I remember my first panic attack. I was sitting on my bed, at night, seemingly relaxed when I felt a sharp pain.
Then, I started feeling something rising in me. I began to feel out of control. I thought to myself, I should take a shower so I can go to the hospital. Honest to goodness that was my first thought.
But then, panic set in. What am I feeling? Why am I feeling it? I was so confused and getting really scared.
The more I felt these unidentifiable feelings, the more I panicked. Then, I grabbed my husband and yelled, I need to go to the emergency room. I think I’m having a stroke.
I felt numbness and tingling and thought my face and arm were going numb. The more I experienced, the more I freaked out.
My son was sound asleep in his bed so our neighbor came over to sit with him while we headed to the doctor.
When we arrived at the doctor, she immediately sent us to the hospital.
On the way to the hospital
As we drove to the hospital, I thought my husband was driving too slowly. I yelled at him to drive faster!!
On the drive over, I called my mom to tell her I wasn’t doing well and I was on my way to the hospital. She reassured me and told me I was going to be okay.
As we drove, I couldn’t calm myself and I felt the numbness begin to spread throughout my body. I got more scared so I called the emergency line from the car asking for help. They said my best bet was to keep coming to the hospital in our car.
When I arrived at the emergency room, they started in on the stroke protocol – asking me to squeeze their hand, describe what happened, tell them what I was feeling, be x-rayed, let my blood be taken and lay still for an MRI.
The longer I waited the calmer I became, though the numbness was still there.
At the end of the night, they couldn’t find any explanation for the episode, and they encouraged me to go visit my local doctor.
Panic attacks and constant worry
This began a long cycle of racing heart beats, trouble sleeping, another MRI and constant worry.
About six months later, I was on my way to the States to visit my family for the first time in years and the panic set in again, only this time, I was far away from medical care – I don’t have insurance in the States anymore, and this time, the anxiety and depression were crippling.
I was scheduled to stay in the States for two months, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it. Every day was a struggle. I didn’t want to leave the house. I could hardly visit friends and family. I didn’t know when the panic would set in.
I was counting down the days until I could return back to Australia where I knew I had medical help.
Counseling service that helped with my panic attacks
And then, I remembered this service for counseling that I could get online called BetterHelp. I had signed up to share it with people several years before, but I had never used it myself.
I believed whole heartedly in counseling because it had helped me through several breakups in the past, but I had never done online counseling.
I went on the site, answered a series of questions about my background, what I was experiencing and my preferences for a counselor (or therapist like some people call it). Then BetterHelp found me a counselor named Rebekah Philippart.
We started by messaging on the service and then we had a chat on the phone. After explaining to her what was going on, I felt a little bit of relief. Just getting it off my chest and not carrying it around anymore was a great first step for me.
After that, we started talking every so often, and she understood my goal was to be able to make it back to Australia.
Rebekah helped me realise, for the first time, that I was experiencing anxiety and having panic attacks. She helped me learn some strategies that helped me get through that hard time.
Taking care of our mental health
She gave me strategies to remember when moments of panic set in, and I was able to talk to her on the phone and through messenger when I wasn’t able to call.
I was really scared I was going to have to cut my trip short, and now looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t. That trip took place at the end of 2019 right before COVID hit. It was the first time my dad got to meet my son, who was just three years old at the time, and they fell in love with each other.
Looking back now, I’m so glad talking to Rebekah at BetterHelp let me spend as much time with my family in the States as possible because I know I would have regretted it if I wasn’t able to spend as much time there as possible.
Prioritising Mental Health
Taking care of our mental health isn’t something we talk about enough and it’s probably because it’s so hard to be honest about it. It’s even hard for me to tell you this story and we’re not looking each other in the eyes, but it’s still personal and hard to share.
But being able to reach out to Rebekah at BetterHelp is what made a difference for me and my family.
What are you struggling with?
I’m wondering if any of my story really hit you because you know exactly what I was going through. Are you going through a hard time that you’re struggling with? It could be panic attacks and anxiety like me or depression or relationship challenges or struggles with your kids.
Honestly, the list goes on and on and on!
Counseling has consistently been a game changer for me! Having a sounding board, and someone to reflect back to me and give me guidance and help me understand why things are happening the way they are has been priceless.
How I learned to deal with panic attacks
Because I experienced anxiety and panic attacks over the course of several months, I approached different people and tried different things to deal with them.
- I tried talking to friends and family, who helped me to different degrees,
- I tried sticking my head in a freezer (no lie, I did this),
- I tried calm breathing
- I tried freaking out
- I tried going to the pharmacist to get a diabetes test (again, no lie),
- I tried going to the doctor to get an EKG
- I tried laying in bed at night too tired to stay awake and too scared to fall asleep,
…But few things really helped me until I understood what was going on in my life.
How BetterHelp helped me with panic attacks
In the moment of need for my family, BetterHelp came through and let my son spend as much time as possible with his Papa Mack.
If you want to learn more about getting counseling with BetterHelp you can visit their sign-up page here.
Techniques for controlling panic attacks and anxiety
Remove yourself from situations that are triggering to your anxiety – After some time, I was able to realize that my job was causing a good portion of the anxiety I was feeling, causing me to experience some panic attacks. When I was able to recognize that, I was able to disallow people from triggering my emotions. However, eventually, I left the job as well, as I knew that it wasn’t healthy for my mental state.
Reset your mind – When I needed to reset my mind, I would open the freezer and let the blast of cold air hit my face or go outside on a cold day and just let the cold air wash over me. This would let me reconnect with my present situation.
Practice grounding techniques – Grounding is a technique to keep your mind in the present. Anxiety can carry your mind away in a tangled web of “what if” situations. By keeping your mind in the present, you ground yourself in reality and help your mind focus on what the real and present situation is instead of imagined and foreshadowed trouble.
If you’re engaging in grounding techniques, you may ask yourself,
- What is something I can see?
- What is something I can hear?
- What is something I can taste?
- What is something I can smell?
- What is something I can touch and feel?
You may want to actually spot these things to promote your connection to your present moment.
Connection between your thoughts and your mind
Do you realize that there’s a connection between your thoughts and how your body reacts? Even though I knew this in theory, I didn’t really KNOW IT, KNOW IT until my counselor connected all of the dots for me. And she did it while I was experiencing anxiety.
She introduced me to the cognitive behaviour triangle. It sounds complicated, but it actually makes a lot of sense.
She explained that before any behaviour or feeling in my body, I likely experienced a thought about a situation. So for example, after a breakup, I might think, “I’m not good enough.”
That thought would then lead me to feel an emotion like sadness or shame or disappointment.
Those emotions would them trigger a behaviour, like calling an EX multiple times or meeting a new guy before I’m fully healed to make myself feel better.
Check out the illustration below to see how it all fits together. Do you see yourself at all in the flow of activity?