How to cope with a panic attack
No doubt about it, panic attacks are frightening. When individuals experience a panic attack, their stomach churns, their muscles tense, their heart rate increases and their breathing becomes ragged. Panic attacks can be especially terrifying because there is no external reason for the panic. That surge of fear and adrenaline can happen at any time or in any location. In fact a person doesn’t even need to feel anxious before it hits — panic attacks can emerge even when a person is completely calm.
What can people do to prevent panic attacks? How can they make them go away? Although it might be impossible to a stop a panic attack in its tracks, there are ways to mitigate the very frightening symptoms.
Recognize the panic attack
The first time a person has a panic attack can be very frightening. Since the sudden onset of intense physical symptoms can feel not unlike a heart attack, it’s not uncommon for a person with a panic attack to end up in the emergency room. The second time a person has a panic attack can be just as frightening as can the third and fourth time. Ultimately, panic attacks are not very easy to get used to.
Once individuals have already experienced one attack, however, they have an advantage: They can recognize the symptoms of another one. Simply recognizing a panic attack for what it is can be enough to reduce its symptoms. After all, panic attacks are uncomfortable, but not dangerous.
Common symptoms of a panic attack include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Hot flashes or chills
- Shortness of breath
- Choking sensations
- Tingling in the extremities
Becoming familiar with the symptoms of a panic attack is an excellent way to regain control. People might benefit from writing down their behavior prior, during and after a panic attack to help them identify situations that provoke panic attacks and prepare for the next one.
Accept the panic attack
Panic attacks can be frustrating as well as frightening. People who experience panic attacks should try to avoid judging themselves or their panic. Negative self-talk will only make the experience more unpleasant.
Fighting the panic is also unproductive. Forcing a panic attack to go away is like trying to escape from a finger trap – the more a person resists, the harder it gets. People in the midst of a panic attack should accept that it is happening and that it feels uncomfortable. It will eventually stop on its own. Rather than pushing the panic away, individuals experiencing a panic attack might want to redirect their attention to music, television or a favorite hobby.
Understand the panic attack’s effect on the body
Panic attacks are the result of adrenaline and the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. As such, when people have a panic attack, their body will not shut down. They are not at risk for suffocation or having their heart explode. In fact, the same symptoms that happen during a panic attack would be normal in other situations, such as during heavy exercise. When people are running on a treadmill, would they find their increased heart rate disturbing? Would they find it scary that they are sweating? Panic attacks are frightening only because of their context.
It can also help to visit a doctor and get a clean bill of health. Once people who experience panic attacks see that there is nothing wrong with their body, they will understand that the panic attack is just that and nothing else.
Practice breathing exercises
Learn and practice breathing exercises. Because remembering to breathe during a panic attack is difficult, people should perform these calming exercises while they are relaxed. By practicing breathing exercises once or twice a day, regardless of anxiety levels, the exercises will eventually become routine and easier to perform during a panic attack.
Don’t run away
People who have panic attacks should not run away from the location where the panic attack began. Physiological responses can have a profound effect on the brain and if people leave the area where a panic attack occurred, their brain will automatically tag that area as dangerous, no matter how illogical. Even after the panic attack is over, the location will inspire fear and dread.
Panic attacks tend to peak within ten minutes. If people successfully stay in the same location until the panic attack dissipates, then the brain will recognize the attack as a false alarm.
Sovereign Health Group provides its patients with a wide variety of treatments for mental health disorders including panic disorder along with addiction and co-occurring disorders. For further questions, please call us or chat with us online.
Written by Courtney Lopresti, Sovereign Health Group writer