Beat severe panic attacks with this expert self-help trick

All logical thought is suspended. Fear, like a wave growing ever more powerful, surges

Russell Hemmings

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All logical thought is suspended. Fear, like a wave growing ever more powerful, surges through your body, flooding it with overwhelming physical sensations. And because your ability to think straight has long since departed, your brain tells you that those sensations are actually very serious and may signal you’re about to die. Of course you are… your heart feels like it’s about to explode, the blood has drained from your face and your skin has the look and feel of marble. The tingling in your fingers and the clamminess of your hands only serves to add weight to the argument that you’re about to take your last desperate breath.

The mind and body are such utterly convincing liars when it comes to a panic attack. It’s not uncommon for sufferers to end up in the emergency room, believing they are in the throes of a heart attack or stroke, only to be confronted by the factual rhythmic beep of a heart monitor and a doctor telling them there is physically nothing wrong with them. Yet when in the grip of one of these debilitating episodes, it genuinely feels like you are facing a catastrophic event.

Overcoming panic attacks

I’m intimately acquainted with the anatomy of the panic attack, because I used to suffer from them. I share my knowledge of how to overcome them, because I understand them from the inside. I know how they can steal your life away, gradually nibbling at the edges of your freedom and potential, because the cycle of fear prevents you from putting yourself in situations where you might be exposed to other people seeing you fall apart. And this “secret you” inhabits your thoughts all of the time, sometimes pushed back to the margins when you’re feeling more positive, but then invading your mind with increasing ferocity when your anxiety and stress levels rise. So you stand on permanent guard duty, watching and waiting for the inevitable to happen and this is exhausting.

This all sounds like bad news, and it can be if you let panic and anxiety win, but I’ve got better tidings. I know, and many of my clients know, there is another way. You can learn to deal with them, you can put on your armor and fight the battle and you can win. I say emphatically, you do not have to live in a state of permanent fear.

The reality is, though you may feel it is so, when in the throes of a panic attack, all logical thought is not suspended. What you are feeling is an exaggerated fight or flight reaction and if a woolly mammoth was heading straight for you, you would either be the person to hide behind, because you would stand and fight, or you would be long gone. You’re a survivor. But in a modern world where that kind of danger doesn’t lurk around every corner, that instinct can misfire and begin to kick in when you don’t need it. I always advise panic sufferers to reach out for professional help, but there are also a number of strategies that you can employ to help yourself. A very simple coping mechanism I use is the “Panic Scale.”


Naturally, I can’t go into the complexity of this within the confines of an article, however I can give you a rudimentary insight, which may begin to help. The very first thing to do is to identify you have an issue with panic. Then at the point when those familiar feelings of panic start to well up, begin to use this self-scoring system. Based on previous panic experiences, you begin to score how you feel. Take some deep breaths as you feel those initial waves. Using 1 to 100, 1 being in a state of total positivity without the merest hint of panic, and 100 representing being as bad as you could ever possibly feel, start scoring your situation. For example, if you’re driving and panic begins, you may score yourself against your worst ever feeling at 70. This means you have actually got 30 percent of positivity to work with, which is a great starting point. You can use that 30 to get yourself into a safe space. You can use that 30 to deal with what is happening. With this technique, you are forcing reality into an unreal situation and giving yourself a plan of action at the same time. It gives you a structure to begin to work with and allows you to create an ongoing conversation, talking yourself down from the precipice. Everybody’s scale is different; one person’s 20 is another’s 50, but that doesn’t matter. Ironically, you have to understand what 100 feels like, but that’s how panic works. Experiencing it on more than one occasion begins to give you just that: experience. And this technique gives you something to redirect your thoughts to and really allows you to objectively unpick what is happening to you.

And that’s one of the key things to dealing with panic; understanding where it’s coming from. Uncovering the source, eventually allows you to build the dam upstream.


Russell Hemmings is a Dubai-based clinical and cognitive behavioral hypnotherapist. He can be contacted online at www.russellhemmings.com or via Facebook at www.facebook.com/bridgehypnotherapyclinic.