ARC Blog

My First Panic Attack to My Last

08.01.21 | by Tyler Ellis | Personal Stories

How I Beat Panic Disorder

The day I had my first panic attack is a day I will always remember vividly. The reason why is simple: It was the absolute, most terrifying day of my life. 

You see, I was only about 16 years old at the time – a freshman or sophomore in high school. My main concerns, up until this point in time, were which girls liked me and who I was going to copy my math homework from. I barely knew what anxiety was, and had never even heard of a panic attack before. Little did I know what a huge role panic attacks and anxiety were about to play in my life. 

Being in the chaotic throes of adolescence, all sorts of hormones were wreaking havoc on my mind and body back then. Being naturally curious, I was quickly becoming more and more aware of my own physiology; new physical sensations were often met with an equal measure of inquisitiveness and hypochondria. One such sensation stood out to me as the most concerning – heart palpitations. 

Looking back with the experience I have now, I know that the heart palpitations I was experiencing were completely harmless. They would occur seemingly randomly – perhaps related to caffeine intake, or perhaps just a normal part of growing into my body. Back then, however, these heart palpitations terrified me; I was convinced that there was something wrong with my heart. 

My Very First Panic Attack

My very first panic attack snuck up on me out of the blue. I wasn’t doing anything strenuous, stressful, or anxiety-provoking – I was standing in my parent’s bedroom, talking to my mother. Suddenly, I felt one of my occasional heart palpitations come on; nothing major, just a sudden awareness of a mildly uncomfortable “flutter.” Yet, somehow, this one had caught me off guard. 

This heart palpitation had startled me enough to get my “fight or flight” response firing on all cylinders. For whatever reason, today my brain decided to tell me, “Something bad is happening to your heart.”

Suddenly, my heart and mind were racing beyond any semblance of control. My breathing soon followed – I felt like a fish out of water, desperately gasping for oxygen yet feeling like somehow there wasn’t enough in the room. My nervous system having betrayed me, I quickly walked out of my parents’ room and into the living room; perhaps I just needed to move around a bit?

Within a few minutes I was lying on the couch, fully convinced that I was going to die. My anxiety had only gotten worse, and at this point I still had no idea what a panic attack even was. I was sure that some essential organ in my body must be shutting down for me to be feeling such agony. I begged my parents to call an ambulance for me, because I was that sure that I was going to need it. 

Eventually, as all panic attacks do, my panic attack came to an end. I was shaky, confused, fatigued, and exhausted. Worst of all, I was still left with more questions than answers about what had just occurred. 

Even More Panic Attacks

After some research, I learned that what I had experienced was, in fact, a panic attack. I even went to have an EKG done to prove that there was, in fact, nothing wrong with my heart at all. This helped a bit, but I still had a long way to go.

Even though I now knew what a panic attack was, I still didn’t know how to beat them – or, better yet, how to prevent panic attacks in the first place! On top of this, my first panic attack was so traumatizing that I had now begun to develop a fear, or phobia, of panic attacks themselves:

What if my next panic attack is even worse than the ones before?
What if I have a panic attack in class and embarrass myself in front of everyone?
Am I going to feel this way forever?

Because of my pervasive fear of panic attacks, I developed what’s called “Panic Disorder.” This anxiety disorder managed to spill over into all aspects of my life, turning activities I once enjoyed into new phobias. 

A random panic attack in a car leads to claustrophobia and a distaste for road-trips.
A panic attack in the classroom leads to social anxiety and a hatred of public speaking.
And so on and so forth. 

I started to avoid any situation or activity that I could link to a panic attack. My comfort zone was quickly shrinking, and anxiety was starting to run my life. I knew I couldn’t continue on like this. 

Fighting Back Against My Anxiety

I’d be lying if I told you that my journey to beating anxiety was a short one, or an easy one. What I can boast, however, is that I managed to completely eliminate my panic attacks on my own, without any need for prescription anti-anxiety medications. While no one is immune to the occasional anxious day, I consider myself to be completely free of panic and in control of my mental well-being. 

Looking back, here are the 4 steps I took and consider to be most crucial to beating panic attacks:

  1. Learn – Fully educate yourself about your anxiety and panic attacks. Understand what anxiety is, how it works, and why you feel it. Equally important is learning specific coping mechanisms that can be used to stop panic attacks in their tracks. 
  2. Prevent – Take advantage of preventative measures to decrease baseline anxiety levels. This is anything that reduces stress and improves mental or physical health. Exercise, yoga, meditation, and healthy dieting are all good options. 
  3. Equip – Utilize every resource at your disposal in this journey. Read books and articles, watch videos, and consider natural anti-anxiety supplements for occasional use when necessary. 
  4. Exposure – When possible, actively take steps outside of your comfort zone to confront your fears and anxieties head-on. Small steps work fine, as long as they are steps forward, rather than steps backward and retreating deeper into your comfort zone. 

Conquering panic attacks was a difficult journey for me, mostly due to the lack of resources I had at my disposal at the time. For this reason, I am extremely passionate about providing panic attack and panic disorder resources to anyone in the same position I was in. Feel free to check out my personal website to learn more about how to beat panic attacks and panic disorder

Whatever you do, just remember one thing: These terrible feelings are temporary. 

You’ve got this!

Tyler Ellis
Don’t Panic, Do This!

Tyler Ellis has a background in psychology and is the owner and author of a website dedicated to helping others beat panic attacks, Don’t Panic, Do This! He knows from firsthand experience how terrible panic disorder can be, and hopes to reach and assist others with panic attacks.
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