I used to suffer from debilitating panic and anxiety attacks when I was first diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse. I would get very dizzy, hyperventilate, my fingernails and lips would turn blue, and I would shake and tremble like it was 30 degrees. The adrenaline rush would also cause frequent trips to the restroom, which would make everything even worse.
It took a long time to take control over these types of attacks. I read a great book on the subject (From Panic to Power: Proven Techniques to Calm Your Anxieties, Conquer Your Fears, and Put You in Control of Your Life, by Lucinda Bassett), and I eventually learned to handle them better — namely, by not fighting them.
It wasn’t until I started reading about panic and anxiety that I realized the worry and stress triggered by an anxiety attack only aggravated the situation instead of controlling it. The only way to “control” it was to let go and just let the attack come, wash over me, and go. (If you need an example of how to start doing this, read this: 4 steps to end a panic attack.) The attacks will come regardless of your efforts to control them, so by stopping the stress associated with trying to control them, you will eventually control them.
As I started on my quest to deal with these attacks, I would carry anti-anxiety medication in my purse as an “if all else fails” sort of contingency. It helped me stay calm knowing I had an out if I needed it. After a while, I simply kept it in the house instead of my purse, and eventually I didn’t need it around me or available at all. I haven’t had a prescription for anti-anxiety meds in almost 20 years. That doesn’t mean I no longer have attacks now and then, it just means I now know how to handle them more effectively.
Dealing with adrenaline rushes and the resulting panic and anxiety is a long process, and not easily fixed overnight. Most things you read tell you to avoid caffeine, alcohol, get enough sleep, etc. etc., but for those of us with mitral valve prolapse, the most common time to have an attack seems to be in the dead of the night while you’re fast asleep — not when you’re awake and stressing about something. Our panic attacks are different than other people’s panic attacks. The cure, though, seems to be the same: just accept them — and yourself — and move on. Just give yourself plenty of time to do so.