Last week, I had a panic attack. It wasn’t the first, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last. The crazy thing is how a panic attack stops you in your tracks, and then the symptoms stay with you like an uninvited houseguest for what feels too long. How do we move on after a panic attack?
That’s the golden question, or is it?
While enduring unpleasant circumstances, especially panic attacks, we stop at nothing to make it end. The transparent terror is evident to no one, and that makes us feel even more lost and alone.
My panic attacks stem from an overload of pain—physical pain or in some cases emotional pain—both result and lead to stress beyond what we can sometimes handle. Yes, the aftermath of brain surgery and my own case of PTSD definitely plays a role, but we all find ourselves too deep, too consumed with what we should have done or wish we had the strength to keep doing. Even if the continuing is just too much to continue.
Am I speaking your language?
The real question is not how to move on after a panic attack, but what is at the root of it and how to shift your reaction to a healthier alternative.
Three Questions to Ask Yourself After a Panic Attack
- What is out of whack, unbalanced, or causing you unnecessary stress?
Almost every time I ask this question, the answer is blaring-ly obvious. I’ve taken on too much with work, changed something that should have been left alone, or put myself in a setting that evoked past hurts, memories, or fears to come back to life. Sometimes even stronger than when they first lived.
We can’t always change these out-of-whack, unbalanced, and stressful situations, but we can acknowledge them and adjust our lifestyle to create space for reflection and give ourselves grace to process and decide how to proceed.
2. What can you do in the moment?
This is a tough one. After a panic attack you will feel completely incapable of doing anything. Don’t let your mind go there, it is a black pit of a hole that won’t accomplish any good whatsoever. Instead, focus on what you can do. Breathing in and out is a great place to start. Take a walk, read a paragraph in your favorite book, soak in the tub… you get the idea.
This is a small exercise in loving yourself in the moment, telling yourself that you are capable of all kinds of things. Decide what will bring you a sense of relief, then go do it.
3. Who can you be honest with?
We weren’t created to live this life alone. We need people to love and people who love us, those who are actively involved in our everyday joys and sorrows. It’s crucial to realize that people will fail us from time to time, they can’t be our end-all when it comes to community. Only God is the perfect friend. Only God knows us more than we know ourselves.
Bearing my soul to God with complete honesty is one of the utmost ways I have found to move on after a panic attack. To say what feels wrong to say. To cry until the tears are gone.
No, He may not be able to physically hold you in His arms.
And He most likely won’t tell you what to do in an audible voice.
But He will always be with you.
He will never leave you alone.
He is a whisper away from unending peace and joy, even when your life feels completely out of control.
He’s listening and collecting your tears. Every single one of them.
I have one other piece of advice—a word. It’s for when life doesn’t go as planned, for when you’re at the end of yourself.
My husband, Josh, has a way of finding the perfect words to describe what I’m feeling. After thirty minutes in B&N last Sunday… just a few days after my panic attack, we met at the front of the store. He handed me a little book.
He said, “Read it. It will only take a few minutes.”
The title says it all. I Used To Have a Plan but life had other ideas. The illustration on the front cover says it again—A girl lying face down, succumbing to a life that’s just too much. I read the whole thing, from cover to cover, in all but seven minutes.
The author and illustrator, Alessandra Olanow, nailed it for me.
Admitting you don’t have what it takes, at least not all the time and not when the panic rears its nasty head. Life can be too much and surrender is our only option.
For those of you who have panic attacks, go get this book. For those of you who have been through hell physically or emotionally this past year or ever, or if you know someone who has, gift this book to them.
I can’t tell you how the insight and simplicity spoke to my soul, it told me I wasn’t alone. That’s a message we desperately need to hear, whether you suffer from panic attacks or not.
Much love to you, my friends.