Have you ever felt your heart pumping so hard that it seems it could burst out of your chest at any second? What about incontrollable Parkinson’s like tremors or the sensation of not getting sufficient oxygen? I did, and the course was served with a side of impending doom, flushing and nausea. These constitute the “joys” of panic attacks and, the worst part is that if you’re prone to anxiety, then you’re very likely to experience them a lot during the transition from the rehab to the real life. A few days after I arrived home, this little seemingly inescapable part of sobriety was already beginning to ruin my life.
What I gathered about panic attacks from various sources
With the whole internet at my disposal, I decided to do a bit of research on why these panic episodes occur. To my disappointment, I found very little information linking former addiction and anxiety attack; most of the resources pointed out to conditions like cardiac conditions, hypothyroidism, diabetes or Wilson’s disease as well as unresolved emotional traumas and excessive stress, which at that point looked like a dead end.
But in fact…
Unable to cope with the panic attacks on my own, I decided to seek the advice of a known therapist in my area. Her experience in aiding recovering alcoholics recommended her as a good place to start. Considering I’m not a fan of the religious approach, the cognitive behavioral therapy – which is her field of expertise – constituted a better alternative for me.
From her I learned that panic attacks are often the result of the withdrawal symptoms, irrespective of whether we’re talking about alcohol or the antidepressants I was trying to ease out of. At the same time, a daily high caffeine intake also tends to trigger frequent panic attacks. On a side note, at this point I was drinking a ton of coffee in order to have the energy my new projects required.
Another aspect my therapist pointed out is that the early sobriety is a particularly stressful time for a former addict, who needs to put in a lot of effort only to adjust and cope with the day to day life without the crutches formerly provided by alcohol. As of such, the numerous endeavors I had programmed every day and the associated stress and exhaustion were also probably among the main triggers of the panic attacks.
My newfound coping methods
As I previously mentioned, I decided to opt for the cognitive behavioral approach, which mainly involves analyzing the actions, emotions, thought patterns that tend to trigger panic attacks and alter them accordingly. For example, if your normal reaction to a frequently encountered situation conjures up a lot of anxiety, then try to do the exact opposite. To put it simply, my job was to change the normal response to common panic attack triggers, therefore diffusing them before the anxiety escalates.
This is of course only one of the ways you can cope with panic attacks and it may not work for everyone. Rest assured though, there are several alternatives to cognitive behavioral therapy, including psychodynamic therapy or anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication. Just be careful with the latter, you don’t want to trade in one addiction for another, like I almost did!