You never forget your very first panic attack. At least that’s what I’ve been told and have verified by personal experience. I can close my eyes and effortlessly set up the scenario. I’m now able to use the visualizations about the attack to my advantage.
During the rare event of feeling the first symptoms of panic starting to build, I find a comfortable place to sit and practice some slow, deep breathing. The key word is “slow”, because fast, shallow breathing accelerates the feelings of fear and uncertainty. Once I’ve reached mental equilibrium, I call up the memory. I call it the “South Dakota Scenario” because that’s where I happened to be when the panic attack occurred in 1984.
It was a very hot, windy day as I drove south on Interstate Highway 29 that roughly follows the eastern border of that state. I was driving my brown Datsun 310 coupe and was already on edge due to having to battle extremely strong wind gusts. I was about 100 miles north of Sioux Falls, when a lane change was necessary in order to pass a slow-moving semi truck. Just as the Datsun had become fully parallel with the truck’s trailer, a vortex of strong airflow sucked the car towards the truck.
It felt impossible to steer away from colliding or being pulled underneath the trailer, so I eased up from the accelerator pedal and aborted the passing maneuver. My heart was beating so strong and fast that I could feel each pulse in my forehead. My breathing was labored and fast. I was convinced that I was having a heart attack. I couldn’t safely concentrate on driving, so the only thing to do was to slow down and pull off the concrete highway then park on the asphalt shoulder.
I spent perhaps ten or 15 minutes calming down. I promised to consult my physician the next day once I reached home. After resuming the journey, I drove slightly below the speed limit because going faster in the strong wind caused anxiety to surface somewhat. When I finally crossed the state border into Nebraska, the anxiety fully vanished. The remainder of the trip felt pleasant and enjoyable.
The next day, I met with the physician. He conducted a physical exam but found nothing wrong with my health. He then explained the mechanics of panic attacks. The reassurance and knowledge kept me panic free for many years. I’ve only had two “minor” panic attacks in the past few years. They were abated by breathing exercises and visualizations of the first-ever attack. I’m guessing that such visualizing is a variant of facing fear head-on.
Like everyone, I sometimes feel apprehensive about certain encounters in life. Rarely, there are the tell-tale symptoms of anxiety. If I feel the beginnings of runaway anxiety, I say “South Dakota” softly, under my breath. I repeat it soothingly until I’m able to find a place to chill out.
I cannot recommend this method as a panacea because everybody is unique. This is only my experience. If you encounter panic or high anxiety, I do believe that it is wise to consult a medical doctor. It’s important to determine whether or not you have real medical problems. Your physician can recommend any further course of treatment if necessary. Reality-based, medical advise is the best way to handle panic. If the doctor okays trying a similar method of visualization as mine, it might be worth your consideration.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Women’s Professional Tennis player, Madison Keys. “I think the biggest thing is knowing that those thoughts of panic are probably going to go into your brain, and just accepting it… So that’s been the biggest thing. Not fighting it and trying to think I’m going to have the perfect mentality the entire time. That’s not going to happen.”