How to Handle Panic Attacks

Introduction

Panic attacks are periods of intense fear or worry that suddenly occur, and are usually accompanied by physical symptoms, including: sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, palpitations, increased heart rate, numbness, chest pain, nausea, and a feeling of impending doom. The duration may vary from a seconds to hours, but usually last for minutes. They may be triggered by a certain stressor or stimuli, or they could occur more randomly and unexpectedly.

They are usually caused by one of the following: panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug use, depression, and medical problems. Panic attacks occur more frequently in females compared to males, and often being in puberty or early adulthood.

In Europe, around 3% of the population experiences panic attacks in a given year, and in the United States the rate is around 11%.

If a person experiences reoccurring unexpected panic attacks, they may get diagnosed with panic disorder. Panic disorder tends to run in families, and risk factors include psychological stress, child abuse and smoking. It is typically treated with cognitive behavioural therapy, and sometimes medications are prescribed also.


Tip 1: Grounding

Grounding is a way to bring focus back to what is happening to you physically, by turning your attention to either your body or you surroundings, instead of what is occurring in your mind. It is a quick and simple way to reduce anxiety and calm down a racing mind.

See – What can you see right now? Name three things.

Feel – What can you feel? Is it warm or cold? Feel your feet on the floor. Touch something close to you.

Hear – What sounds can you hear right now, or can you enjoy the silence instead?

Smell – What can you smell right now?

Taste – Can you taste anything? What did you last drink or eat?

(Tip: It can also help to say out loud what you are experiencing. This also helps the sound sense being brought into awareness due to hearing your own voice in the present time.)


Tip 2: Breathing

Shortness of breath or rapid breathing may occur during a panic attack. By turning our attention towards our breathing and following the five steps below, we should be able to bring it under control, which may help to reduce levels of worry and stress.

1) Turn your attention to your breathing.

2) Notice each inhale and exhale.

3) Breathe deeply from the abdomen (belly).

4) Breathe out for longer than your breathe in (e.g. 4 seconds in and 8 seconds out).

5) Continue for several minutes until you body starts to relax.


Tip 3: Beliefs

It can be beneficial to say to yourself, in your head or out loud, some calming and reassuring words to help calm yourself and lessen the severity of a panic attack when you are experiencing it.

Below is a list of phrase to remember and say to yourself, or you could write them down if you prefer instead:

  • “I can get through this.”
  • “I should focus on my breathing.”
  • “I am in the present, not the past or the future.”
  • “Anxiety feels uncomfortable but I know it is not dangerous.”
  • “What I am feeling is scary, but it will not cause any lasting harm.”
  • “This panic attack will not last forever.”
  • “My mind is just trying to protect me and keep me safe.”

Quotes

“This too shall pass.” ~ Persian Adage (picture)

“Fall down seven times, get up eight.” ~ Japanese proverb (picture)

“My dark days made me strong. Or maybe I already was strong, and they made me prove it.” ~ Emery Lord

“Don’t assume I’m weak because i have panic attacks. You’ll never know the amount of strength it takes to face the world every day.” ~ Unknown

“Panic attacks are a lot like being drunk in some ways, you lose self-control. You cry for seemingly no reason. You deal with the hangover long into the next day.” ~ Sara Barnard

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” ~ Corrie Ten Boom

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For additional help with anxiety and stress management:

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