Panic attacks are a lot more common than you would think. A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. I do not remember myself as being apprehensive or fidgety, but in recent times? I have absolutely no idea what’s going on. I’m nervous when I’m going out (because in this Lagos, anything can kill you), I am distressed when I am indoors; the slightest sounds unnerve me, and I have become an absolute worrier. Its just chaos!
This year really battered me! 2020? Its been a rollercoaster of emotions and no, I do not mean love, romance, bliss, happiness and all the unicorn feelings. I am talking heart-wrenching, pain-grappling emotions.
I had my first panic attack this year. Things were still pretty calm (as calm as Nigeria can be, it hadn’t escalated to the hell we’re in right now) and I was dealing with tension at work. I remember I was at a friend’s worrying about work that was piling up, meetings I had to attend, emails I had to send and deadlines I had to meet. I felt choked up for some weird reason – I was outside you see, then I felt my heart pounding, banging loudly like I was sure someone would hear it, that’s when I began to panic.
I went inside the house, I remember my brain was telling me to search for something but I didn’t know what I was searching for. My friend noticed my restlessness and asked me repeatedly what was wrong, by now I was gasping for breath. I had forgotten how to breathe! I was sure I was going to die.
My friend took me to the bathroom and turned on the shower. I was fully clothed. I majored in Psychology in university and we studied all kinds of psychopathologies and disorders. As the water was running down my face, I remembered all the symptoms of panic attacks and I started doing all the techniques my worrying brain could muster:
Recognize that you’re having a panic attack: Identifying the problem is always the fastest way to address and solve a problem. When I realized what was causing my breathlessness was in fact, a panic attack? I sort of knew I could control it. Here are a few pointers to help you identify a panic attack; Dizziness, sweating, nervousness, heightened fear or feeling of impending doom, feeling like you are about to die, shortness of breath and sometimes nausea, to name a few.
Take short breaths: In and out, breathe in and out. When I was almost passing out, panicking and fretting, I remembered to take short breaths. If you feel like you wouldn’t possibly remember to take short breaths, remember to count. Count slowly from 10 backwards, you could also try counting normally from 1-10. It helps to stabilize your breathing and restore calmness.
Focus on an object: There weren’t many things to focus on when I was panicking and trying to count in the bathroom, so I did the next best thing; I focused on the trickling shower. Watching the water pour down my face and body was oddly calming. If you find yourself in a similar situation, pick out something in the room and consciously observe it. Trust me, its soothing.
Do Something: Once you have followed these steps, you’ll find that you are well on your way out of panic hell. All you have to do now is channel your devotion to an activity. Engaging in light exercise can produce endorphins in the body which causes us to feel good and less stressed. You could try swimming or yoga, take a stroll, whatever works for you. What did I do? I took a shower. I know taking a shower isn’t the ideal exercise but it got my blood flowing and my mind in the right direction.
Picture your happy place: This is very relaxing for obvious reasons. I didn’t know to do this when I had my first panic attack but I’ve heard that it works wonders. Once you’ve steadied your breathing and channeled your energy to a fulfilling exercise, you can then picture your paradise. If I had done this, I would be miles away from Lagos, sipping Mai Tais on a private beach, watching the ocean crash with each wave. Picture that, serene isn’t it?
So yes, that’s how I handled my panic attack. It wasn’t easy but I got through it. It is important to understand that anxiety doesn’t define you and though you may have many more panic attacks, it doesn’t make up your whole person. I certainly had minor panic episodes after this one I just told you all about. I had an episode in the safe confines of my room recently seeing images of brutalized, maimed and killed Nigerians during the #EndSars protests, I went into panic mode more recently when I had to visit the ATM very close to almost curfew O’clock.
So yes, panic attacks is no respecter of persons or places but I will be okay, as will you. Believe that.
We’re here for you at 21, always!