I was sitting on the bus with my family watching the world go by when everything would suddenly get too much. Loud noises became deafening. Bright lights became blinding. All my senses amplified. My stomach would turn. I’d go numb, dizzy. My teeth would tingle. I’d lie down and cradle myself until the horrors went away and they sometimes only did when I got off the bus and got deep breaths, ten a hundred, whatever it took. Legs like rubber, my parents half sorry for me half frustrated they couldn’t help. ‘Travel sickness’ we called it, but it wasn’t. Looking back, it was panic attacks. I was 8 years old.

Later I would recognise the signs before they’d hit me. I’d feel like I was on the edge of a very steep slide. That see-saw feeling in my stomach, that spinning feeling in my head. The awful dread, and then boom, it would HIT me.

When I was in school I put it down to bullying (I had a tough time in school.) I felt like the world was squeezing and crushing me. People would turn and look at me and I felt an inch tall. They’d tower over me. I’d shrink to nothing. Everything would swallow me up. I felt ashamed, cowardly, put it down to weakness. It wasn’t. It was strength. I was white knuckling my way through a long-term rollercoaster, with no safety harness, and no brakes.

Life got tougher. A custody battle ensued for nearly a decade. Throughout that I became a lot more self-aware and developed self-compassion. I recognised that I had single handedly navigated my way through panic attacks where others might crumble completely. Anxiety was a constant, because I had allowed it to be. I had accepted it in quiet embarrassment, instead of truly acknowledging it, addressing it, and ridding myself of it.

So now you know what a panic attack feels like – how do you avoid it?

Well like I said – you learn to read the signs. The calm before the storm. That see-saw feeling. Dread, growing in your stomach.

I was thinking about writing this article today. I was saying to myself: there has to be a simple way to describe how to ride it out. And there it was: imagine you’re driving, and suddenly the wheels screech. You know what’s coming next, long before the car spins. What do you do?

Hit the brakes, hard, and risk turning over?

Take your hands off the wheel, and close your eyes?

Turn the wheel in the opposite direction, battle with the engine, with the road, with gravity?

Or spin with it, turn the wheel into the spin?

Hitting the brakes I’d equate to a sudden bout of drink, drugs, or some other brutal kick to the senses. No good.

Ignoring what’s happening is self-explanatory: you’re going to wind up in a very painful situation if you do that.

Turn the wheel in the opposite direction – well you can’t truly fight panics. That’s like trying to put out a roaring fire with lighter fluid. All that negative energy, met with panicked energy, just blows up inside of you until you burn out.

So, I learned to go with the panic.

Stand side by side with the flow of worry. See where it comes from. Explore the root of your anxiety. Don’t ignore it any longer. Dive into it. Shine a light on it. Get help to do this. Self-awareness as to what your triggers are, are key.

How do your panic attacks begin? Do you have a trigger? Is it from taking that first step into a crowded room? Are you afraid their chitchats will die and all heads will turn, all eyes on you? If so – remember that won’t happen. You are one in 7 billion. If a few turn, push yourself to do the opposite of what you feel like doing – smile.

You are a human being with feelings. Express the positives inside of you. You are one of them, they’re one of you, we’re all here together.

Is it that test looming round the corner? Do you want to pass? How have you gotten here so far? What are the many many things you have achieved to get this far? Is this your second-last or last step? Keep going – you are awesome. Acknowledge how far you have come.

When I get panic attacks, or I feel them coming, I can quite often realise what’s caused them: poor diet, poor sleep, poor exercise. Bad thoughts, bad events, bad relationships.

I honestly believe the panic sets in when some part of our brain realises something has been brewing below the surface for a very long time, and is only now beginning to swell into the consciousness.

Like a well-worn tyre about to burst, the mind/body/soul can only handle so much abuse until it starts to rip and that’s when you feel it. Or at least – that’s when feel it.

It’s important that we keep close to us good friends and family, and remind ourselves of just how strong we are, and our own value, and our experience. We then have the confidence to say: Okay, I can keep a good grip of this wheel, I can turn with this, I can bring it back under my control.

Life has ups and downs. But if we maintain control through self-awareness, by cultivating confidence and self-knowledge, we can avoid most (not all – but most!) of the speedbumps.

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