In my experience there are two types of panic attack. There is a building panic attack and then there is a bomb panic attack.
A building panic attack comes on slowly and is fuelled by irrational thoughts or even in some cases rational thoughts that are worrisome, but the primary thing here is that you have a window of time in which you can ‘catch’ the attack before it gets you.
A bomb panic attack comes on suddenly and without warning and is often reactionary to something in your environment. You don’t have time to stop it you can only manage it and try to make is shorter and less explosive.
My approach to each of these is obviously different. When I have a panic attack that is building I use argumentative self talk – where I play devils advocate with my own thoughts and challenge their validity. I also use meditation, clearing my mind of all thoughts and focussing on the sound of my breathing – or if I have the capacity I use music to sing along to which blocks my ability to think of anything but the upcoming lyrics. I also slow my breathing down and become conscious of my body language – I sit up straight and try to feel confident in myself rather than slouching and feeling under attack. Then if I really need to I use valium, but this is always a last resort and it is very infrequent for me to do that these days, for a building panic attack. Most of the time these days I can get a building attack under control within 10-15mins and without the use of medication, but there are still some that slip through and if one does I phone a friend (usually my husband) to help me.
A bomb panic attack is very different. It takes the wind out of your sails very quickly and when it happens to me I feel very uncertain and panicky and I feel I am totally out of control. This is a full blown panic that I cannot contain or see a way out of. This type of attack is helped greatly by a third party being present. Someone who understands that you have panic attacks and knows what you need to hear, see and do to come out of it. My husband is my best carer in this scenario and has gotten very well versed in nursing me through a bomb panic attack. Similar actions are taken to the building panic attack but I am guided through them by my carer. If I have a bomb panic attack when I am by myself I would take valium immediately and then phone a friend (usually my husband) to help me. These attacks are more virulent and intense and I haven’t yet walked myself out of one of these independently, I also haven’t had one for quite some time which is lucky for me; this type of panic attack I dread, not that a building attack is much better but at least I have some hope of controlling it myself.
How would you describe your panic attacks – do you see the distinction between the two types or is that just me? Let me know what you think.