I have suffered from panic attacks on and off since I was a teen. Racing thoughts, churning tummy, feeling like you are being chased or that you are going to die, unable to catch your breath, difficulty thinking straight or not being able to think at all. Panic attacks make no sense, they can come out of nowhere, and they are extraordinarily debilitating.
I know I am not alone. 40 million adults per year suffer from anxiety, and many of them suffer from panic attacks. Some don’t even know they are having one. Very often, panic attacks can land you in the ER, because it feels as though you are having a heart attack, an asthma attack, or are “going crazy.” (You aren’t, but if you have any symptoms that you can’t yet recognize as a panic attack, please seek medical care ASAP.)
You are not alone. You are okay. It will pass, eventually. I promise. But anyone who deals with panic attacks on the regular should also know that help is out there, and there is no shame in seeking it out. My therapist is worth her weight in gold, and meditation and breathing techniques for anxiety have saved me more than once. Medication can be a total lifesaver (and game-changer) for so many, too.
Seek out whatever works for you – and anyone who has a problem with your version of survival can STFU.
All that being said, it’s helpful to have something that can help you in the moment, should a panic attack rear its ugly head. I have a few meditation apps on my phone with panic attack-specific programs that I know to fire up if I feel one coming on. And I always keep a set of headphones with me should the need arise to listen to one of these apps.
But some folks are going a step further and actually preparing what they call “Panic Attack Kits” with all kinds of soothing goodies to help them cope during an attack – and to remind them that they are stronger than they think, and deserve all the help that they can get.
I absolutely adore this idea, don’t you? It’s GENIUS, in my opinion.
“When you live with anxiety, it can sometimes feel like panic attacks materialize out of nowhere,” writes Juliette Virzi for The Mighty. “Whatever the situation may be, it’s times like these when a panic attack ‘crisis kit’ can come in handy.”
So what do people put in their “crisis kits,” and how might you go about putting one together?
Well, it’s entirely up to you, and what you find soothing may be completely different than what works for someone else. The items should be small enough to be portable, but don’t let that limit you too much. Just brainstorming a list of “comfort items” is a good mental health exercise, and will help you come up with your own personal “crisis kit.”
“Essentially, it’s a collection of comforting items you can have on hand when things get tough mentally,” explains Virzi. She says that some people carry the items in their purse or backpack. Others might also keep a box of items handy at home, and some might keep one in their car (as someone who panics in cars, I’m totally doing this).
Virzi suggests items to distract you by redirecting your senses from your anxiety, like candy, mints, ice packs, slime/putty, and fidget spinners. More soothing/relaxing suggestions include essential oils, favorite stuffed animals, and weighted blankets. Virzi also suggests headphones to listen to soothing music or guided meditations, and a journal to record your feelings and emotions.
Your list might be much more specific, especially if your panic attacks have particular symptoms that you are aware of. Rebecca Tarullo, another contributor to The Mighty, explains that her panic attacks sometimes involve hair and skin picking, so she stocks up on items like chapstick (to soothe her dry skin) and mascara and an eyebrow pencil (for if she picks at her hair).
“It’s important to know this is what works for me,” Tarullo says, who adds that anyone who deals with mental health issues should consider a personalized kit. “Personally, I recommend people carry mental health crisis kits, especially if you experience any anxiety or PTSD or panic attacks. You can even make one for depression,” she says.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve already starting compiling mine. Like I said, I keep headphones on me at all times, in case I’m not home and need to listen to one of my guided meditation apps. But I’m going to add in my favorite essential oils to slather on my wrists and neck, plus a notebook and my favorite pen. Stealing my son’s fidget spinner, too, because I have to admit that they are a pretty awesome way to get out my jitters.
And let’s not forget my “Badass Goddess” necklace from my friend Christie, to remind me that I’m stronger than I know and that my friends have my back. Oh, and an “I love you” note from my 5-year-old, who is wise beyond his years and always knows how to make my heart happy.
Maybe some of these things seem trite or superficial. Who knows if they’ll work if I’ve already spiraled into that dark, terrifying place of a full-blown panic attack. But it’s worth a try. And having concrete, sensory items to ground me during an attack — and remind me how resilient I really am — is HUGE.
Again, none of this replaces things like therapy, medication, and medical treatment when needed. But we anxiety sufferers should have all the tools possible at our disposal, and I think this one is a beautiful, empowering, and potentially really helpful idea.