the steps I take to overcome panic attacks in social settings

Panic attacks: traumatizing.

Panic attacks in front of others: the bane of my existence.

I spent the better part my early 20s doing anything and everything to avoid having a panic attack – to avoid my fire-truck-red face, the obvious hives crawling up my chest and neck, the super-sweaty palms, and the shortness of breath. It is all-consuming. It is exhausting.

Therapy, a healthy lifestyle and a solid support system all help, but you can throw most of that out the window once panic sets in. To all my fellow panic-attack survivors, ya feel me?

When I felt a panic attack building up, I used to try doodling on the nearest piece of paper I could find, drinking water every few seconds, writing positive affirmations down, breathing techniques … Literally, I would try anything I could to distract myself from actually having a panic attack; specifically, I’d try to avoid having them in a social setting. I didn’t ever want to put myself or others in that uncomfortable situation.

Unfortunately, the tactics I used when trying to avoid an attack never really worked for me. Eventually, I realized that I just had to let them happen sometimes.

So, through some lengthy trial-and-error (this included carrying lavender essential oil with me … yes, really) and implementing tips from my therapist, I have learned how to get through and overcome the traumatizing event of a panic attack.

  1. Expressing myself: For me, this means literally getting one word out of my mouth. Talking gets me out of my head and into a conversation. The second I begin to express what I’m feeling is the second I start to pull myself out of the attack and come back to reality. Words save me.
  2. Owning it: I used to be embarrassed to own my issues, but that changed one day in college … I’ll never forget a guest speaker in one of my classes started off her presentation with, “Hi. I have extreme stomach issues and can get a bout of diarrhea at any given moment. If I run out of the lecture hall, I promise I’m OK and will be back shortly. Alright … now onto the lesson!” Yes, I’m 100 percent serious that this actually happened. We all giggled a little bit, but honestly, the rest of her presentation was SO. GOOD. I’m convinced that owning her irregular bodily functions helped her to relax and get through her lecture successfully. I took note from her, and now if I ever feel a panic attack coming on (or God forbid I have one) in front of others, I simply tell someone. “Hey, I’m feeling some anxiety coming on. Bear with me for a few minutes.” I’ve never (not once!) had anyone be anything but supportive once I’ve said those words. It always helps.
  3. Finding comfort: Pretty sure panic attacks are the most uncomfortable thing ever. You’re basically having an out-of-body experience that you’ll do anything to stop. I’m pretty sure that’s why anxiety-ridden people tend to stick to their comfort zones (or at least why I do) – to avoid those inevitably uncomfortable moments. When I’m nervous about an upcoming event or a certain situation, I bring some form of comfort with me. Usually, that’s having a bottle of water to sip on if I feel short of breath or bringing a notepad and pen just in case I need to keep my mind busy.
  4. Remind myself that I’ll be OK: Once you suffer a panic attack and learn what the heck it is, you at least know not to think the worst. Even during a panic attack, I remind myself that I will be OK. I just have to get through the next few moments and everything will be OK.

Living life with anxiety and panic disorder is always two steps forward, one step back. I usually label a panic attack as that “one step back,” knowing that I learn and grow from each of them. A setback does not erase all the progress I’ve made in my mental health journey.

While I haven’t discovered a way to ensure I’ll never have an attack again, I have learned how to deal with them and how to not allow them to feel bigger than me.

Do you suffer from anxiety and/or panic attacks? How do you work through them? I’d love to learn from you!



Please note that I am not a mental health professional. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition.

2 thoughts on “the steps I take to overcome panic attacks in social settings

  1. Lisa! I love that you are blogging about this! I have not personally dealt with this level of anxiety, but think it’s amazing that you are being so open and honest as well as giving applicable advice! We all struggle with something and owning our weaknesses and humanness is somehow quite empowering! Thanks for the encouraging words you’re speaking:)


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