One of the main reasons that I started this blog was due to my anxiety and panic attacks. They would come on without warning, and absolutely anything could trigger one – once even a kids film, because it mentioned my trigger! To help (along with therapy), I put together a panic attack toolkit to help distract me when I feel a panic attack coming on.
What Is A Panic Attack Toolkit?
A Panic Attack Toolkit is what you use to help distract or ease you through a panic attack. You can include absolutely anything you want in it. There are no rules! As long as the items bring comfort and distract you from the panic attack, anything goes.
I am no expert but throughout my anxiety and panic attack journey – along with therapy – I have learned a few hints and tips on how to distract myself from a panic attack. So I thought that I would put together a little guide explaining how you can put together your own panic attack toolkit.
I generally find that my panic attacks come on when I am at home – I’m distracted when I’m out and about. So some of these steps will only work when you are at home. However, I know that everyone is different, so there are options for when you are out and about that should also help.
I hope you find this helpful!
Happy Memories Box
I have a happy memories box, and in this, I keep a selection of things that I can look through when I start feeling a panic attack coming on. The sort of things that I have in this box are;
These can be photos of anything that makes you smile. I have photos of Daz and me, Little J, me and my nan, pictures of me and friends from years ago from nights out on the town, wedding photos, Chris Hemsworth 😍 Pick ones that mean something to you and spark good memories.
Letters And Notes
I have love notes that Daz has written to me over the years. You could include love letters, letters from penpals, notes that you kept from school, and even letters you wrote to yourself. You could ask friends and family to write you letters or notes and save them for when you have a panic attack. Don’t forget to add some good inspirational quotes too.
Sometimes, you have happy memories or have times that have made you laugh but don’t have photos. For these memories, I have simply written them down on a piece of paper to read through when I’m feeling anxious. They can be really silly things, but as long as they make you laugh or smile, that’s the main thing. Here are some of my examples:
- Having a laughing fit one Christmas Eve when me and Daz were trying to nap in a single bed together (still living at my mums at this point)
- Bashing our wedding canvas against our freshly painted wall, seconds after Daz said to be careful
- My little sister falling out of the top bunk bed when we were younger – still makes me laugh now! (She was fine by the way!)
These could be:
- The ticket for the first-ever gig you went to
- A cinema ticket
- A shell from the beach
- Your favourite teddy
- Blanket and pillow
I have bottle corks. Whenever I’ve had an event with friends or family and a bottle of bubbly has been opened (always!) I usually try to make sure that we write the date, event and people present on the cork, and I keep them all in a box so I can look through them when I want to remember the good times.
Fragrance And Smells
Do you ever smell your favourite perfume or aftershave, and it instantly takes you back or reminds you of someone? Well, this can be great for including in your happy memories box. Just pop a spray or two on a piece of tissue or cotton wool, and every time you open the box, you’ll be greeted with the smell. And it can be any kind of smell that you want. For example, my mum uses tumble dryer sheets, and whenever I smell them, it reminds me of her. Alternatively, you could also keep a couple of your favourite wax melts in your box.
List Of Distractions
Sometimes when you’re in the moment and about to have a panic attack, you can forget the things you need to do to help you, so it’s worth having a list. For example, these things could be;
- Read a book
- Listen to music and dance
- Put your favourite film on
- Go for a walk
- Call your mum/dad/sibling/friend/spouse
- Have a bath
- Play your favourite game
- Do some colouring
If possible, try and put some of those items in your Panic Attack Toolkit so that you have them to hand when you need them, such as the book or film.
The 5 4 3 2 1 Distraction
This one is one of my favourites. This works well for when you are out and about or somewhere where you don’t have access to your happy memories box. For me, I find that I start getting panic attacks in the shower of all places. So when I start feeling the effects of the panic attack coming on, I use this technique:
⇨ First, I look for five different colours around me.
⇨ Then I find four different things I can feel. For example, when I’m in the shower, I would feel the water on my skin, the cool breeze from the open window, the soap suds on my skin, then I run out of things 🤣🤣
⇨ Third I look for three things that I can hear. For me right now, that would be the noise of the oven, the birds chirping, and Baby J playing with a set of keys (that he shouldn’t have!)
⇨ Fourth, look for two things that you can smell.
⇨ Lastly, something that you can taste.
Don’t worry if you can’t find all the things each time; it’s challenging to do! I sometimes go through the 5 4 3 2 1 method a few times and try and find different things each time. I find that doing this really grounds me and helps distract me from what I was feeling at the time and stops the panic attack.
Breathing techniques are perfect as you can do these anywhere, and you can start them straight away:
Alternate Nostril Breathing
To do this, you need to cover one nostril and breathe in. Hold the breath, then swap and cover the other nostril and breathe out. Take a breath in, hold and change back to the other nostril. It sounds a bit confusing, so if that doesn’t make any sense, I’d recommend watching the YouTube video on this by Yoga with Adriene.
This one is exactly what it says on the tin. Take a deep breath in through your nose and let it out through your mouth whilst counting to 5. The NHS has a page dedicated to breathing exercises for stress that you can check out.
Other times when I feel a panic attack coming on, I try and recite the alphabet backwards. This definitely helps distract me, but only because I get annoyed when I can’t do it!! For some, this will be pretty simple, but I really struggle.
There are many other things that you can also do to help with panic attacks. These are the more obvious things like;
- Looking after your mental health
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and smoking
- Eating well
- Practising meditation (I like the Breathe app)
- Sleeping well (not going to bed at 1am!)
I hope that you have found this guide on Putting Together Your Panic Attack Toolkit helpful. These are all things I do that I have found helpful, but this is just a guide, so include whenever works for you.
Remember, if you are struggling or having a panic attack, please do not suffer in silence. Please reach out to a friend or family member. I have also included some helpful numbers and websites below:
- Samaritans – Call 116 123 for support 24/7
- Shout – Text ‘Shout’ to 85258 for support 24/7
- Calm – Call 0800 58 58 58 or use webchat for support from 5pm to midnight, 365 days a year
- Mind – Call 0300 123 3393 for support from 9am-6pm Monday to Friday.
Before you go, make sure that you check out my other posts on mental health that may be helpful to you:
- 14 Ways To Look After Your Mental Health
- What To Expect From Therapy – My Experience
- How To Support Someone With Depression Or Anxiety
- The Changing Of The Seasons
- Is It Okay Not To Be Okay – COVID edition