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 Power of Our Self-Critic

I notice self-criticism the most when working with clients struggling with depression, yet it is consistent throughout all of us to varying degrees. Someone may offhandedly say, “I suck at this” or “I look awful today.” When I hear this I picture that there’s an invisible bully beside them saying mean things to them… If the inner critic was a real person sitting next to us, saying “you suck at that” or “you look awful today” we wouldn’t subject ourselves to it, but when it is our own minds, we accept it as fact and accept it as a meaningful way in which to see ourselves. In this blog post, I want to explore the concept of our inner critic a little deeper.

Where does our self-critic comes from?

We might have learned it from people around us while we were growing up. Maybe mom often looked in the mirror and said things like, “I really look fat today!”, and without even realizing it we developed similar habits, assuming that this is a normal way to talk to ourselves (after all, our parents set ‘normal’ for us by their behavior). Or, maybe a parent, caregiver, or coach spoke down to us or criticized us often using accusations like:

“Maybe you’d get better grades if you weren’t so lazy.”

“You’d make more friends if you weren’t so quiet,”

“Maybe you’d have an easier time at school if you lost a few pounds.”

Even though these messages can be well-intentioned, they can imply that there’s something wrong with us...that there is something fundamentally bad about us, that our worth is conditional on our ability to achieve things, etc...Unfortunately, we end up internalizing these messages, making them our own and then assuming them to be true (after all, we were taught this was normal).

It’s also very possible that we learned to talk to ourselves in an overly critical way via messages we got from various societal and cultural influences. Social media, and media in general, leads to persistent opportunities to make comparisons with others and for others to be critical of us with little repercussion.

So what can we do about it?

1. Get to know your self-critical voice.

Knowledge and awareness is power. You may think you know your self-critical voice, but I would guess you probably aren’t aware of just how often it’s popping up in your mind. Your self-critical voice may come in short phrases, long rants, or even mental images. Try to challenge yourself to spend one day writing down all your self-critical thoughts or images. This will be difficult, since your self-critical voice is very persuasive and often seems to be giving you what feel like obvious facts. I often suggest putting a reminder or alarm in your phone so it buzzes every hour during your day, reminding you to check in and take note of your self-critical voice. Writing down your self-critical thoughts can also be helpful, because it can help you organize and clarify them, leading to a potentially more objective view. What subjects, themes, and patterns do you notice coming up? Does your self-critic have some favorite topics? Body image, your abilities as a parent, how you compare to your friends, or your skills at work or school? Knowing the themes will allow you to know your triggers and target the areas in need of more self-compassion.

2. Get to know why your self-critic is hanging around.

Most likely, your self-critic is trying to help you and protect you. The running commentary in our minds is basically a fear-monger. By understanding its function, you’ll be able to develop another voice or tool that can serve that function for you, but in a kinder, healthier way. Some possible motivations for your self-critic could include:

  • Your critic tries to enforce the rules you grew up with because that’s all it knows.

  • Your critic is believable because it sounds like your parents, and you regularly believed them.

  • Your critic expects perfection because if you could just do everything right, you might feel okay about yourself. Or, if you are perfect, people won’t have any reason to dislike you and you won’t be alone.

  • Your critic says you are incompetent to keep you from trying... that way you won’t feel the pain of failure.

  • Your critic tells you that people won’t like you so you won’t be hurt when they reject you.

  • Your critic predicts the worst so you’ll be prepared for it.

  • Your critic tortures you so you won’t make past mistakes that may have led to discomfort.

3. Identify how it’s getting in the way.

Even though your self-critic is trying to help or protect you, it’s a guarantee it’s not actually workable into the life you want to live.

  • Your self-critical voice prevents you from achieving what is important to prevents taking calculated chances and leads to a limited number of safe experiences that you are comfortable in having.

  • Your self-critical voice makes you more critical of others because you are desperate to boost your self-esteem through being ‘better.’

  • Your self-critical voice causes you to often have a low mood and you could turn to friends or family members to make yourself feel better, putting a strain on your relationship.

  • Your self-critical voice makes it difficult for you to be vulnerable, so you avoid close and connected relationships.

  • Your self-critical voice makes you feel shame even when you make small mistakes, and as a result you spend time beating yourself up for the mistakes than actually learning from them.

By identifying how your self-critical voice is getting in the way for you, how it’s conflicting with your values, the life you want to live, and the person you want to be, you’ll build up strength in your ability to allow it to come and go without giving it any more attention than it deserves.

5. Develop an accurate assessment of yourself.

Try to list as many positive qualities about yourself as you can and then 3 concrete examples for each of those positive qualities. This can be difficult in the beginning because it isn’t the normal way of proceeding through life. It has the power to shift the focus from negative to positive, plus the examples allow the brain to transform positive qualities from a just a bunch of words into specific memories. In order to lessen the frequency and power of extreme and harsh judgments such as, “You’re such a loser” and “You’re so lazy,” try challenging the thoughts with a more balanced and accurate replacement. Acknowledge that the judgments are part of a pattern you have learned over the course of your life, then ask, what is my evidence that this thought is true? What would it take for me to call someone else a loser? Am I overly focusing on the negative? Am I generalizing from one negative trait to my whole self, or from one negative experience to my whole life?

6. Develop Self-Compassion

When we practice self-compassion, we take on an attitude of kindness and nonjudgmental understanding towards ourselves and our perceived flaws and failures, similar to the sort of attitude we might have towards a close friend or family member who is experiencing difficulties. Self-compassion is a more sustainable and healthy form of self-worth than self-esteem, which tends to be based on being as good or better than others. An important part of self-compassion is mindfully observing our thoughts and feelings without judgment, seeing them for what they are, and recognizing that we don’t necessarily have to act on them.

If you would like to have assistance in moving from self-criticism to self-compassion feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.