Life in the Time of Covid

I had my first panic attack this August. Yup. Took me 32 years on this planet to finally experience something I had hoped to avoid my entire life. It was pretty awful, would not recommend, 0 out of 10 stars. I even ended up calling 911! Yes, you’ve read that correctly. Me, a therapist, called 911 because I didn’t know WTF was happening to me.

My day was fine. I had a Covid-free playdate with my son and his friend (with masks and paranoia included, of course). I even ran some errands later on; in places I haven’t been in since March. I was so willing to get back to normal. Unfortunately, my brain and my body were a bit disconnected, unprepared for this return to normalcy. That night, I had some serious chest pains. It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest along with a huge golf ball stuck in my throat. “What is happening to me?” I asked myself. “Is this a weird allergic reaction to what I ate for dinner?” I waited and waited as my symptoms continued to worsen. I meditated. I did some paced breathing. I listened to ASMR on Youtube. I even attempted yoga one point, as my chest feeling more painful by the moment. I gave up. I was confused, and a little irritated. I’m trying all these skills and they aren’t working! I sat up in a chair for a few minutes. And then suddenly, I got some relief! My chest felt less heavy. And suddenly, it went from 0 to 60.

My hands became rigid, unable to move. My arms and hands then went completely numb. That numbness traveled all the way down to my legs. I began hyperventilating. My chest felt like it was going to burst. My ears were ringing and tingling, and it felt like my entire body was in shock. How rude, right? Just when I thought I was feeling better.


I told my husband to call 911 because I was so uncomfortable at that point. And scared. I thought I might die. This is coming from a trained professional who has heard so many people tell me their experiences with panic attacks. But this couldn’t be happening to me. It didn’t make sense. I don’t experience panic. I have anxiety, sure, but panic – not my thing. Must be dying, yup, calling 911.

My attack lasted about 30 minutes, I talked to the EMT’s, felt incredibly embarrassed, and eventually went to bed. The next day I spoke to my supervisor who reminded me about that helpful little TIPP skill.

One of the most annoying things about panic is the fear that you’re going to experience it again. It can put you on the fast track to avoidance so you can convince yourself there’s little to no possibility it’ll happen again. Thankfully, if you do experience it again, you have a tangible skill to use, TIPP! I’ve discovered that the I (intense exercise) in TIPP works best for me. When my chest starts to tighten, I stand up and do 20 jumping jacks. Do I feel kinda silly doing that? Yes. Was I completely skeptical that this would work before I began using this skill? Also, yes! But the pros outweigh the cons here. I do my jumping jacks. I may run up and down the stairs as well. I run out of breath. I am no longer focused on panicking – I am focused on being out of breath. The tightness in my chest disappears. I let out all that anxious energy. And I feel more like myself again.

Fun fact though, TIPP isn’t a long-term solution. Distress tolerance skills are meant to be used to get you through the tough time. So, I had to dig deeper to find out why the panic was there in the first place. I recognized that the day of my attack, I did too many new things at once and overwhelmed myself. Once I increased my awareness about what happened, I could make mindful choices about planning my day, pacing myself, etc.

It is truly an empowering feeling to be able to know and use that TIPP skill. I have used it multiple times since that attack. Luckily, I haven’t had another one. When I begin to feel that tightness in my chest or my jaw starts to hurt, I do a body scan. How am I feeling right now? Where am I feeling it? What can I do in this moment? And then I do some jumping jacks.

Life in the Time of Covid

DBT of South Jersey media

Stay In The DBT SJ Loop!

Get all our updates, free events and workshops and DBT Tips in one beautifully curated place by subscribing to our email list!

We only send about once a month, so we don’t overwhelm your inbox! 😉

Welcome to DBT of South Jersey – we’re glad you’re here.

Subscription Form