I sat in the middle of the New Orleans airport sobbing.
I’ve been here before. Crying in airports is a comfort zone I’ve certainly broken. I sobbed ugly tears when I had to say goodbye forever to my big brother who passed in 2018. I’ve cried tears of joy feeling so full of gratitude for a new place I was visiting.
It wasn’t the public display of emotion that felt uncomfortable this time.
It was the panic attack.
It felt so heavy and my mind was telling me; “This is so embarrassing. Get up. This is RIDICULOUS… There are people staring at me, TSA has now come to stand next to me, I wonder what they’re thinking. Gosh this is so silly.”
Your panic knows no logic.
Your panic pays no mind to what other people think.
Your panic will consume you, if – and only if – you allow it to.
I said out loud to my boyfriend, “I cannot get on this plane.”
For the past 3 years, my boyfriend and I have been traveling the world. We’ve kept our stuff in storage and journeyed off to forgien lands, finding home in many unfamiliar places.
So a few weeks ago when sudden and very severe flying anxiety set on, it felt debilitating. I am a traveler. It had become a part of my identity. What was I supposed to do with this anxiety?!
I struggled to get air through the black face mask that was now soaked with my own tears. My breath was shallow, my body was shaking and my mind was racing with thoughts of this plane… or death trap, as my panic was identifying it as that I was about to board.
I’m reading what I just wrote now thinking; “Wow… was that really me?”
It was, and that’s the thing about panic attacks. When we come back into our body, it feels like a totally different human that was experiencing those moments.
Spoiler alert: I got on the plane, and safely landed.
I could continue to take you through the panic, but if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’ve been here. You know the depths of panic that makes you feel like you cannot move.
You know the feeling of trying to rationalize with your panic.
I know all you want in the midst of the panic is to get rid of it, but telling your panic to just go away is like explaining to a toddler why fruit snacks do not make a well balanced meal.
You don’t need to get rid of the panic, you need one moment of breakthrough.
Here’s how I got to mine…
1. Release the judgement
Judgement detaches you from yourself.
When you judge your panic, it only makes it bigger. I KNOW the panic seems silly, I KNOW it feels illogical, I KNOW that it can be embarrassing to break down in the middle of a public place; but your panic does not know that.
If you are yelling at it to stop, it’s going to keep happening, and it most likely will expand even bigger.
When you are in self-judgement, it is like you come outside of yourself and look in to say; “You are in the wrong.”
Release your judgement by giving yourself compassion. Starting with a simple statement like –
“I know you feel out of control right now and that is okay. I’ve got you. You are safe.”
2. Trade the control
I’m very grateful to travel with my partner the majority of the time who is a Master Practitioner in NLP, Hypnotherapy, and EFT. It’s like having my own personal development toolkit with me.
In the middle of my airport panic attack, he supported me with a powerful hypnosis that allowed me to take control back over my circumstances.
I recognize that not everyone has this incredible tool available at all times, I also realize I can’t walk you through an entire hypnosis in this post.
I do highly recommend exploring hypnosis for panic over specific situations, and I am going to give you the end shift he got me to in this moment.
He said; “I know your panic feels motivating right now, it feels like it’s moving you on purpose, but what else could move you right now?”
This allowed me to shift from panic to excitement (to travel to our next stop – Florida).
It took a few rounds of tapping into that feeling before I really got there. It’s important to remember – your panic won’t instantly shift, this is not Amazon Prime delivery.
I opened my eyes many times during this process, to tell him – “you don’t understand how this feels, it’s too much to shift.” And he patiently continued to have me close my eyes once again until I got there.
Judgement wants to rush to an end result, compassion holds you as you get there.
3. Get back into your body
Panic disconnects you from your body.
Your mind has taken over and the further you spiral into the panic, the further you come away from your body. You can feel this in various ways.
Maybe you can feel your legs spasming uncontrollably or your stomach feels like it’s in knots. Maybe your hands are shaking and you feel like you can’t stay still.
Your body is having a reaction to the stress that your mind is expanding.
You have the safety you are looking for, find a way to get grounded back into your body.
I do this in one of two ways, or by trying both:
- Putting my hands on my heart as I connect to my breathing. I let myself feel like I am being held.
- Shaking my arms and legs around rapidly, a bit like I’m doing the Hokey Pokey.
4. Get present
Okay, bear with me here, because this is both the most simple way to get to your breakthrough moment in panic AND simultaneously the most difficult one to talk yourself into.
Panic is not present.
End of story.
It wants you to think it is very present. It wants you to think that you are living in these terrifying moments right here, right now.
The truth is; you are not.
Panic attacks come when your mind is trying to keep you safe and (the majority of the time) there is no actual danger you are facing in front of you. When there is actual danger facing you, your primal fear response kicks in. Adrenaline pumps up and you find solutions over fear.
Your panic is not present, you are.
What’s actually in front of you? Notice what’s around you, see the colors and the objects, notice the people and your own body. What do you hear and smell?
Connect to each sense and identify 5 things in that sense.
I see – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
I hear – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Do this as many times as you need until you feel like you are back to the present moment.
I know in the moments of panic it feels impossible to break through to peace, but you were made to be resilient and you can rise above your panic.
You are not your panic.