Make Your Own Panic Attack Pack: Anxiety Coping Skills on the Go
By: Amber Loveshe
In my work with individuals impacted by anxiety and other mental health concerns, I often hear stories in which intense fear, shaky breathing, hot flashes, and overall destabilizing symptoms begin to overwhelm them and seem to come out of nowhere.
Commonly referred to as a panic attack, these episodes often leave an individual feeling helpless in the face of these intense symptoms, especially if the person experiencing the panic attack is in a setting in which they cannot find immediate relief, such as experiencing an attack while in the car, in a public setting, etc.
When I hear about these experiences, I often suggest having the individual create their own ‘Panic Attack Pack’ as a coping tool to help stabilize the individual when they are met with intense panic. Often, when experiencing a panic attack, trying to make sense of what is happening through thoughts or conversation is fruitless until the individual has time to come down from the episode. This is because, during moments of intense anxiety, brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that helps with logical thinking, is reduced, while the emotional area of the brain, located in the limbic system, becomes overly active.
In order to bring our minds back to a state of equilibrium, the normal balance between the logical brain and the emotional brain must be achieved. One way in which an individual can move towards this balance is by utilizing grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can prove to be helpful for some individuals because these skills engage the senses, drawing the brain’s attention to the immediate physical sensations of an individual’s surroundings and taking attention away from the anxiety symptoms.
With all of this considered, a ‘Panic Attack Pack’ is a bag containing a collection of items that engage the senses so that when an individual is hit with intense panic, they can quickly grab items from this bag to stabilize themselves faster than they could without these tools available. Additionally, because all of these items are ideally being stored in a small bag or pouch, this pack can be taken with you on the go and can be privately stored in a backpack, purse, car, etc.
Below are some recommendations for the items you will need to create your own ‘Panic Attack Pack’, including some notes on why these items might be helpful.
- Item 1: The bag or pouch to hold your items
- The size of the bag you choose to hold your ‘Panic Attack Pack’ will depend on the number of items you plan to include in the pack. Makeup bags, pencil cases, and other smaller zippered bags might be appropriate for this.
- Item 2: Calming or favorite scents
- This item could come in the form of a travel spray or an essential oil. Some individuals may prefer to select aromatherapy scents such as eucalyptus, chamomile, or lavender, to name a few.
- Item 3: Strongly flavored candy
- Think about the first taste of a sour candy. The sour flavor often grabs your attention from the first piece. Similarly, utilizing sour candy, ginger candy, or a particularly salty snack can engage the senses to help bring an individual back into the present moment.
- Item 4: Travel cold packs
- The utilization of cold water or cold items often helps to calm the body down during stressful moments. Packing some disposable packs that become cold upon opening could be another helpful way to relax in the face of intense emotions.
- Item 5: Earplugs or headphones
- Sometimes, especially if experiencing a panic attack in a public space, the sounds of our surroundings can overwhelm us and contribute to the many factors that make focusing on the present extremely difficult during these moments. By keeping a set of earplugs or headphones in your pack, you can easily and quickly drown out the noise around you to lessen distraction. You may also wish to put headphones in and play some calming music or sounds, such as rain sounds.
- Item 6: Tools to slow down your breath
- One of the hallmark features of most panic attacks is a disruption in the normal breathing patterns. Some tools you could include in your ‘Panic Attack Pack’ that might help with stabilizing your breath would be a bubble wand or a 3-inch or smaller straw. Both of these items, when used with your breathing, help to slow down your inhaling and exhaling, which will calm the body and bring your breath back to its normal pace.
- Item 7: Items with different textures
- Some grounding techniques that clients find helpful include simply stroking familiar fabrics in your surroundings during moments of intense emotions. To mimic this in your panic attack pack, I recommend finding 2 small objects that contain different textures. Examples could be: a crystal, sandpaper, a fidget toy/object, a stress ball, etc. If you have a specific item that brings you comfort because of how it feels, I’d highly recommend including that in your bag if possible.
The above items are just some suggestions for your ‘Panic Attack Pack’. Be creative with the items you select to make sure they are catered to your unique needs and preferences. Remember that these items are meant to be used to maintain a sense of calm, so I would highly encourage you to pick scents, sounds, tastes, etc. that you know typically bring you a sense of comfort. I hope this coping tool kit can be helpful for the next time you or someone you care about is impacted by intense anxiety.