“Panic is a sudden desertion of us, and a going over to the enemy of our imagination,” said the 19th century writer Christian Nevell Bovee.
As everyone who has ever experienced a panic attack knows, there is nothing imaginary about the way you feel. I have tried to convince my husband on countless occasions, in the middle of an attack, that I was dying. Many people I know have driven to the emergency room convinced they were having a heart attack.
The physiological symptoms are so acute and so real that you can’t believe that your mind is party to blame. The word “anxiety” seems way too lame to attach to the sweat, racing heartbeat, and sheer terror of what you are feeling.
At the point of my life in which I was most depressed and anxious, when my kids were preschoolers, I would carry around with me a paper bag in case I had a panic attack. It would help stabilize my breathing so I wouldn’t hyperventilate and pass out during their karate practice right as Mr. Joe was telling them to use their “black belt spirit” to control their thoughts. Since then, I have graduated to other techniques that prime my parasympathetic nervous system when I start to feel panic and help calm me down before I get to that painful and embarrassing place. Here are some of them.