There is a current format recently taken on since the death of Robin Williams to talk about mental health. The format is that there is no weakness in mental health.
Well, evidently there is. There is no benefit to mental depression; it cannot help. And of course, this weakness is nothing to be ashamed of- in the same way that a man may suffer from fragile bones, another might be unable to see in bright light, whilst one more continually feeds coins into a machine of bright lights- unable to stop, perpetually about to win (if the winning actually matters to a gambling addict when compared to the thrill of the risk).
These are weaknesses. The point is that there must be no shame in having them.
Of course, you might not wish to admit having them, nor should you at all have to, but openness is always an aid to diagnosis and treatment. In most of the West anyway- I wouldn’t recommend it in The Badlands.
However, the weakness of a mental illness is not what I aim to focus on here.
I’m going to make clear, from what I have learnt through my own issues, that there is a strength that can be taken up through the momentous energy of a Panic Attack.
I have suffered from these things throughout my late-teens up till now and they have been a despicable hindrance to my fun and pride as a young man.
My own triggers for a Panic Attack centre on being unable to escape- in terms of a great distance to make or a social obligation. If I feel I have to do something, or that I feel as though my comfort is a great distance away, then I feel a sharp energy beginning to flow through me, leading on to the failure of despair.
Other sufferers might recognise the other typical triggers such as: having little option in what is about to happen, fast and manic activity out of their control, and what we might regard as normal stressful situations (E.g. An interview, a test, receiving a large responsibility, public speaking…etc.).
When a person feels unable to control what is happening, they will feel a dark sense of energy coursing through them as the aspect of their stress they are focusing on becomes increasingly tense until the reality of the situation goes completely out the window like lost luggage and we suddenly feel as though we are one or more of the following:
- Having a heart attack (which makes our hearts beat faster, which feels like a heart attack, which makes our hearts beat faster, and so on via this tortuous psychological cartwheel).
- About to vomit. This also causes fear in that we might vomit in view or earshot of people, which at the time seems totally unacceptable in your mind and so goes further to cause you to freak out. Essential we fear vomiting on our friends, family and work colleagues.
- About to faint…in front of everyone…down some stairs or into the wedding cake (again- something which causes you to feel even more stress).
- Something else odd. Such as your head swelling and the pressure on the brain killing you, whilst also being obvious to passers-by who will surely mutter to each other: “That guy’s head was throbbing. That’s unacceptable! If he needs medical care we’ll have to ignore him”. This seems crazy, and it is.
It seems crazy because it’s not reality. It’s as crazy as your bountifully-imaginative brain can conceive.
You are not having a heart attack.
You’re having a Panic Attack.
If you feel you’re about to vomit then go about it- you’ll feel grand afterwards and the tension will relieve itself.
Feeling faint? Lie down and attempt sleep. It will pass much like sleep does.
To begin with, your body is a sturdy thing (even if right now you’re telling yourself it’s not). It can, and always has, coped and in all honesty it would probably prefer it if you did pass out so that it can get back to being in control and sorting your innards out. As I said before, you are not having a heart attack. Rely on your body for the powerful and adorable little engine it is. Most chemicals and injuries unpleasantly introduced don’t stand a chance against a pissed off human body.
Most of what I listed above was a concern for your own physical health whilst, actually, the issue being fought is concerning how embarrassing this might seem in view of those around you- be they strangers you don’t know if you can rely on or old friends you don’t want to let down.
This is why talking about it helps- so that your friends know what’s happening and strangers might be familiar with what you’re going through.
If you’re not a fan of suffering from the Panic Attacks, my advice is to begin with the long-play strategy.
Diet and exercise.
For your diet, just eat healthy. You know exactly what I mean by that- we’ve all seen at least pictures of vegetables and fruit so go forth and acquire. However, the main part of this is to cut out that which actively deteriorates your wellbeing: caffeine and sugar, alcohol and tobacco.
These might seem to make you feel better; calmer. These things are addictive poisons only to be had when in a sound sense of mind and body. If you’re having a bad series of Panic Attacks, which can happen, then you should drink alcohol to the same degree as a patient with liver damage.
Exercising is a tremendous bit of medicine for the mind and body. Get your heart and lungs to hump each other and your skin to sweat you wet and you’ll feel the warm rush of endorphins throughout your body all the way down to your toes. Why do I mention toes? Because they’re a great distraction from a Panic Attack. Focus upon and give sensation to the toes (you’re welcome) and time will pass in your favour.
With a regular exercise routine of cardio and weight-lifting (particularly the buttocks- also very distracting to behold and get involved with and not just on other people) you will develop a much greater control of your emotions and what you do with them.
During exercise, you might feel a tad dizzy, breathless, as though your heart is jumping out the window and that body parts suddenly feel very light. That’s because this is normal. The only advice is this: remember that this is what happens to everybody during a workout and so you might as well try to enjoy it.
That brings us very nicely to the end of the long-term strategy (although a quick workout might help relieve some building tension in the short-term as well) and bring us to our immediate remedies for a Panic Attack.
Before I go into detail of the life-changing methods of ruling your world, here are some quick aids I have come by before arriving at where I am now:
- Remember what this is- a Panic Attack. Don’t deny it- accept it. Now we can actually deal with it.
- Study your reflection and remind yourself that this situation is actually fine and that it will end.
- A sudden sharp slap to both facial cheeks. Do it to yourself to regain self-control.
- Cold water applied to the hands, feet, face and (most effective of all) the back of the neck. Feels great too.
Going about the last two is a method of bringing you back to a sensible reality. As well as this, getting cold water and achieving a jolly slap will distract you from what unpleasantness you feel is happening.
Now here we are- the methods of dealing with a Panic Attack that will make your life a little better if you let them.
As it turns out, the key to your happiness is good body posture…
Sure- sitting up straight is just swell and all, but there are some other postures that we associate with some happy victory, which will win the day for us here.
First of all- smile!
Smiling is not only the result of happiness, but as you will discover by experimenting with yourself, it can be the cause of happiness too.
By smiling, our facial muscles are triggering nerves which release endorphins into our bloodstream, much as exercise does only a great deal faster.
Sit where you are now, and flash your pearly-whites for us (in other words…smile) and don’t continue to read or do anything else until you have about 60 seconds of hard, constant smiling under your belt. See you in a minute. Go.
Not only are you feeling happy, but you are finding things genuinely funny. I’ll bet the first thing you laughed at was the thought of yourself sitting there with a silly smile all over your face, right?
That’s what I always laugh at first anyway.
So we have this- already a great help in treating a Panic Attack and a bringer of ‘immediate happy’. You can’t even get this in bottles it’s so good. It only comes in brains…
The next piece of treatment I learnt from watching a truly fantastic TED talk by the inspirational Amy Cuddy.
In her talk (which I’ve linked at the end of this article) she speaks of the various poses our species, and other apes, take part in when going through certain emotions.
For example, when stressed and nervous we literally try to make ourselves appear as small as possible via hunched shoulders and lowered heads (sound familiar?). This is a ‘weak’ pose.
When indulging involuntarily in moments of joy and pride (say for example: winning the race, getting the job or “SHE SAID YES!!!!”) we throw our arms up as though we were the ‘Y’ in the ‘YMCA’. Not as though you were a construction worker or a Native American of course…or even a bad boy biker. This is a ‘power’ pose.
Amy Cuddy put people through trials in which those in a ‘weak’ pose and those in a ‘power’ pose were asked to hold these positions for roughly two minutes and to then have fluid samples taken.
The results showed that those in a ‘weak’ pose had an increase in the chemical known as ‘cortisol’- essentially: ‘fluid stress’.
Those grinning volunteers in the ‘power’ pose were also tested and were revealed to have a significant decrease in their cortisol rate and a distinct increase in their testosterone levels- also known as liquid balls for the brain.
Testosterone, as you likely know, is a chemical that gives your body, brain and personality such ‘Oooomph’ that it has been regulated by sporting promotions and has even be known to do that thing that it does to teenage boys.
In smaller doses however, such as in the quantity granted by the ‘Y’ without the ‘MCA’, will bring about a sense of confidence and optimism- basically as good as you’re naturally meant to feel without enjoying the latter stages of a hefty bout of sex you can be proud of.
You feel good.
I know this not only from Amy’s marvellous talk, but from trying it for myself.
It works. You feel slowly filled with a subtle confidence and optimism that you can do as you please with.
And, once more, let’s do for ourselves some experimental self-treatment.
Stand, with your legs straight and your arms outstretched high as though forming a ‘Y’ with your body. Hold this for two minutes, and focus on something pleasing- like a Labrador or 70’s fashion.
Do this now.
See you in two minutes- I think I’ll take part too.
How social of me.
As I said in my article on the feeling following skydiving… “I feel goooooooooooooooooooood”.
Now this might not feel quite the same rush as a 12,000 foot drop at 130 miles per hour. But I know I feel swell.
And so do you. You feel a little more ready to take up a challenge and to win, though losing is no loss. You feel like you got what it takes and that you could take it anywhere.
You’re in control and you feel goooooooooooooooooooood.
Amy Cuddy recommends that, when feeling the need before as stressful situation, you should spend two minutes doing this- wherever you feel most comfortable- and then reap the benefits.
My suggestion is that you do this ‘Y’, with a big old-fashioned grin, when enduring a Panic Attack.
These measures will go some distance in either helping you through it, or using that natural energy your brain sees fit to give you to do whatever you want with. Remember, you are in control and you feel goooooooooooooooooooood.
As I always say: “Mingle”.
Only now, rather than panic, use this natural energy of yours to distract yourself from the dire and inject yourself into what’s happening with a gusto that will make people either want to avoid you or try to meet you.
Talk to people and be involved in anything that is happening. Be interested in many things and you shall become what is interesting about many things.
And this is why I say that whatever psychological reason causes us to have a Panic Attack is no weakness- it is a strength. Within you there is an obvious power of energy that permits you to enjoy yourself via only a few very simple means of control…smiling and ‘Y’ing.
Smiling and ‘Y’-ing.
My final suggestion to you is that you no longer refer to these bouts of energy as ‘Panic Attacks’. Rather- do as I do, and know these cases now as ‘Power Attacks’.
In any case- however you choose to take my advice- be sure to talk to people and do not forget that the option to turn your ‘Panic’ into your ‘Power’ is entirely yours.
Congratulations on all that power.
Have a blast.
Smiling and ‘Y’-ing…
For Amy Cuddy’s brilliant talk, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWZluriQUzE