How I Handle Panic Attacks as an Introvert

An introvert having a panic attack

A panic attack may not always have a clear cause — but luckily there are many self-soothing tools you can use when they happen.

As an introvert, panic attacks can often happen in uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations, especially if I’m surrounded by people I don’t know well. Social events can be draining for introverts, and when our energy meter starts running low, anxiety might rise. 

It’s important for our mental health to keep track of our social meter, but sometimes we’re obligated to attend certain social gatherings even when we don’t exactly want to — and that can sometimes trigger a panic attack.

I’ve had moments in my life where I felt I had to appear at certain social events, especially for the people closest to me. But, over time, I began to realize that pushing myself to spend time with others — when I’m already overstimulated — isn’t beneficial for anyone. 

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Learning to Minimize Panic Attacks by Setting Boundaries Around Socializing

Ever since the above — when I’d overdo it making appearances at events I had no interest in being at — I’ve learned to set boundaries around those situations. Of course, this doesn’t completely eliminate moments of high anxiety, as they can still happen during family holidays or important friend/work events. But they definitely happen less frequently than they used to.

And, when that threshold is crossed, a panic or anxiety attack could happen. One of the most important, and crucial, steps is to first identify you’re having an anxiety or panic attack. 

What Is a Panic Attack?

As the name implies, you “panic” and are overcome with an intense fear that can trigger various physical reactions. Although it seems like you are in danger, oftentimes, you are not. 

Some signs of a panic attack include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sense of doom
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Faintness
  • Chills

Once you’ve assessed that you’re having a panic attack, there are a variety of tactics you can implement to try and regulate your nervous system. Here are some of my personal favorites that may work for you, too.

5 Ways to Handle Panic Attacks as an Introvert

1. Engage in breathing exercises to refocus on the present moment.

Once I’ve identified I’m having a panic attack, concentrating on my breathing is the first thing I do. True, sometimes it’s not easy to recognize I’m having one. But feeling extreme distress and overwhelming emotions is usually a great indicator. I’ll notice I’m holding my breath, which can often make the pain feel worse or more intense. Taking a moment to simply breathe — slowly — really helps me think and attempt to calm myself.

Although there are many breathing exercises out there, I just take in a long, deep breath, and then let it out. Completely fill your lungs until they expand, and then let it all out. Continue to do this as you work through some of the other steps below, and there will be a significant difference. The worst thing we can do in this situation would be to continue to hold tension (and our breath).

Deep breathing has been shown to alleviate acute stress, and breathing exercises also give our mind something to focus on instead of our panic. It can be a simple goal that brings us back to the present moment and makes us feel accomplished once we do it. 

So give yourself that grace and allow the breaths to bring you some peace. Once you’ve got the breathing down, you can move on to any other tactic below (if you feel the need for more).

2. Cool down the palms of your hands and fan your face.

Shaking out my hands is a form of self-stimulating behavior, but it also helps to cool my palms. One of the most significant signs that I have high anxiety is my palms. They’ll get too hot and sweaty, which then transfers the heat throughout my body and makes me uncomfortable. This can bring the attack to the next level, causing serious distress.

Over time, I’ve learned to immediately cool down my palms (and feet if possible). If I’m feeling panicked in the car, I’ll blast the AC on both my face and the feet, and then I’ll stick my hands and feet directly in front of the vents. This has helped me out of many high-anxiety situations, as the cooling effect really does bring a sense of calm.

Another addition to this step is fanning your face and neck. We don’t realize our body temperature is rising during panic attacks, which can cause it to escalate even more. So try to find a way to cool yourself down. Ask someone for a cool rag, if possible, and place it on your forehead or behind your neck. The coolness really does aid in cooling the nervous system, too.

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3. Remove yourself from triggering situations whenever possible.

Another great step to take — as often as possible — is to just remove yourself from the triggering situation. For me, the most complicated place to do this is often at family events — family members are curious and want to know where I’m going. I suggest saying something vague about needing fresh air (or some time alone), and then escaping the scene as quickly as you can. This can sometimes create an awkward situation, but it’s much better to self-soothe and calm down when alone vs. in a roomful of people!

Obviously, we can’t always leave stressful situations, but finding a moment alone is often possible. In certain situations, I’ve excused myself to the bathroom — or even outside — to collect my thoughts and force that intense, panicked energy elsewhere.

An important thing to remember is that other people don’t know your body the way you do. Don’t let anyone convince you to stay in a situation where you feel anxiety heightening. Public panic attacks are unfortunate experiences, so it’s important to put yourself first and escape the situation as best as possible without making a scene. It’ll also keep you from feeling guilty or shameful later, once the attack has passed.

4. Attempt to ground yourself in reality (even though your panic attack is making you question it).

Grounding yourself in reality is a great way to distract your mind from the panic swirling around in it. For me, reciting positive affirmations have been life-changing. I’ll repeat general truths about the situation I’m in, like: “I am safe and in control.” 

Sometimes, I’ll even say the worst-case scenario out loud — and then remind myself that it’s okay or I’ll be okay. In these heightened moments, it may be difficult to remember that the worst thing probably won’t happen — but saying it aloud gives it less power.

I also like getting out into nature to calm down and recharge — a short walk will help regulate the nervous system. I always remind myself to look at anything green I can find, primarily grass or trees. It’s relaxing to embrace nature and it serves as a reminder that the world keeps on spinning even if we feel like it’s stopped.

Find what comforts you — meditation, yoga, or creating an “introvert zen zone” — and continue to repeat it. It’s important for us to figure out how to self-regulate in these moments of intensity.

5. Give yourself permission to feel without judgment & communicate your needs to others.

Another incredibly important factor in these moments is to accept ourselves without judgment. Sometimes, things make us panic. Sometimes, our nervous system malfunctions. Point being, we can have an anxiety or panic attack from a triggering situation — like being overwhelmed — or without any real reason. 

And if your panic attack happens in front of others — you couldn’t flee the office or get-together and people saw it — try to forgive yourself. It happens. Our bodies are screaming at us to fix something, even if it isn’t something that can be fixed right away. So work to honor yourself, and your body, in these moments.

I’ve found that I give myself more patience — and can set boundaries more easily — when I’m more accepting of my limitations. Ensure you’re communicating your needs to the best of your ability with others, too (I know it’s tough!). And if you need to ask for help, do so. (Again, I know it’s tough, but it’s sometimes necessary — the person can remind us that the panic is fleeting and we are A-okay.)

Also, remember to work on accepting your moments of panic so you can work through them. They’re not something to “get over,” but they are something to “get through.” Overall, we are not our worst moments, and there’s always room to learn and forgive.

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