Did you know you can stop panic attacks with action? Me neither, but I just learned this from my friend John (he is a brain scientist) and couldn’t wait to share it with you.
Last Friday I was working in the Emergency Room as an extra shift. They happened to be really busy, there were patients on every stretcher and an overflow of patients waiting in the hallway… It was crazy. I haven’t been working for too long at the ER and am still finding my way around and learning to be comfortable there.
Seeing how busy it was immediately made me feel overwhelmed and potentially anxious, but I quickly decided to put blinders on and just focus on what I had to do in the moment. Just plow through…
So when my duty was to discharge a bunch of patients, I just glanced at the charts, grabbed the first one and got cracking.
I went into the first bay to discharge my first patient. Sitting on the stretcher was a nice lady who just got her hand stitched up and bandaged after cutting herself on a drinking glass. Her husband and daughter were with her.
Hospital discharge instructions are very basic and my job is to go over them and make sure the patient understands everything as well as answer any questions they have.
This lady was very serious about her 6 stitches and wanted to be sure she had everything down pat. Which is fine, that is what she should do of course.
The bitch part was while I was answering her questions one by one, I started getting anxious. I could feel myself taking in all the noise and frantic business going on just outside that curtain. I felt trapped. And it felt like I wasn’t explaining myself well, cause they kept looking at me like I had three heads.
So I was in complete sensory overload and then BAM wonder of wonders, I had a panic attack, right as my patient was asking me for information about the antibiotic she was prescribed.
As I went to the nurses station to get some printed information for her, I was in complete fight or flight mode.
My thoughts: God Damn it, this sucks! How am I going to get through this shift? Maybe I can walk right out the Exit door and not come back. They’re so busy maybe they won’t notice.
What I did: Got the printed information on Keflex.
My thoughts: How am I going to tell her this all this stuff, I can’t give a damn speech right now. They’re all burning holes though me with their eyes and hanging on to my every word. Why can’t they just sign the stupid papers and leave? It was only 6 little stitches…..
What I did: Get in there and tell them about Keflex.
I was so nervous that I tried to make it look like I was real busy. I decided try walking fast. So I swiftly walked back towards her bay with my Keflex information, but my timing was all off.
It went something like this:
Jill (walking real fast, talking way too fast and loud in an effort to sound knowledgeable, out of breath because of the panic attack) “Kelfex is a cephalosporin antibiotic and it’s prescribed for (flings curtain aside and stands at the side of the lady’s stretcher) skin and bacterial infections! (panting) It’s important to take it until it’s all gone to make sure you don’t get an infection!! (panting like a dog…)
I could see the people at the nurses station in my peripheral vision, kind of looking over- probably wondering what I was yelling about and why did I fling the curtain like that. The lady with her family probably wondered why did I deliver half the message on the other side of the curtain and why was I out of breath.
It was so stupid. I can laugh about it now but at the time I was full tilt freaking out of my mind. My heart was beating so hard I could see my badge going thumpa-thumpa-thumpa-thump! Like a bird in a cage.
After I got through that discharge I quickly stole away to the bathroom and talked myself into a state of reason:
I whispered aloud to myself: No one is going to remember this moment, or this day for that matter, not even me. It’s not that important. This is not a big deal. Keep working. You can do it. Let the feelings pass, stop being freaked out over them. Just focus on one thing at a time. And for God’s sake stop panting, breathe with the diaphragm.
Very happy to report that the rest of the shift was uneventful from an anxiety perspective. When I left at the end of the shift, I was very proud of myself.
Ok so I have a friend John who is a real live scientist with a PhD. He is in me and my husband’s Chapter 9 meeting that we go to weekly to help our marriage. Anyways he said something really interesting about overcoming panic & anxiety and it helped shed light on how I was able to go from having an anxiety attack to staying and finishing out the entire shift without any further problems.
I’m paraphrasing of course, but basically the fear center in the brain (amygdala) is very close to the memory center (hippocampus)- which is why it’s really hard to stop being afraid of something once we have a fear reaction or panic attack in response to something.
But while the fear and memory center are closely linked, the intellect center of your brain will always trump these two, but you have to ACT in order for it to take control. It’s called intellect over emotion.
And put very simply, while you can’t think your way out of anxiety (those racing thoughts get you nowhere but feeling worse), you CAN act your way out of anxiety. You CAN stop panic attacks with action.
To do , you must ACT and not stay stuck thinking in your head. Move a muscle change a thought. Speak aloud- talk to someone, or to yourself but move and do some action, even if it’s only speaking. He explained how even moving the mouth helps.
The situation triggered my fear center which triggered my memory center, and then my thoughts started to race- it’s too crowded here, they’re depending on me, I have to give a speech to this family, etc. My fear and memory center took over and as a result I had a panic attack.
My intellect, my voice of reason is what saved me. Going into the bathroom and talking to myself was a positive action that helped to calm me down. I gave myself reassurance – that this is not a huge deal, no one will remember this. And I told myself what I needed to do- keep moving, focus on one task at a time, breath correctly, I put myself in control instead of retreating into that scary place in my head where the anxiety monster takes over.
Talking , Writing (like keeping a journal), Physical activity, and Praying, are all positive actions that you can take to stop panic attacks. Pick one and do it. Just get the hell out of your head.
Isn’t that cool? Doesn’t that make sense? Next time you feel one coming on, stop panic attacks with action. Don’t stay in your head with those racing thoughts. Act your way to calm. Act you way to success.
I wish you peace,