I have panic attacks somewhere between every few months and multiple times per week. At the moment it seems to be mostly restricted to when I wake up and haven’t got the hang of being a human again yet, so it isn’t a huge problem.
But when it is, I have often found that eating honey vastly and quickly improves the problem. Not sugar, not sugar syrup, just honey. Not after the sugar has reached my bloodstream, but when it touches my tongue. Often not in a ‘hmm, I guess I feel better?’ way, but in a ‘I was tumbling head over heels down a hill, and then it just stopped’ way.
I’m hesitant to point this out much, because 1) it doesn’t make any sense, which suggests it is imaginary and 2) I feel uncomfortable about the whole complicated and murky landscape of people giving often unwanted advice, with various motives, about awkward things, that probably only work for that person, and probably only do so because of the placebo effect.
On the other hand, I caused someone else to try this, who also found that it worked. Plus as far as I can tell having an additional thing to try if you are having a panic attack is good, even if it turns out not to work. And I dislike the equilibrium where people who do have useful advice in expectation are worried about sharing it in case they seem annoying.
So, if anyone else has panic attacks and feels like trying this out, I am curious to hear how it goes. I usually squeeze half a teaspoon of honey or so into a spoon and eat it straight.
Since I already maybe mostly have the attention of people interested in panic attack relief, below is my longer list of things I have found probably-useful over the years (in more expected, explicable, hit-or-miss, or time-taking ways).
Collected panic attack mitigation strategies
- Playing DDR (both as a thing to do actually during a panic attack, and as a really good way to get prophylactic exercise if you find leaving your room or committing to more than five seconds of exercise aversive, e.g. because you have an anxiety disorder.)
- Saying ‘I can be anxious and still be in control’, and noticing over time that this is true, every time.
- Estimating how long panic attacks go for, looking at a clock, noting at what time this one will probably be done, and expecting/planning/predicting to feel better then. Maybe kind of thinking of the clock as a machine that is resolving the problem, and will be done when it gets to the seven or whatever.
- Counting slowly to five during each breath, and holding breath after out-breath while counting to two, about five times.
- Listening to Au Fond Du Temple Saint sung by Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill. If you are looking for music which bears the same relation to you as that song does to me, my guess is that the relevant feature is either ‘literally impedes breathing’ or something to do with feelings. Some other songs that only affect feelings seem to help too, but I think in a different way.
- Measuring heart-rate repeatedly and trying to make it go down (breathing slowly helps often).
- Playing Civ IV or some other computer games, though this often seems to just distract me while prolonging the panic attack. Which is useful if you are in an inconvenient situation for freaking out, and expect to be in a better one in three hours.
- Really engaging and distracting activities in general, e.g. writing a song.
- Spending time with particular people.
- Being held tightly or under a weighted blanket
- Sipping straight gin [Edit: note that drinking seems to be widely considered a bad way to deal with anxiety, due to its propensity to cause alcoholism. I am comfortable drinking half a shot of gin for this purpose on the odd occasion because that isn’t much, and I seem alcoholism-resistant, but I doubt that internet consensus would endorse me having done the experiment to find that out, or would agree with me now.]
- Going for a walk
- Eating food, drinking, lying down, averting pain, becoming the right temperature etc, as needed— (I am weirdly bad at remembering to do these, and admit I have a list of things that animals need to live, that I look at if I am worried that I have forgotten one.)
- Swearing a lot
- Setting a five minute timer and ignore it with intent to freak out in five minutes
- Noting that the situation is not your fault, if it is not. If it is, note determinism.
- Calculating the probability of any specific concerns, given the evidence. (e.g. ‘it seems like I can’t breathe. how often does that happen without me dying? Every three days, but this time seems different. How often does this time seem different? Every six days… How often does it happen that a person feels like they can’t breathe because they are dying, when they are in their twenties? Well, women in their twenties die about once in three thousand years of living, and probably no more than one percent of those deaths are preceded by feeling like they can’t breathe. So maybe once in three hundred thousand years, versus 60 times per year for non-death causes of feeling like you can’t breathe, for a one in 18 million chance this is the death one. And I’m probably not off by more than three orders of magnitude as a result of hyperventilating impeding my ability to do math, so lets say a one in ten thousand chance very pessimistically.. sounds like I should at least anticipate surviving..)
- Thinking about how good reason is, and how right it is for it to triumph over feelings (as direct determinant of actions), and how passionately loyal to reason you feel, and what a great strength-giving rock to which you owe everything of value it is (…and how if you were going to trust your feelings over reason, they would just tell you how great reason is anyway, so it is only reasonable to trust reason more, which is good because it is what you feel like…) YMMV.
- Doing whatever hard to describe mental motions get you into a mental state appropriate for marching up a mountain, or being reasonable, or doing something other than freaking out, if you have different mental stances like this.
- I have found various drugs useful for being less anxious, notably (at different times) an SSRI and St John’s Wort, though both had confusing effects. I am sure better advice has been written about this.