Most people probably don't think of mental illnesses as health issues that require emergency treatment or care, but they truly are. In some cases, especially if you experience severe anxiety or panic attacks — you may need to act quickly. Fortunately, there are things that can calm panic attacks that will fit right in your bag, and are worth lugging around just in case.
If you've ever had a panic attack, I don't need to explain to you how overwhelming and downright scary they can be: Common symptoms include heart palpitations, shaking, sweating, difficulty breathing, dizziness, nausea, and more. In fact, people often times mistake panic attacks for heart attacks, and the symptoms are, in fact, eerily similar.
Mental illnesses — like panic and anxiety disorders — may be invisible, but it is just as important to acutely treat and manage them as it is to treat physical illnesses. You probably keep a first aid kit in your home and in your car (and maybe some items like bandaids and Tylenol in your purse) to deal with any physical accidents or illness, but, you should also have a first aid kit for your mental health. From essential oils to meditation apps, here are nine items, resources, and skills you should have nearby for dealing with panic attacks and anxiety.
1A Water Bottle
If you deal with an anxiety disorder, and subsequent panic attacks, you may be skeptical about the benefits drinking water can have on your mental health. However, a 2012 study from the University of Connecticut showed that even mild dehydration (1.5 percent dehydration, to be exact) does have a negative impact on your mental health and can alter your mood. So, while dehydration alone isn't the cause of anxiety or a panic attack, it can definitely be a trigger. Invest in a BPA-free water bottle that you can always keep on hand to ensure your anxiety is never worsened by dehydration.
Additionally, all mammals having something called the "Mammalian Diving Reflex" — a physiological response that activates reflexes to slow down your breathing, lower your blood pressure, and relax you when you hold your breath, or your faced is exposed to the cold — e.g., with cold water. If you're at home, you can activate your diving reflex by simply dunking your head into a bowl of icy water for thirty seconds — no purchases needed, but if you're out, use your water bottle to splash a little cool water on your face.
2A Phone App To Help You Manage Anxiety
Panic attacks don't care about convenience, and don't just magically stop happening when you're on-the-go. One great tool to keep in your mental health first aid kit are phone apps designed to help you manage anxiety through mindfulness and meditation, or make you feel calmer in the midst of a panic attack. Happy Not Perfect is a recently released option with a slew of breathing exercises and calming visuals that can help you manage your symptoms as they're happening. Of course, apps aren't a replacement for therapy, but they may be useful if you can feel a panic attack coming on suddenly and you need a minute to recenter yourself.
OK, so this one won't exactly fit in your purse, but it is one of the most important components of a psychological first aid kit. Working with a mental health professional can help you learn new ways to cope with your anxiety, identify your triggers, and develop techniques to stop your panic attacks in the moment.
If you feel like you can't manage your anxiety or panic disorder through therapy and self-care alone, consider speaking to your mental health treatment team about trying a medication to relieve your anxiety. An estimated one in six Americans take some kind of psychiatric medication, and there's no shame in needing a little extra support.
Studies have shown that aromatherapy can be an effective way to reduce anxiety levels. In particular, lavender oil has been determined to be helpful when it comes to managing stress, restlessness, and insomnia. Try adding an essential oil rollerball to your first aid kit to help you feel grounded even while on the go.
6A Fidget Toy
Fidget spinners were extremely trendy in 2017, but these toys serve an actual purpose for autistic people, and for those with an array of mental health issues — including people who have an anxiety or panic disorder. Experts have found fidget toys can be a great way to provide stimulation, release tension, and relieve anxiety. Even if you don't like fidget spinners, there are other inexpensive fidget toys you can use to keep your hands busy when you feel anxious.
7A CBD Product
If you live in a state where CBD (aka, cannabidiol) is legal, consider trying a purse-friendly CBD product — like hemp-infused lip balm, or a CBD vape pen — if you feel a panic attack coming on. Current research has shown that CBD is effective when used as an acute treatment for symptoms of anxiety disorders, panic disorder, OCD, and even PTSD.
Whether on your phone or in an old school notebook, keeping a journal can help calm anxiety, and give you a tangible way to work through your thoughts and emotions. Sometimes, you just need to jot down what you're feeling, and get it out in the open in order to feel a little bit better.
Breathing exercises are definitely not a cure-all technique for anxiety or panic disorders, but as The Verge reported, studies have shown focused, deep breathing can actually calm the circuits in your brain that trigger anxiety. "Deep breathing can absolutely be an effective tool to stop panic attacks — during one of my psychiatric hospitalizations, I learned diaphragmatic breathing exercises to calm myself down in anxious moments," fellow Bustle writer Ayana Lange wrote. So, whether you have a go-to exercise you learned in therapy, a favorite YouTube video, or a breathing exercise app on your phone, utilize this super simple skill if you feel a panic attack coming on.
Panic attacks can (and often do) happen suddenly, but that doesn't mean you can't be a little more prepared for it when it does occur.