Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on mental health. I have no professional experience. I am simply offering my personal methods based on my experiences with panic attacks and anxiety.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 18 percent of the U.S. population suffers from an anxiety disorder, making it the most common mental illness in the country. Since such a large portion of the U.S. population suffers from an anxiety disorder, it’s safe to say that a large portion of anxiety sufferers experience panic attacks. Approximately three percent of the U.S. population suffers from a panic disorder. While I haven’t been professionally diagnosed, I am part of this percentage. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to manage my anxiety, and I’ve developed methods for coping with panic attacks. Seeing as anxiety disorders and panic disorders affect such a large chunk of the population, I've decided to share a few of my methods of managing anxiety and panic attack aftercare.
How I manage my anxiety:
1. Set aside time to feel anxious.
I’ve recently adopted the method of “scheduling” my anxiety. When I start to feel anxious, I tell myself that I don’t have time to be anxious because I have more important things to do. By making myself feel as though my anxiety is less important than my daily life, I’m able to push it aside and focus on what I’m doing.
2. Find something that will calm you and can be with you at all times.
If I’m out and about or just can’t isolate myself when I start to feel anxious, I’ve found that having something to fidget with helps immensely. Not everyone may find this helpful, but for me, it helps to channel my nervous energy into something else. I’ve found that stress balls, Tangle Jr. toys, squishies, and chewable objects (sometimes pens, sometimes a chewable necklace) help me to feel more in control. The objects that I use are typically found on stim toy websites for autism, but I find them to be helpful for my anxiety as well.
3. Have several things that you do only while alone that make you feel better. Having these personal, private things will make you feel safe.
Listen to something calming—a favorite playlist, a YouTube video, a podcast, etc. This helps me to take my mind off of my anxiety and focus on what I’m listening to until I’ve calmed down.
Watch a video, show or movie. This helps me in the same way that listening to something helps me.
Take a bubble bath. Sometimes I combine this with listening to something so that I’m not sitting in silence.
Dim the lights around me and any screens that I may be using. While this doesn’t directly calm me, it does decrease the amount of things that may stimulate my anxiety. I’m very sensitive to light and sound when I’m anxious, and eliminating these things helps me to focus on calming myself.
Read a book, play a game or do something that allows the focus to be on others. When my anxiety is especially severe and suffocating, I’m not able to focus enough to do these things. During the times that my anxiety is more on the mild side, I’m able to focus enough to read or play a game.
Do something creative. Again, I’m unable to focus enough for this activity at times. At the times that I’m able, I like to do something creative like color, paint, draw, write, etc.
Write. This is something that I’m able to do whether I can focus or not because the type of writing that I engage in doesn’t require a lot of focus or effort. When I feel anxious, I write how I feel and what I’m thinking. Even if these things aren’t connect or don’t make clear sense, it’s nice to get everything out on paper. Sometimes I come back to these thoughts and emotions once I feel better, but sometimes I just throw them away. It’s quite therapeutic and cathartic.
My panic attack aftercare:
1. Space. Plenty of space.
I give myself physical space to get comfortable–typically in bed, as most of my panic attacks happen at night. I also give myself emotional and mental “space.” I try to stop thinking about anything that I thought of during my panic attack. I also try not to think about the panic attack itself.
I don’t immediately engage in my aftercare routine. I need time to completely calm down, and I need to let myself rest for a few minutes before I do anything.
3. Have a snack.
I’m not sure if it’s because panic attacks take so much out of me, but I’m always hungry afterwards. Even if I'm not hungry, I force myself to eat something small just so I can get my energy back and nourish my body. I typically try to avoid anything too heavy because of my nausea. I usually opt for something on the healthy side–fruit, veggies, juice, etc.
4. Drink water.
My throat always hurts from all the crying that happens during a panic attack, and I’m always especially thirsty after my panic attacks, so I try to always drink water.
5. Change into something comfortable.
Even if what I’m wearing during my panic attacks is comfortable, I always like to change into something else. It’s almost as if I’m stripping myself of my anxiety for a brief moment and changing into a better, happier state.
6. Find a distraction.
I really can’t focus much after a panic attack, so I like to find something that I can do that doesn’t require much effort like listening to or watching something. (This portion typically involves something that I also do to manage my anxiety.)
Even if I can’t sleep, I like to give myself time to relax and rest physically, mentally and emotionally.
I'm definitely not an expert on mental health, but I've dealt with anxiety for most of my life, so that has to count for something. I always recommend that you seek professional help if you battle anxiety or any mental illness, and while I can't offer that kind of help myself, I can offer self-care tips and encouragement. I have a blog dedicated to this sort of thing, and while I do recommend that you check it out, I also (and more seriously) recommend that you research and look into other sites and resources that can provide more help for you. Anxiety and all mental illnesses are tough to deal with, but having resources always helps.