How to Stop A Panic Attack: Think of the ABCs
Today we're are going to talk about emotional distress planning. Essentially, this is a go-to plan to help regulate your emotions when you're feeling the extremes. For myself, these is how I try to pause panic attacks. The point's not to stop the distress completely, as this just bottles up the emotions and they eventually come back tenfold. What you're trying to do is lower the distress to a point where you can still feel it, but are able to actually function. It's to help you step out of the panic to gain some awareness.
I found that for myself, it's best to have the list literally written out by hand, somewhere I can always find it (aka my day planner). It could also be helpful to have it saved on your phone, since we all use so damn frequently. You can also keep multiple copies of it around your home, in your car, or at work. You may want to consider sharing and explaining your list with your support system people. Isaac knows my whole list, but I've also made the effort to tell my family and friends the top three things to do if I'm having a panic attack. It's scary for them to see it happening, but knowing what to do helps them feel a little more prepared and less powerless, Most importantly, they'll be less likely to accidentally make the situation worst.
It's also important to practice these activities when your distress is at like a 4-5 rather than waiting until you're at a 9-10. Most people can't think clearly at that level of distress, so the mind automatically reverts to ingrained coping mechanisms (like self-harm or suicidal ideation). By practicing when you're still functioning, you are retraining your brain to consider other behaviours when it goes onto autopilot. Remember: this is a skill, and learning it'll take time. This is hard, hard, HARD work, and there will be times when it feels like you have failed.
Please practice some self compassion; it's taken your whole life to get to this point, and that's not going to change in a couple of weeks (I'm still struggling with that idea). Even if all you can do is buy yourself a little bit of time before those harmful coping mechanisms kick in, that's still a win. Baby steps here.
The best way I've found to go about this is to simply write out the alphabet, and fill in activities corresponding with each letter. When shit hits the fan, I pull out my list and start working through them. I pick the first one that I am drawn to and try it. If it doesn't work I move on to the next one, until I am at a point where I know longer feel like I am dying. Sometimes it takes almost whole list, and sometimes I have to do this three or four times a night. Like I said, hard work.
Here's my list for inspiration if you're stuck thinking of activities. It took me weeks to put together because I was feeling so awful I could not think of anything that would make me feel better. Start with one or two, and add on as you are able. Eventually the list will fill out and you will have a tool that you can use to get through high emotional distress. Lots of these activities also work as a preventative measure, like meditating, yoga, and sleeping properly. If you have any questions, or want any of these activities explained more in depth, please leave a comment or email. I would also love to hear about any activities you find helpful! PS. - I've left off the letters that I don't have activities for.
A - awareness (name the emotion, context or trigger)
B - breathe
C - cats, coffee, cold air, candles
D - disclose, draw
E - exercise
F - feel, focus
G - grounding (5, 4, 3, 2, 1)
H - hug
I - incense
L - laugh
M - music, meditate
O - outside, organize
P - puppies, paint
R - read, road trip
S - sleep, swim
T - text, talk to someone
W - write, walk, water (focus on the sensations)
Y - yoga