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Panic attacks preventing me from sleeping

Undead ScottsmanUndead Scottsman THANOSCOPTORRegistered User regular
edited September 2010 in Help / Advice Forum
Up until last Thursday, I had never had a panic attack (that I know of) but I recently became worried about not falling asleep Thursday night, because that could ruin my day at PAX, and this gave me a panic attack: specifically shortness of breath. Not being able to breath prevented me from getting to sleep and you should be able to guess the loop that occurred. This happened every night at PAX. Some sleeping medication helped, but not by a whole lot.

I thought that now that PAX is over, the stress would be gone and the panic attacks would stop (god how I hoped and prayed that would happen.) but they didn't and I'm seriously terrified. Sleep is one of the most important things in my life, and I'm honestly crying about this. This is the single most horrifying thing to ever happen to me.

To give a more detailed description of what happens. Originally, when I was trying to fall asleep I'd just think about random stuff (the story from a book or a movie I saw recently, for example.) until I things started to blur together and I fell asleep. But now I worry about being able to breath, so I unintentionally take over control of my breathing, and and then I start panicing and I can't focus on something else to take mind off controlling my breathing. I can't fall asleep while controlling my breathing, and then comes the full on panic attack with the shortness of breath.

The only thing that works is to either be so out of it that I don't think about this shit (I'm guessing booze would do that) or to be so exausted or medicated that I very rapidly fall asleep (and even that's a chore not to get worked up before I fall alseep.)

I know this problem will eat my life and I totally don't know what to do. As soon as I think about sleep, the process starts. I don't think I have ever felt this terrible and scared in my entire life.

Undead Scottsman on


  • SkyCaptainSkyCaptain Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    See a doctor. That's about all you can do.

    The RPG Bestiary - Dangerous foes and legendary monsters for D&D 4th Edition
  • PongePonge Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Try to chill out when you're trying to get to sleep. Go and see a doctor but it's more than likely a pyschological issue, that you're psyching yourself out trying to force yourself to sleep.

    I get this a lot, and it generally comes in waves, because one night it'll happen, then for 4 or 5 nights afterwards I'm stressed out that it will happen again, ensuring that it does happen.

    I try to blank my mind, unclench my eyes (i seem to screw them all tight when im stress-sleeping) and imagine myself walking down a dark starcase (into something like a cellar). Go very slowly, and with each step visualise your environment getting softer and softer, so you start walking on feathers, and then pillows, and then marshmallows or whatever. Visualise your environment and analyse it.

    It doesn't always work for me, but sometimes it just helps to get my mind off of whatever it is thats stressing me out. Remember things always seem 100x worse when you're in bed trying to get to sleep.

  • blakfeldblakfeld Registered User
    edited September 2010
    I've suffered from panic attacks my whole life, and they do typically spring up lying in bed trying to go to sleep

    Given what you've written above, I think you may not have the ability to lie with an "empty head" so to speak, and I can't either, so here's what I do.

    Close your eyes, and at this point, try not to lie down with a topic to think about, try to keep an empty head. Breath in. Mentally count that breath as one. Breathe out. Breath in, Mentally count that breath as two, breathe out, and so on, until you hit ten, then start over.

    If something else pops into your head, mentally say the words "Clear your mind" to kick them out.

    Before you finish the second set, you'll find breathing is no longer an absent process, and your whole body moves with each breath, and I promise before you finish the 5th, you'll be relaxed and out. It works wonders fo rme

  • Glirk DientGlirk Dient Registered User
    edited September 2010
    Your breathing often becomes shallow because your not breathing with your "belly". When your breathing properly you should feel your belly rise and fall. Breathing exercises help reset your breathing.

    Panic attacks tend to snowball so force yourself to ignore the "what ifs" that your brain will think of that makes things much worse. With time things will get better. You basically need to learn what causes them and makes them worse and learn to occupy your mind with something else. Your brain is a muscle so work on breaking down the mental habits that cause panic attacks. Even if that means throwing yourself at whatever is causing them to prove that it's not as harmful as you think.

    I would suggest seeing a doctor as well as a therapist if you can. They will help immensely.

    XBL gamertag: GlurkDient
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  • ihmmyihmmy Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    I also get the shortness-of-breath panic attack fun times.

    My counselor is a big fan of meditation and yoga to relax the brain and the body. Mediation especially is good for calming the brain. Focus on a scene you find relaxing. When you find your mind wandering, re-focus on it.

    For sleeping, I always found focusing on feeling your body get heavy and exhausted helpful in combating mild insomnia. For me it worked best to feel my toes get heavy, then my calves, then my thighs, then my hips, etc. I did time this with breathing though... with every breath out I felt myself sinking into my bed and relaxing. Not sure if it will be an effective strategy for you.

  • FightTestFightTest Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    I occasionally have panic attacks but they're basically random and aren't triggered by anything in particular. Really the only advice I would offer is that the best defense/cure for a panic attack is distraction. If you feel one coming on and you just focus on it you're in for the ride, but if you do something else to occupy yourself it will pass. I would suggest maybe leaving the TV on or a podcast or something to keep your mind semi-occupied rather than just lying in silence in the dark thinking about it.

  • JebusUDJebusUD Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    I had this happen once when I had a really bad cold and went to my very hot job anyway. Felt like I couldn't breathe so I started breathing harder. This is where the mistake comes in. The thing is, you can breathe just fine, you need to concentrate on breathing slower.

    I think the counting method someone said earlier is probably the best idea.

    If you breathe normally long enough, it just becomes automatic again.

    You haven't given me a reason to steer clear of you!
  • YogoYogo Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    First of all, when you begin to experience a shortage of breath, relax and breathe in slow and long draws of breath. Focus on breathing slowly and slowly begin to breathe normally.

    Second of all, like I say with all panic related attacks, you need to break the cycle of thoughts which initiate the attacks. This can be anything from thinking about running out of breath to what are you going to do if you may run out of breath. These thoughts keeps you in a continual "worry" loop which only amplifies your chance of panicking when you feel you meet one of the requirements (missed a breath - oh noes I am running out of breath. I can't breathe! Panic!). Try to "attack" your thoughts when you happen to think about it. Analyze it, rationalize it and replace it with a happy thought (so you ran out of a breath? No worries, I'll just breathe in again).

  • BlindZenDriverBlindZenDriver Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    When I'm stressed out I find music helps me sleep!

    The music must be something not too uplifting so pop or classical usually works the best. Loud enough for it to be heard clearly but not louder and very importantly it must be well known. This lets me focus on the music and slowly fade in to sleep.

    Also make sure there is not a watch for you to look at from your bed. The whole constant looking at the time worrying that you should have been sleeping for x time already does not help. If you have a watch on a bed table then turn it so it faces away from you.

    Finally if there simply is no falling a sleep then get up. Take a warm shower, watch a sitcom, anything and then back to bed.

    Bones heal, glory is forever.
  • kedinikkedinik Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    This sounds a lot like hyperthyroidism.

    Get tested by a good endocrinologist.

  • TankJitsuTankJitsu Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    I've had panic attacks for the past 17 years, and they've almost always occurred at nighttime, right when I am about to fall asleep, or soon after I've fallen asleep. They actually have a name for this: Nocturnal Panic Attacks. Google it and see if it sounds like what you are having. (Although don't buy any of those "Panic Away" programs) The long term solution is therapy, and possibly medication. In the short term, you can try the following, which have helped me to lessen the panic:

    -Avoid caffeine, including soft drinks and energy drinks.

    -Exercise during the day, which will make you more tired during the evening, and also lower stress levels.

    -Turn on a radio or TV on low volume in the same room before you go to bed. For me this "white noise" was the best defense against my mind going into panic mode, as the TV/radio would distract it.

    -Alcohol sometimes helps me, sometimes makes things worse. But there have been times when a small drink before bedtime seemed to help. Note I am not talking about getting drunk, in my experience that's made it worse.

    I wish you luck. I still have waves of panic attacks that appear without any apparent cause, and it's not fun. But it can be manageable.

  • RubberACRubberAC Sidney BC!Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Long term- see a doctor
    Short term- stay up a bit longer than youre used to and do whatever relaxes you- play a game, smoke a joint, have a few drinks, have some tea.
    Basically try to distract yourself for a bit while you relax? I've had a similar problem with panic attacks and i basically just started sleeping with the tv/music on so i couldnt really hear myself think
    background noise helped distract me

  • mysticjuicermysticjuicer Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    Short-term: Listen to a podcast while going to sleep.
    Long-term: See a doctor.

    narwhal wrote:
    Why am I Terran?
  • RocketSauceRocketSauce Registered User regular
    edited September 2010
    What does your diet look like? What about physical activity level? Both of those can contribute to your stress levels good and bad.

  • jamiejamieojamiejamieo Registered User
    Any update on this? I'm going through the same thing at the moment. Did you go to the doctor in the end and has it been cured?

This discussion has been closed.