Panic/Anxiety attacks, coping, and DID

September 5, 2010

Panic attack (Taken from Anxiety Disorders Association of America:

“A panic attack is defined as the abrupt onset of intense fear that reaches a peak within a few minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:

  • a feeling of imminent danger or doom
  • the need to escape
  • heart palpitations
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • shortness of breath or a smothering feeling
  • a feeling of choking
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal discomfort
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • a sense of things being unreal, depersonalization
  • a fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • a fear of dying
  • tingling sensation
  • chills or heat flush

Since many of the symptoms of panic disorder mimic those of illnesses such as heart disease, thyroid problems, and breathing disorders, people with panic disorder often make many visits to emergency rooms or doctors’ offices, convinced they have a life-threatening illness. It often takes months or years and a great deal of frustration before receiving the correct diagnosis.” – Hell yeah!

I know that many of us have experienced this, or parts of us have. What I don’t always understand is why, or what is triggering it. The more I think about it, the worse the symptoms become. If I’m alone it can be excruciating trying to decide whether or not I should call the EMT’s. If someone I trust is around they usually know how to help me understand what’s happening and how to bring me back down. That would be only one person and doctors that I’d trust.

It’s embarrassing for me when it happens in public and I have to leave, or I’m near some doctor’s office and I run in there. I feel like I can’t ever return to that store or office. It’s not quite as embarrassing when it happens in front of my family, but I am ashamed when it’s over.

What can help to manage these attacks? Well, many of the same techniques many of us use when we are triggered might help.  Again from

“When you’re feeling anxious or stressed, these strategies will help you cope:

  • Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.
  • Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
  • Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
  • Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. Check out the fitness tips below.
  • Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly.
  • Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.
  • Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible, be proud of however close you get.
  • Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?
  • Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.
  • Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.
  • Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
  • Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.

Fitness Tips: Stay Healthy, Manage Stress

For the biggest benefits of exercise, try to include at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g. brisk walking) each week, 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity (such as jogging or swimming laps), or a combination of the two.

  • 5 X 30: Jog, walk, bike, or dance three to five times a week for 30 minutes.
  • Set small daily goals and aim for daily consistency rather than perfect workouts. It’s better to walk every day for 15-20 minutes than to wait until the weekend for a three-hour fitness marathon. Lots of scientific data suggests that frequency is most important.
  • Find forms of exercise that are fun or enjoyable. Extroverted people often like classes and group activities. People who are more introverted often prefer solo pursuits.
  • Distract yourself with an iPod or other portable media player to download audiobooks, podcasts, or music. Many people find it’s more fun to exercise while listening to something they enjoy.
  • Recruit an “exercise buddy.” It’s often easier to stick to your exercise routine when you have to stay committed to a friend, partner, or colleague.
  • Be patient when you start a new exercise program. Most sedentary people require about four to eight weeks to feel coordinated and sufficiently in shape so that exercise feels easier.”

I look at that list and see that I just might be able to do 10-20% of the ideas on that list. First of all, I am not often aware that I’m having a panic or anxiety attack. I cannot imagine being in the middle of one and suddenly thinking, “Golly. Why can’t I simply accept that I cannot control everything?”, and then finding some relief. That sounds ludicrous. Exercise buddy? Fuck you. I’m lucky if I can get to the mailbox, or make it through the grocery store in one piece, much less try to find someone I trust to exercise with. I don’t want to find anyone anyhow.

I wonder if these techniques ever really help anyone. Many of you have repeatedly written that we need to find what works for us, and that it may take some time. Is that specific to those of us with DID (or my previous diagnosis of schitzotypal personality disorder)? We have to weed through well-proven ways of coping to not-quite-as-well-known ways to help an entire System.

At this point in my life I cope (or at least try to) with frequent panic attacks by utilizing the following:

*ice cream

*Star Trek

*very funny and intelligent movies or t.v. shows

*cleaning gross things like toilets, frog tanks, dog poop, and litter boxes

*brushing my hair really hard


*singing classic New Wave songs really loud

*attacking unsuspecting, fluffy, cute kitties

None of those coping techniques are on any list I’ve seen yet. Right now that often works for me. Oh yeah, and sometimes a Xanax.

I hate writing a post like yesterday’s because I know it’s not going to last even if I really, really do not think about it. Yes, I know someone inside is thinking that, too, and they may have something to do with sabotaging those “feel good” times.

Well, I have finished my mint chocolate chip ice cream, written this out, and feel better for it. Thanks for reading.


9 Responses to “Panic/Anxiety attacks, coping, and DID”

  1. Bee Says:

    So much good information and I’m sure most of us has heard this before in some form or another but I am really glad you posted it all in one place so I can refer back to it.

    What helps me and my system is running, walking, or biking at least 3 to 5 times a week. It is an amazing grounding technique that never fails to work for us. Now, trying to find the time and sometimes the motivation is really hard. Especially now that most of my time is dedicated to student teaching. But I always try to at least walk or do a quick run for about 10 – 15 minutes. It always helps me to relax and ground myself. I also find that stretching every night has very similar results.

    I hope you find comfort in something that will really work for you. I know it is hard and can be a very long process, but I truly believe it is worth it.

    Thanks for sharing,

  2. castorgirl Says:

    Do you get extra points if you get more than 10 symptoms of a panic attack at once? Sort of like a mega-combo?

    What I’ve found really bad with the trips to the doctors about the panic attacks, is that they sometimes become quite disdainful when it’s found “only” to be a panic attack. I observed this when my ex used to go up to the hospital when he first started having them… and also in the attitude of my mother (she’s a nurse). It was like they want “Oh, it’s only a panic attack”. They rarely suggested ways to assist in coping with them… not even therapy which he really needed. This could also me picking up on his (or my) shame about the attacks, similar to what you talk about… dunno.

    I hate panic attacks in public… it’s even worse when they happen when I’m in the middle of teaching! There’s no escape and the whole class is staring at you. I can tell I begin to talk louder and faster… just awful.

    Wow… ok, I don’t do any of the coping mechanisms in a healthy way. My biggie is controlling and being aware of my breathing. I use some of the ideas on your list too – especially the funny and intelligent shows – in my case I also cruise the Internet for such gems.

    Coping mechanisms and grounding techniques are things that you learn and adapt over time. Some things that worked for me 2 years ago no longer work, while things that didn’t work then, now do. It’s odd, but I just keep on trying things and see what happens.

    You’re doing good stuff Lisa… you’re looking and learning.

    Take care,

    • roseroars Says:

      Yes, you get extra points.

      My husband suggested I post those strategies around the house, then he read over them and said, “How the hell are you supposed to remember all that crap when you’re in the middle of it?”.

      I had a question for you: Have you ever asked your System to consider an idea and then they actually do? They tell you how they feel about what you asked? Unless I’m going insane for real, this happened earlier today. Just wondering….

      Thank you.

      • castorgirl Says:

        Excellent… I like getting mega-combos in life 🙂

        Yes, I had experiences where I’ve asked internally what everyone thinks of an idea and after some time got a reasoned response. Sometimes I ask and it’s a swirling mass of voices in return. It can depend on the question/issue and how big it is.

        It’s brilliant when it happens…

        Take care,

  3. I'm DID & so am I Says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever had a full blown anxiety attack. I do know the feeling of thinking I’m going to die. I too, don’t know what brings it on. Thanks for all the great information.


    • roseroars Says:

      Thanks, Jo. I hope some of it may help someday if you ever have a panic attack, though I hope you never have to worry about that.

  4. meredith Says:

    You wrote: I hate writing a post like yesterday’s because I know it’s not going to last even if I really, really do not think about it.

    Okay… so what, Lisa? Here’s the deal–you are not the only person on the planet with a panic disorder. Normal people are really just as fucked up as we are. Think about that sometime, when you’re in Target. Do it on a good day. Go in the store and look at five people, and let yourself know that one of them has a panic disorder… or anxiety. Then look at five more people and do the same thing, again. And do it for as long as it feels important for you to really get that it’s completely okay for you to freak out, at times, because you’re one of those twenty people that the world needs to get a complete picture of your particular cosmos. I mean… anxiety sucks, panic attacks suck… but one nice thing to be able to ground yourself with is that there are a helluva lot of people in the same boat… all around you…. at the same time. And maybe someday you’ll be somewhere having a top notch day, and someone near you will have a panic attack… and you’ll be there… and you’ll see it… and know it… and maybe, on that day… you’ll be the one to reach across that invisible line to grab on and say. “Hi, I’m Lisa…” and you’ll be the one who can take that other person’s arm and return the favor to the Universe… because you know what it’s like.

    Sometimes, it’s okay to feel the panic, Lisa. Really. Lots of people get it. Everywhere, all the time, in every country in the world… people get the face of need, and you will always, always have just the right person reach for you, whether you know them or not… because you are the kind of person who would do the same for others. You are that sensitive, that loving, and that kind.

    So if you’re the one needing to reach, for now… let it be. It’s cool. Cry. Lose it. Loving arms are there to embrace you. And it’s okay to fall. Really. Because you’ll learn how to get up. You will. But you won’t learn how to get up if you don’t let yourself fall. Shitty as that sounds… it’s true. And everyone falls. EVERYONE. So… maybe it’s your time to feel the compassion that’s everywhere, just for you, when you most need it.

    Someday, you will have flashes of compassion so rich, so deep, and so informed by this time in your life that you will radiate and not feel broken.

    I promise. I promise with all my heart that this is true.

    It’s gonna be okay. So… remember to breathe. 🙂


    • roseroars Says:

      Thanks! I like thinking about that way. My therapist and husband are working with me and the steady stream of panic attacks. It’s been one week and every day a panic attack at some point during the day or night. They just come out of nowhere. I’m trying to keep an internal dialogue and learn if someone inside is being triggered.

      We are going to be at Target today, so I will look at people and count “One, two, three, four, and FIVE! By gum, it’s you!”, and then just walk away. Maybe not, well, at least not out loud. I will remember to look at it that way, though.

      It happened again last Friday at my pre-op appointment. At least some of these are happening in the right places…and I got orange juice and cookies to boot…

      Thank you for that response. It’s a lot for me to think about. You have been especially compassionate lately with everyone. You are such a gift to us, Meredith.

  5. There is lots of great info in this – thanks so much for posting. I’m trying to find different ways of coping with overwhelming anxiety…and the panic attcks are just so exhausting.

    I’m trying very hard to hold my life togehter through this. Thanks for the help along the way.


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