible for me, even though I never believed it would be! And it's been possible for many of my clients and students. But panic attack recovery doesn’t mean you’ll never have a panic attack again. It means you will learn that you are safe, even if you have a panic attack.


So I want you to know...


1. Trying to Stop a Panic Attack Is Pointless

It's natural to want to stop a panic attack. For so long, I did everything to prevent feeling all of the uncomfortable sensations that came along with panic. But trying to stop a panic attack actually makes them worse, and keeps them returning. Back when I was struggling, I would do the silliest things to try to stop myself from panicking.


I'd try to stop the panic with things like...

  • Distractions, like my phone or music

  • Rolling down the windows (even in the winter!)

  • Calling a safe person for help or reassurance

  • Pinching or hitting myself

But as I recovered, I learned that there is so much more power in not “doing”. And that trying everything to stop the panic only made the symptoms hang around longer! When you avoid and run from the feelings of panic, you teach your brain that there is a real danger you need to run from. It might feel scary and dangerous, but there is nothing that you need to run from. The response to “do” something in response to panic is so natural. I mean, heck, I did this for years! But slowing down and allowing myself to be present with the panic is ultimately what allowed me to heal.


For many of us with anxiety, we like to problem-solve! So when you’re faced with panic, you might struggle with the idea of “not doing”. I sure did! At the beginning of my recovery journey, I remember how crazy it sounded to just accept the panic. And I want you to know that slowing down won’t stop a panic attack, but that’s also not the goal. Because you can’t stop a panic attack from happening! But when you practice slowing down and doing less, the feelings can pass with much more ease. And as you practice this, your brain will learn that there’s nothing to be afraid of.


2. Panic Attacks Stop Coming Back When You're Willing to Feel Them

Yes, you read that right! And you might be thinking…"How am I supposed to be willing to feel a panic attack?! They’re so uncomfortable!”. I felt the same way when I was struggling. But just like the first point, slowing down and feeling the panic is the key to panic attack recovery. At first, it sounds awful to let a panic attack happen. But when you do allow it, panic starts to pop up a whole lot less.


And I want you to know that you don’t need to love the feeling of panic. Since I’ve recovered, I have experienced one panic attack. And it was pretty uncomfortable! But, like all panic attacks, that feeling of discomfort passed. I was willing to feel it because I knew where trying to stop it had gotten me in the past. Resisting panic teaches your brain that it has something to be afraid of. And when you allow it to pass, your brain can start to learn that there is nothing to fear.


Getting stuck in the cycle of fear, resistance, and avoidance is really tough. And honestly…it’s a whole lot worse than just facing the panic. Because when you try to not panic, you choose a different type of hard. The “hard” that leaves you stuck in the place you don’t want to be. So as you practice facing panic, you will start to realize that facing panic attacks is always better than avoiding them. After all, it’s just about choosing the “hard” that’s worth it in the end!


3. Experiencing A Panic Attack Doesn't Equal Failure

I want to let you in on a little secret…the progress you’ve made isn’t erased every time you have a panic attack. In fact, experiencing panic might be a sign that you’re on the path to panic attack recovery. Because when you’re willing to face the hard and scary things, you’re taking healthy action. And that’s a great thing, you should be proud of yourself!


In the beginning, you might struggle with beating yourself up for having a panic attack. So often, I would get mad at myself for feeling anxious or panicky. But practice slowing down, and know that you’re not failing for experiencing panic. Be compassionate with yourself, because what you are dealing with is hard. And you are so strong!


When you feel like you’re failing, I want you to remind yourself…

  • I have survived every panic attack I’ve ever had!

  • Taking healthy action brings me one step closer to recovery!

  • Having a panic attack doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It means I’m human!

4. Having a Panic Attack After Weeks Without One Doesn't Mean You're Not Recovering

Sometimes, when we go weeks or months without experiencing a panic attack, we might be really excited and think “I haven’t had a panic attack in weeks, I’m finally recovered!”, only to experience a panic attack and feel like we’ve made no progress. At first, it might feel like you’ve taken ten steps back, or you’ve done something wrong. But that’s simply not the case!


Experiencing a panic attack might simply be an indicator that you’re experiencing something really stressful in your daily life, or that you responded to an anxious thought in a way that wasn’t the most helpful. But neither of these things means that you aren’t recovering, or that you’re back at square one. The progress you’ve made is never erased!


Maybe you’ve been pushing yourself more, or maybe there isn’t a reason at all. What really matters is how you respond to the panic attack. Practice accepting that there doesn’t have to be a reason, and know that this does not mean that you’re not recovering. But most importantly, don’t let one panic attack stop you from taking healthy action.


5. You're Safe to Experience a Panic Attack Anywhere

It’s easy to get tricked into thinking that there are certain places where panicking is much more dangerous. Your brain might feel like it's not safe to panic in these places because of the thoughts and sensations. But I want you to remember that feelings don’t always equal reality. It’s possible to feel really scared and unsafe, all while being completely safe.


Over the years, I’ve had panic attacks nearly everywhere! And, honestly, I can’t think of a single place where it was unsafe for me to have a panic attack. I felt unsafe to panic in a lot of those places because I felt really uncomfortable. But I was never in a truly unsafe position. I was always okay.


There might be a few places where you’re convinced you absolutely cannot panic. Maybe it’s a restaurant, an airplane, while driving a car, or just at home alone. And I want you to recognize that it isn’t more dangerous to panic in these places. Maybe it will be a little more uncomfortable, but you are always safe. And remember, this isn’t something you can simply speak logic into. The only way to prove this to yourself is through healthy action!


I want to leave you with one truth that is absolutely key to recovering from panic attacks. Give yourself permission to panic! Know that it might suck. But the worst that will happen is that it’s really, really uncomfortable. And remember… the discomfort of avoiding and resisting is much more uncomfortable!


Years ago, I would do anything to not panic. I struggled for so long, and it was so difficult. I know how truly difficult this journey is. But now that I’m here, I want you to know that you’re capable, too. It’s not always easy, but it is so very worth it. So don’t forget, give yourself some permission to panic and keep taking healthy action!


Oh, and don’t forget to listen to the podcast for the full episode of goodness!

 

A HEALTHY PUSH INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/ahealthypush/


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Panic to Peace

(10-week live course)

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A 90 minute masterclass that teaches you how to start approaching the symptoms and panic attacks in a healthy way so that you can finally find freedom from them!

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