As a mental health provider who personally experiences panic attacks and works with clients who do as well, I want to share with you some of the aftercare strategies I encourage my clients to use (and some I use myself!).
Aftercare is a term we see most commonly used in things like surgical recovery, addiction treatment, tattoo/piercing care, and the BDSM community, but I like to use it in relationship to anxiety and panic as well. I’ll explain why...
When you have a panic attack, your body is thrust into flight or fight mode and releases a flood of adrenaline and cortisol into your blood stream to help you fight off the perceived threat. Often, after the panic has passed (either with the help of coping strategies or just with time), you feel absolutely drained. This feeling is sometimes called an adrenaline hangover because it can feel like just that - a hangover. This feeling is your body’s signal to rest and recharge. You've been through something huge even though it might not look like it from an outsider's viewpoint!
This is your body and brain telling you that it can’t handle more stress at the moment because its stores of neurotransmitters are depleted and it's time to be gentle with yourself.
Some things to try next time you’re caring for yourself after a panic attack:
Give yourself grace. Show yourself as much compassion as you would a good friend who had just had a panic attack. Don't judge yourself for experiencing a panic attack. Anyone can have panic attacks.
Slow down. Take some time to recover and set low expectations for yourself over the next day or two. If you push yourself too hard, you put yourself at risk of burnout or exhaustion that can increase your likelihood of having another panic attack sooner than you might otherwise.
Crawl into bed. Make a little cozy nest that feels comfortable and safe. Feeling safe in your physical environment is a great cue to let your nervous system know that the perceived threat is over and it doesn't need to be in fight or flight anymore.
Sleep if you feel like it.
Eat comforting but nutritional foods. Food is the building block of neurotransmitters and will help to replenish your depleted stores more quickly.
Remember that you don’t have to do it alone! Ask for what you need from loved ones or see if your therapist has room in their schedule to move up your next appointment.
If you're struggling with anxiety or panic attacks and don't already have a fantastic therapist in your life, please reach out. I know what it's like to live with these conditions and I would love to be able to help you learn to manage yours.