|'Doctor, Doctor, I just have this, sort of, suffocating feeling, like someone's got their hands around my neck and I can't get any air...'|
I've just realised that I haven't yet shared one of the all-time best panic-busting tips I've ever been given.
After being diagnosed with panic disorder, I languished for six months on a CBT treatment course waiting list (thank you NHS), but I did finally wend my trembling way into a treatment room. And when I did, BOY was the wait worth it (thank you NHS, no sarcasm).
Having the CBT was the first time I really got to grips with this gnarly panic crap, and began to lose my fear of panic a bit. I'd tried some CBT in self-help books prior to that (I ordered approximately 851,000 different books and CDs on Amazon), but it never really stuck, and being an impatient, type A sort of person, I would just race through the chapters, do the exercises quickly, shout 'FINISHED!' triumphantly, and then complain that it wasn't working.
Before then, I think I still thought I would die with each panic attack. I thought I was completely insane, and needed to be locked up. I thought my life as I knew it was over. Of course now I still have a moment during panic when I think all of those things, but my more logical brain can fight back much quicker and win the day in the end.
It's too much to cram into a single post (maybe I should do a series?), but the overriding rule that changed my panic-stricken life was: DON'T TRY TO CONTROL YOUR BREATHING. It was completely at odds with all the other stuff I'd been reading and trying (breathing in for 5, hold for 4, out for 8 - that sort of thing), and with loads of other panic advice I'd been given.
The guy asked me to hyperventilate with him so he could prove it to me. I cried and refused (why the hell would I do that?! I literally spent every second trying NOT to hyperventilate!) so we tried it in another session once I trusted him a bit more. He did it with me, and promised nothing bad would happen to either of us. We deliberately hyperventilated together (one of the stranger experiences I've shared with a complete stranger) and watched what happened afterwards. Essentially, your body regulates itself. It does not need you to sit and watch your breath. It does not need you to count each one in and out. It does not need you to DO anything. It just does it on its own! Miraculous, hey?! If you hyperventilate and go out of whack, in a short space of time it will come back into whack - without your help or control or vigilant inspection.
I cannot tell you what a huge, unbelievably liberating relief it was just to LET GO of the goddamn breathing thing and just let it do its thing. It was like taking off a 100kg backpack and leaving it at the door. It sounds obvious to non-panickers, but it certainly wasn't to me then. I don't think I've ever fully hyperventilated (in an out-of-control way) since then. I may have got strained, and struggled, and started to breathe quickly, and worried I was going to run out of air, but the less I tried to control it, the quicker it came back round to normal in the end.
That's it. Don't control your breathing. Just let your body do its thing.
Sorry for a tortuously long, and possibly slightly dull post, chaps, but the fundamentals are important too, right?!
|A successful, non-panicked breather will look relaxed and beatific, like so.|