Taking Care Of Yourself After A Panic Attack

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Panic attacks can be exhausting and draining. After a panic attack, it’s important to look after ourselves and to focus on self-care due to going through such a difficult experience. The physical symptoms could include:

“Racing" heart

Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy

Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers

Feeling sweaty or having chills

Chest pains

Breathing difficulties

Also, the emotional toll is high including sense of terror, or impending doom or death, and

feeling a loss of control.

What are some things to keep in mind after you experience a panic attack? Generally, it involves a focus on acceptance and then working toward grounding yourself to the present moment in order to allow your body to regulate back a state of calm.

-Proceed Slowly and Methodically.

When we have a panic attack, our heart rate and breathing speed up. Our brains can go at lightning speed, turning our thought process into a wave of garbled messages and we can lose connection with any one of the thoughts, let alone make sense of them. Once a panic attack is over and starts to subside, there is no need to rush straight into doing lots of different things. Simply taking a few deep breaths, sitting down, and taking stock of what we are doing in that moment for a few minutes can provide us enough space to get our feet under us before proceeding. When we do start going back to whatever it is we were doing, we can benefit from taking one thing at a time and focusing attention on it. If it feels like too much then we can stop again and take some more time out. A panic attack can leave us feeling really drained and very tired. It’s absolutely okay to do what we need to do to look after ourselves. Most important is to orient yourself to a direction and move, not to concern yourself with how much you get done.

-Hydrate and Nourish.

The sensation of drinking a hot or cold beverage can help to ground us to the moment, especially if we focus on the sensations we experience in the act. Panic attacks can often dry our mouth out and cause us to sweat which can leave us feeling dehydrated, so drinking can help with this too. Be aware that it’s best to avoid caffeine or alcohol after a panic attack because caffeine is a stimulant which can leave us feeling more anxious, and alcohol can be a depressant. Due to a panic attack, we can feel devoid of much energy afterward, so sometimes we can benefit from eating something to give our bodies energy it can use for recovery and regulation of hormones and brain chemicals released. Also, as with fluids, the sensation of tasting, chewing, and swallowing can give us something to focus on, which can help us to calm down and breathe more steadily.

-Reduce The Stimulation.

We often have stimulation coming at us from all sorts of places. This could include things like light, phone notifications, TV, a computer screen, conversation, the radio, the feeling of different clothes on our skin, and things that we can smell. All of this information flooding in can be overwhelming when we’re already incredibly anxious and dysregulated.The key thing to keep in mind is that we don’t want stimulation that is coming at us and random, we want to use our senses to come in contact with the world around us (we are in control). Trying to reduce the amount of stimulation around us can help us to feel calmer. We could do this by trying things like lowering the lighting, putting our phone on silent, turning off the TV, computer, or radio, and using a weighted blanket.

-Reach Out And Talk To Someone.

After a panic attack, talking to someone can often be helpful. It can be helpful to talk about things which could have contributed to our panic attack and could contribute to another panic attack. Having the space to talk to someone about what we’ve experienced and the thoughts we’ve been having can provide another perspective on our anxieties. It can also help us to problem solve and to find ways of coping with things that we’ve been struggling with. Sometimes we might not want to talk about our struggles and talking about something totally different can be a welcome way to refocus our attention. Everyone is different and there will probably be times when we don’t want to speak to anyone at all, but having a list of people we can call on gives us the option.

-Take Time To Reflect.

Once we’ve regulated ourselves through grounding and soothing after a panic attack, it can be helpful to reflect on what happened, either alone or with someone else. Reflecting on what may have led to the panic attack (thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, environmental cues), the way we coped with it, and whether or not this way of coping was helpful, can help us to cope with future panic attacks in a way that is helpful to us moving forward. Reflecting on the way we coped with a panic attack can allow us to build on our helpful coping skills which will hopefully help us to phase out our less helpful coping mechanisms.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with panic symptoms, and you would like to build skills in self-care, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

“The Haunting of Hill House” Part 2: Trauma and Its Aftermath

Traumatizing experiences shake the foundations of our beliefs about safety, and shatter our assumptions of trust. Because they are so far outside what we would expect, these events provoke reactions that feel strange and "crazy". Even though these reactions can be unusual and disturbing, they are typical and expected. By and large, they are normal responses to abnormal events.

Trauma symptoms originally evolved to help us recognize and avoid other dangerous situations quickly (before it was too late). Sometimes these symptoms resolve themselves within a few days or weeks of a disturbing experience. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD, but when many symptoms persist for weeks or months, or when they are extreme, treatment with a professional can be beneficial. On the other hand, if symptoms persist for several months without treatment, then avoidance can become the method used to cope with the trauma (and this strategy interferes with seeking professional help). Postponing needed intervention for a year or more, and allowing avoidance defenses to develop, could make this work much more difficult in the future.

We create meaning out of the context in which events occur, so there is always a strong subjective element in people's responses to traumatic events. An example of this would be in the case of disasters, where a broad cross-section of the population is exposed to the same traumatic experience, but  react with different coping mechanisms (both adaptive and maladaptive).

Some of the potential long term results of unresolved trauma include:

  • fear, anxiety, worrying or ruminating (intrusive thoughts of the trauma)

  • grief, disorientation, denial

  • hyper-alertness or hypervigilance

  • irritability, restlessness, outbursts of anger or rage

  • emotional swings – like crying and then laughing

  • Nightmares and flashbacks – feeling like the trauma is happening now

  • feelings of helplessness and a sense of being out of control

  • increased need to control everyday experiences

  • minimizing the experience

  • attempts to avoid anything associated with trauma

  • tendency to isolate

  • feelings of detachment

  • emotional numbing or restricted range of feelings

  • difficulty trusting and feelings of betrayal

  • difficulty concentrating or remembering

  • feelings of self-blame or survivor guilt

  • shame

  • lessened interest in everyday activities or depression

  • unpleasant past memories resurfacing

  • loss of a sense of order or fairness in the world; expectation of doom and fear of the future

  • becoming obsessive

  • increased use of alcohol and drugs

  • questioning faith or religion

“The Haunting of Hill House” is a wonderful depiction of the effects of personal and familial trauma with each of the children showing multiples of the symptoms discussed above. When families share a trauma, each individual reacts to it in a different way, but the family also reacts as a unit, often playing out dynamics and patterns that serve to keep the family stuck in an unbeneficial cycle. If Hill House is personified as a monster that feeds on its inhabitants, the family unit itself is also personified as a kind of organism that thrives on suffering in the form of co-dependency. As the show progresses, you see each member of the Crain family pushed deeper into private psychological terrors that manifest as terrifying ghosts. Themes of generational trauma, inherited mental illness, and the guilt and fear that accompany them, run throughout the stories of the Crain siblings and their parents.

Hill House follows two timelines: the Crain siblings’ horrific childhood, and a more intimate look at how that trauma and its aftermath have dominated their lives. The Crains have tried to hide and push down their grief (Theo through meaningless sex, Luke through drugs, Shirley through controlling her environment, Steve through denial) and each has maintained a facade in their relationships with each other, despite their shared trauma experiences. Trauma holds such a primal place for the Crains (just like all of us) and their perception of themselves that the siblings even argue about their right to claim and discuss their childhood (as if they can control it by taking ownership of it).

Most of the problems faced by the Crain family members (infidelity, shame, dishonesty, addiction, emotional withholding, obsessive behavior) are all fairly “normal” family issues (in the sense that pretty much every family can tick off one of them in their family tree). When trauma occurs, it exacerbates the family issues to different degrees. Each of those problems are painstakingly traced back to their childhood summer living in Hill House.

Because of the mysterious death of their mother, the Crain children have not been able to get closure. They haven't been able to properly contextualize their mother’s death.

Shirley takes a direct approach to dealing with the trauma . Along with the death of her mother, and the experiences involving the rapid death of an entire litter of kittens (interestingly, motherless kittens who eventually succumb to disease… just like the Crains being motherless and succumbing to mental illness). Shirley ends up sublimating (a coping mechanism meaning an expression of anxiety in socially acceptable way) her childhood fear of death into a career of ‘fixing’ dead bodies by becoming a mortician. She distances herself from the emotions of death by focusing on the exterior of the bodies.

Steven’s belief system protects him from reality and it serves to insulate him from his family and the past. By establishing his own narrative about what happened, Steven has been able to compartmentalize the trauma he has experienced, which is a very elaborate coping mechanism.

Theo absorbs the experiences of those around her with a high degree of empathy and this allows her to take on a large amount of emotional pain from others. She does her best to shield herself through the use of the gloves, her alcohol usage, blunt demeanor, emotional numbing, and the purely physical relationships that she has in her life.

Luke’s use of drugs is his way of numbing his memory of trauma. It seems likely that Luke also has a potential of arrested development (emotional) as a result of his trauma as well. As his parents gives him the bowler hat, they makes it a point to tell him that the hat signifies him becoming a ‘big boy’, but then the hat is taken away from him by the ghost of William Hill, symbolically leaving him in a regressed state.

Nellie, along with Luke, seemed to receive the brunt of the emotional scarring as a result of their summer at Hill House. Nellie has moved through life with a sense of emptiness and feeling invisible to others, especially her family. This is best portrayed in the scene when Nell becomes invisible to her family and despite their attempts to find her, she goes undetected. This best encapsulates the Crain family dynamic in relation to Nell as her feelings are continually deprioritized in relation to her siblings.

In the show, family is protection (both Nell and Luke use counting up to seven, the number of members of their family unit, as a kind of coping mechanism and a way to keep the ghosts at bay) but it is also a painful repetition of fears and anxieties that have no end. The family was unable to get the help needed to allow them to use the power of family relationships for healing. Thankfully, there is a sense of coming together in the end of the show, but unfortunately, it was decades delayed.

While trauma and its impact is a theme of “The Haunting of Hill House,” it is extremely important that those with trauma in their history seek treatment from a professional.

For help with processing a trauma in the Lancaster, PA area, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.