How to Manage a Panic Attack
Is it possible to manage a panic attack? Yes, but maybe not the way you think. If you’ve never suffered the terrible experience of a panic attack you may think trying to not think about it is the answer. This can typically lead to a worsening of symptoms, making one’s anxiety even stronger. So what do you do? First of all, how do you even know if you’re having a panic attack? I’d bet most people who’ve experienced them would say “how could you not!?”
The hallmark of panic disorder is the experience of sudden and sometimes repeated bouts of extreme fear that last several minutes or more. It can feel life an eternity, although most don't last more than ten minutes. They can, however, keep happening, making it feel like the panic has completely taken control. The attacks are characterized by heightened feelings of terror, disaster or losing control, even when there is no immediate threat. Scientifically speaking, a panic disorder is a psychiatric condition characterized by repeated and sudden attacks of intense fear and anxiety. Many people suffering with panic attacks describe their experiences in similar ways. Typical symptoms include:
- Pounding Heart
- Trembling or Shaking
- Feeling Faint
- Fear of dying
- Fear of going crazy
- Fear of losing control
- Fear that one is having a heart attack
While researchers have not determined a specific cause of panic disorder, many doctors believe it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In addition to biological factors, researchers are also investigating how stress may play a role. It is not uncommon for a major life event, even a pleasant one, to trigger a panic attack. Events like birth of a child, planning a wedding, job stress, buying a new house, changing jobs, an accident, divorce or death of a loved one may cause one to have an attack-even if they have never experienced one before. While some people can identify their triggers for a panic attack, they often, unfortunately, come on suddenly. One of the biggest sources of panic is fear of having another one!
So what can you do if you feel you are experiencing a panic attack?
As with most mental health issues, panic disorder is typically treated by psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both. If one is unable to get outside resources quickly, there are coping skills you can practice/utilize on your own should you find yourself unable to calm yourself down. These are in no particular order and some may work better than others. Find what works best for you.
Acknowledge that you are having a panic attack. Just acknowledge it. Sometimes it is helpful to talk to yourself in a calming manner. “I’m fine. I’m experiencing a panic attack. I am not in danger”.
To take step 1 a little further, acknowledge that you are safe. Remind yourself of this.
- Practice inhaling from your diaphragm and exhaling through your nose. This will help slow your breath and your heart rate.
- Hold ice. This can divert your attention away from the panic attack.
- Smell soothing scents. Lavender and Bergamot are known to be calming.
- Go for a run. Jump in place. Anything that gets your heart rate up. This can create a healthy association to your elevated heart.
- Remind yourself that this will pass. Feelings are not facts. Anxiety will diminish in time.
- Look up “Yoga, legs up the wall pose”. This pose supports blood flow in the chest and stomach, helping to reduce your heart rate.
- Walk outside
- Engage in conversation. Distract yourself. Participating in a conversation makes it more difficult to focus on the panic.
- Listen to soothing music.
- Download a mindfulness meditation, or better yet find one free on Youtube.
- Engage your five senses. Find 5 things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
- Again, breathe.
If you find yourself continuing to struggle with panic attacks, know that you are not alone. Millions of people suffer from them everyday. More importantly, millions of people get through them everyday. Practicing coping skills, receiving psychotherapy and or taking medication can drastically reduce or completely end your struggle with panic attacks. Find out what works best for you. If you’ve found methods that have helped get you through panic attacks, methods that I have not mentioned here, I’d love to hear about them! Please feel free to share your comments in the space below.