What Do I Do If Im Having A Panic Attack
With or without panic disorder, panic attacks are common. And theres a big misconception around dealing with them, Gruner explains.
The most common advice people hear when theyre experiencing a panic attack is to take deep breaths, think positively, and try to calm down, he says.
However, trying to control anxiety in these ways can backfire. Struggling to prevent a panic attack can have a paradoxical effect and actually cause a panic attack.
During a panic attack, a person should do the counterintuitive thing: let go of control and allow the panic attack to run its course.
It can also be useful to remind yourself that you cant die from a panic attack, and that its your bodys normal, natural reaction, which is not dangerous.
Gabe Gruner, LICSW, is a psychotherapist at the Psychiatry Outpatient Clinic at Brigham and Womens Hospital .
How Is Agoraphobia Treated
Agoraphobia treatment usually involves a combination of treatment methods: therapy, medication and lifestyle changes.
A therapist can help you work through your fears. Using cognitive behavioral therapy , a mental healthcare provider can help you recognize thoughts that cause you anxiety. Then youll learn ways to react more productively.
Using relaxation and desensitization techniques, your provider may have you imagine a scary situation and manage the feelings. Eventually, you will be able to take part in activities that produce anxiety, and you will know how to manage your emotions. Over time, therapy can train the brain to think differently.
Your healthcare provider also may suggest medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors . Those medications can treat depression and anxiety disorders.
You can manage agoraphobia with lifestyle changes:
- Avoid alcohol, drugs and caffeine .
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
- Exercise regularly.
Focus On Something You Can Control
Focusing on something you can control, is essentially another way of grounding yourself. It might, of course, seem that during a panic attack, that everything just appears out of control. However, that is never the case. There are always things you can control. There are always things you can influence. And there are always things you can do that will help you work through your emotions successfully.
In order to gain control, you must focus on something outside of yourself. For instance, talk to someone about something random. Its important that you dont talk about your panic attack, but rather about other things. Alternatively, if nobody is there with you, try describing your surroundings aloud to yourself. Describe all the details of your environment, the colors, the sounds, the smells, etc. Another suggestion is to squeeze something, or throw a tennis ball up in the air and catch it on the way down. This simple activity convinces your brain that there is nothing really to panic about. You have not lost control. You are in fact fully in control, and can, therefore, work through this experience successfully.
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What’s Your Job During An Attack
It’s not your job to bring the panic attack to an end that will happen no matter what you do. Don’t take my word for it. Review your personal history with panic attacks. Have you ever had one that didn’t end?
The fact is, every panic attack ends no matter what you do. If you respond in the most cogent way possible, and do a good job at bringing it in for a soft landing, that panic attack will end. And if you do everything the most unhelpful way possible – struggling and resisting and fleeing in ways that make the panic worse – that one will end also. Even the first panic attack a person has, when they have the least idea of what’s happening, those end as well.
The end of a panic attack is a part of a panic attack, just as much as the start of one is a part of it. It’s not something you need to supply or make happen. The panic attack will end no matter what you do. Even when you don’t believe it will end, when you have the fearful thoughts that it will last forever, it still ends.
So what is your job during a panic attack? It’s a more modest task than you probably supposed. Your job is to see if you can make yourself a little more comfortable while waiting for the attack to end. And if you can’t even make yourself a little more comfortable, then your job is just to wait for it to end.
Here are a few techniques that my patients have found particularly useful while waiting for an attack to end.
Engage In Light Exercise
Endorphins keep the blood pumping in exactly the right away. It can help flood our body with endorphins, which can improve our mood. Because youre stressed, choose light exercise thats gentle on the body, like walking or swimming.
The exception to this is if youre hyperventilating or struggling to breathe. Do what you can to catch your breath first.
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Use Muscle Relaxation Techniques
Much like deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques can help stop your panic attack in its tracks by controlling your bodys response as much as possible.
Consciously relax one muscle at a time, starting with something simple like the fingers in your hand, and move your way up through your body.
Muscle relaxation techniques will be most effective when youve practiced them beforehand.
Remove Yourself From The Situation
To remove yourself physically from the situation, be sure to step into another room, or step outside, or inside depending on where you experienced the panic attack. Often an open space or environment is better than a closed, small and somewhat claustrophobic space.
Once in your new space, take some time to gain a little-needed perspective. Say to yourself:
I am calm and relaxed
I am happy and peaceful
The most important thing you can do during these moments is to be reflective rather than reactive. Therefore, dont absorb yourself into the situation mentally. You have passed that stage. Instead, continue taking the observers perspective, and view the situation from an external point-of-view. Only in this way will you gain the proper perspective you need to get through this situation calmly and successfully.
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Symptoms During A Panic Attack
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , four or more of the following physical and psychological symptoms must be present:
- Palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate
- Paresthesias numbness or tingling sensations
- Derealization or depersonalization
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
If four or more of the above symptoms are present, it is known as a full-symptom panic attack. The Ada app can help you check your symptoms. or find out more about how it works.
How Panic Differs From Anxiety
Panic and anxiety are often used interchangeably, but they refer to different events. Instances of panic are short-lived and intense. They usually last less than 10 minutes because the body cant stay in such an aroused state for extended periods of time.
A panic attack activates our fight-or-flight response that helps prepare our body to protect us from real or perceived threats. However, panic attacks can occur with or without a threat. Anything from watching a scary movie to exercising to consuming excessive caffeine can trigger the physical changes that may lead to a panic attack.
On the other hand, anxiety is a more future-oriented emotion and usually results from thinking or imagining a negative occurrence in the future. Anxiety can be long-lasting, with a lower level of arousal in the body.
Gruner specializes in obsessive compulsive disorder and other anxiety disorders. The anxiety part of the disorder involves worrying about future panic attacks, he says. A person with panic disorder may think, When will my next panic attack occur? What will happen? Theyre anxious about the panic attack, even when theyre not having it.
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Stay Calm And Centered
At times in order to stay calm and centered, it is helpful to do some controlled and proactive movements. This could mean going for a quick jog, jumping on the spot, doing some light stretches, or engaging in Yoga poses. It matters little what you do, as long as you engage your body in some way that helps break the pattern of your panic attack.
Once your body has been freed up to move in its own way, your mind will also be freed up and be more willing to let go of the emotions that were previously tying it down. Remember that the emotions you experience are closely tied to your physiological responses. Likewise, your physiological responses are tied to your emotions. One influences the other. Therefore, making adjustments to one will successfully influence the other. As such, when you make conscious adjustments to the way you use your body through stretching and exercise, for instance, your body should no longer feel that same emotional intensity. You are breaking the patterns, and this will help you transform your emotional experiences.
Breathing Techniques Can Help Manage Panic Attacks
One way to manage panic attacks is to try some breathing techniques. Close your eyes and focus on breathing this way. Breathe in through your nose slowly and deeply. Count to five for each breath. Then exhale slowly, counting for each breath you let out. These breathing techniques may help you calm down and feel peaceful even if youre still experiencing panic attack symptoms. As you focus on your breathing, it helps your mind refocus into a more positive mindset.
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Feeling Dizzy Or Tingling In Your Limbs
According to Prevention, “When you start having a panic attack, there is less blood in your extremities. In turn, some people feel weaker in their arms, legs, hands, and feet.” This decrease in blood flow can also make your feet and hands tingle, or feel a bit numb, as if you stayed put in one position too long.
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Panic Disorder In Children
Panic disorder is more common in teenagers than in younger children.
Panic attacks can be particularly hard for children and young people to deal with. Severe panic disorder may affect their development and learning.
If your child has the signs and symptoms of panic disorder, they should see a GP.
After taking a detailed medical history the GP will carry out a thorough physical examination to rule out any physical causes for the symptoms.
They may refer your child to a specialist for further assessment and treatment. The specialist may recommend a course of CBT for your child.
Screening for other anxiety disorders may also be needed to help find the cause of your child’s panic attacks.
The Importance Of Diagnosis So You Can Start To Manage Panic Attacks
Certain health conditions mimic panic attacks. If you suffer from panic attacks, be sure to see your doctor. They will run tests to rule out health conditions such as respiratory problems, thyroid disease, or heart disease, which cause symptoms similar to a panic attack. Once your doctor has eliminated physical issues, theyll give you an accurate diagnosis. Once you have a diagnosis, you can learn how to manage panic attacks.
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Build Your Support Network
Everyone needs a strong support network. This is a network of friends, colleagues, family members, mentors, etc, who can help support you in times of need. Likewise, you can help support them when they need it most.
Your support network can successfully help you get through difficult emotional experiences. They can help you work through your stresses, overcome your worries, and even calm your anxieties. They can also help shift your perspective about events and circumstances. Maybe they will provide you with a new way of viewing things that will help convince you that there is nothing to worry about.
Build this support network over time by developing strong emotional bonds and connections with people. Help them out with their problems and emotional struggles, and they will likewise be there for you in your time of need. However, you have to be willing to reach out to these people and spend time growing and cultivating these relationships over many months and even years. That is when you will gain the greatest value from your support network.
What Should I Do
The first thing you need to do when witnessing a panic attack is staying calm. We now the situation can be overwhelming and you can also go into panic mode but if you stay calm you can be a model for your friend or relative.
Additionally, stay with them until the panic attack is over. Most panic attacks are said to last between 20 to 30 minutes.
Finally, put your best understanding and positive face and attitude. When they are having an attack, try asking short questions about what is causing the attack to distract them from the situation. According to WebMD, you could ask the following questions:
- How many times have you gone through this?
- What did you think was going to happen?
- What actually happened?
Additionally, we now this can cause a lot of distress on your relationship with the person that is suffering from panic attacks and it can become quite exhausting and difficult your interactions. Make sure you also take care of yourself in the process:
If youre having a panic attack and there are people around you, know how to hold someone when having a panic attack.
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How To Handle Panic Attacks When You Are All By Yourself Without Medication
Researchers describe a panic attack as a sudden episode of immense fear, which can cause the body physical reactions although there is no real danger or reasons to be afraid of.
It involves feelings of terror that may happen without warning. Panic attacks can happen at any time during the day, but they can even occur during sleep at night.
When people are going through a panic attack crisis, they believe they might have a heart attack, or they feel they are losing control over the situation or themselves.
It can be scary because they think they might be dying. The time a panic attack can last can vary from a few minutes to thirty minutes, however, the physical and emotional consequences of the attack may go up to a few hours.
Most people can experience one or two panic attacks during their lifetime, and the problems disappear, maybe because the situation ends.
But if panic attacks happen repeatedly over a while, and you are afraid about the next one – when will it happen again, and how you will deal with it, then, in such cases you might have developed a condition called panic disorder.
The number of attacks can vary upon how severe your health condition might be. Some people experience panic attacks once or twice a month, while others live such experiences several times a week.
Risk Factors For Panic Attacks & Panic Disorder
Itâs estimated that somewhere between 40%-50% of the population will experience at least one panic attack in their life.
Constant stress and the pressures of modern living, medical conditions, the excessive use/abuse of stimulants and other common factors can play a role in whether or not someone experiences a panic attack.
That being said, some of us struggle with panic attacks much more than just once or twice in our lives.
You may be someone who has panic attacks several times per month, several times per week, or even daily.
Panic disorder is a term used to classify those who frequently experience panic attacks.
When my anxiety was at its worst I would experience panic attacks nearly every day.
Often, these panic attacks would occur in some of the most mundane situations, such as going to the mall or getting a hair cut.
Some times, just leaving the house would work me into a panic.
So what are some factors that can increase the likelihood of someone developing a panic disorder?
- Genetics: family history of panic attacks or other mental health issues
- Trauma: childhood trauma, physical abuse, sexual abuse, PTSD
- Major Stress or Life Changes: new financial difficulties, death of a loved one, a major illness, new or excessive responsibilities such as the birth of a child
- Chemical Imbalance: excessive or deficient availability of key neurotransmitters in the brain has been linked to panic attacks
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Mistakes We Make When Depressed Or Having A Panic Attackbynikolay Perov You Are Today Where Your Thoughts Have Brought You You Will Be Tomorrow Where Your Thoughts Take You ~james Allen When I Was Eighteen I Went Through A Very Stressful Period Which Led To The Onset Of Panic Attacks I Often Remember How In Bed One Night I Was Suddenly Overwhelmed By A Feeling Of Terror Id Never Experienced Such Fear Before Sure I Was Scared Of Lots Of Things But This New Feeling Was Unique The Most Accurate Way I Can Describe It Is A Kind Of Animal
When we feel a bad mood, depression, or panic coming on, our first wish is to get rid of it as quickly as possible, to change the bad mood into a good one. This is natural its how were made. But all too often our attempts just make everything worse.
Resistance forces us to think constantly about our condition, to focus all of our attention on it, to feel bad because it wont go away, to wait tensely for relief.
The simple truth is that you cant control everything. Attempting to get your condition under control often leads to extra stress and unwanted bad feelings. Its sometimes best just to let go and cease resistance.
If we relax and let our depression or panic come without trying to control anything, accepting that theyre only temporary feelings which will pass in due course, things become much easier.
2. Feeling bad about feeling bad.
We start to have thoughts such as Im going to die or go crazy, Thisll never end, and I hate that I cant enjoy life like other people I feel utterly miserable.
Our mind starts to add new fears and negative emotions to the depression we already have. And, as I saw for myself, these fears and feelings end up constituting the main part of our condition.
Its actually your mind, not the depression and panic themselves, which makes each episode so unbearable.
When you stop feeding your depression with fears and thoughts it becomes much easier to shake off.
4. Asking pointless questions.