You're choking for breath. Your hands get clammy. Your mind starts racing from thought to thought like a monkey swinging along vines in a jungle. Your heart starts thumping through your chest as if it's going to burst out like a new born alien. You're having an anxiety attack.
So what? Big deal. It's all in your mind.
For anyone that's encountered one, anxiety attacks are terrifying. You genuinely believe you'll never be able to breathe again, that your mind has convinced your body that your time has come, that it's just not capable of continuing. Everything malfunctions. The room starts spinning and you get tunnel vision, the world getting darker and darker as you slip into a blackout.
And of course, it always happens at the worst time. I once had a three hour panic attack at work, midday, in front of everyone. Not knowing what to do, I found an empty office and curled up into a ball under a desk, trying my very best to slip out of anyones eyesight.
The NHS suggests that you breathe into a bag, that you count to ten in your head, taking deep breaths from your belly inbetween counts, that you learn to relax and accept what's happening to you. I'm afraid to say, none of these 'solutions' have ever helped me, and so in time I've learnt my own ways to deal with anxiety attacks. Hopefully my offerings might help you figure out your own way of dealing with them.
1) Jigsaw puzzles. This isn't the most practical, nor is it one to do when you're in the full swing of an anxiety attack. But if you become attuned to when your body is starting to slip into one, I find it helps to focus your concentration on an easy but focused task like a jigsaw puzzle to stop your mind slipping into the dangerzone. Find what works for you - Sudoku, a crossword, solitaire. I went through a phase at uni of getting through scores of puzzles, but it genuinely helps slowly filter out the negative thoughts.
2) Meditate. Again, this isn't one for a full swing first time anxiety attack. This is one you need to do some pre-work for, because you can't just decide to meditate for the first time during a tsunami style anxiety attack, you need to learn to calm your mind over time, build up your skill, so that when you do get smacked in the face with a wind of panic, you know how to distill it. Meditation helps you calm the rushing thoughts, empty your mind of negativity, and focus on your breathing. It's hard to do at first, but with time you'll be the ultimate anxiety warrior.
3) Sleep. Sleep cures everything. Unfortunately, it is quite hard to sleep when you're having a panic attack, what with the restlessness and insomnia that usually accompanies it, however, if you train yourself like I have (I am the master of sleep), you can normally nurse yourself into a semi-coma, and when you wake it's as if nothing ever happened. Not a great one to do in the office though, but I never promised these tips would be practical!
4) Sing. I mean, you don't have to sing, that's just what I do, but do something you enjoy. I find that, for me, singing calms me down, focuses my attention on something other than my thoughts, helps control my breathing, and releases happy happy endorphins. Of course, I do end up looking like a bit of a nut, just randomly singing songs to myself, but it makes me feel a million times better so it's definitely worth it. Find your happy place.
5) Laugh. Laughter is the best therapy for any kind of woe. In the 90s classic Ally McBeal, they talk about 'smile therapy' - smiling to yourself when anything goes wrong to try to engage with a positive feeling. This is kind of the same. Quite often when I'm crying, I try to laugh to myself - at first it's stilted, forced and not at all fun. But laughter is infectious, and slowly what started as a heartless laugh, turns into a ridiculous chuckle. You won't be able to help but laugh at yourself for how silly you sound, and soon the panic attack will be a long forgotten dream. I know it sounds obvious, but in the words of Bobby McFerrin, don't worry be happy.