Tell Others How To Help You
If a friend or family member is near Lacey while shes having an attack, she often asks them to breathe in ways that she can mimic or share positive affirmations. It helps a lot to hear from loved ones that I will overcome what I’m going through, she says.
Bluett notes that she often teaches friends and family members of people who have panic attacks about strategies they can employ to help their loved ones. If you have techniques that work for you, dont be afraid to tell people youre close to ahead of time so they can support you in the moment.
Remember That It Will Pass
During a panic attack, it can help to remember that these feelings will pass and cause no physical harm, however scary it feels at the time.
Try acknowledging that this is a brief period of concentrated anxiety, and that it will be over soon.
Panic attacks tend to reach their most intense point within 10 minutes of their onset, and then the symptoms will begin to subside.
What Causes Panic Attacks
The exact cause of panic attacks is unknown, but the following risk factors may increase the likelihood of someone experiencing panic attacks:
- Family history
- Major stress, such as death, serious illness in a loved one, divorce, etc.
- Major life changes, like a new career, marriage, or the birth of a child
Smoking and caffeine consumption can also increase the risk of panic attacks, as can your temperament and ability to handle stress.
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How Long Does Treatment Last
How long treatment continues depends on you. Stopping panic attacks completely is a reasonable goal. Your doctor will design a treatment plan just for you. A treatment period lasting at least 6 to 9 months is usually recommended. Some people taking medicine for panic disorder are able to stop treatment after only a short time. Other people need to continue treatments over a long period of time, or even for their lifetime.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is 70 To 90 Percent Effective As A Treatment For Panic Disorder
Panic disorder is one of the most treatable anxiety disorders. The prevailing treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy . A new offshoot of CBT, known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy , has also been found effective in treating panic disorder. Psychologist Steven Hayes developed ACT in part as a way to treat his own panic disorder. This form of therapy uses acceptance and mindfulness techniques to change how you relate to your physical sensations of anxiety and anxiety itself.
CBT is an incredibly effective treatment for panic disorder. Seventy to ninety percent of people who undergo CBT will get better, says Gruner.
A key part of CBT in treating panic is a method called interoceptive exposure, in which the person deliberately confronts the unpleasant physical sensations that are causing anxiety. People become more sensitive to these sensations because they fear and avoid them, so facing the sensations and learning that they are not dangerous can lower anxiety sensitivity.
CBT sessions are usually conducted on a weekly basis and last for around 12 to 16 sessions. The treatment tends to show long-lasting results, and relapse is uncommon.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are also often used to treat depression and anxiety disorders, with or without CBT. These drugs can be effective, but CBT has been found to be a longer-lasting treatment than SSRIs.
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What To Do When Someone Else Is Having A Panic Attack
This section will provide some tips on how to help a person having a panic attack.
First, try talking them through a few of the methods above. For instance, help them find a peaceful spot, encourage them to take slow, deep breaths, and ask them to focus on a nearby object.
If you do not know the person, introduce yourself and ask them if they need help. Ask them if they have had a panic attack before, and if so, what helps them regain control.
People can also try the following tips when someone else is having a panic attack:
- Try to remain calm. This will help them relax a little more.
- Suggest moving to a quiet spot nearby and help them find one. Sitting down in a comfortable place can be very effective, as it allows them to focus on their breathing.
- Remind the person that panic attacks always end.
- Stay positive and nonjudgmental. Avoid validating any negative statements.
- Try having a gentle, friendly conversation to distract them and help them feel safe.
- Avoid telling them to calm down or telling them that there is nothing to worry about, as this devalues their emotions.
- Stay with them. If they feel that they need to be alone, make sure they remain visible.
The End Of Everything: What A Panic Attack Feels Like
Only 16, Caroline, had her first panic attack a year ago. Her mother was dropping her off at her summer job at a local school when, without warning, a full-blown panic attack engulfed her. My heart started racing and my body felt so hot. I started to sweat and shake uncontrollably. My vision became distorted and my body felt limp, like a wet noodle, she says. For 20 minutes, until the panic attacked passed, Caroline refused to get out of the car. Her mother didnt know what to do.
Kirstie Craine Ruiz, 46, has lived with anxiety, panic attacks, and panic disorder for about ten years. For a long time, she had full-blown attacks 2-3 nights a week. I would usually awake to a racing heart or the feeling of my heart expanding in my chestas it might explodeFrom there, I would begin to panic and my heart would go even fasterand my body would shake so hard that it felt like I was having a convulsion. I could barely breathe and was usually pretty sure I was having a heart attack and that I was going to die. Sometimes Id go the ER and theyd hold me overnight because my heart would be going so fast and they couldnt get it to go down.
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Tell Yourself Youre Having A Panic Attack
The scary symptoms of a panic attack can often lead people to imagine worst-case scenarios, like that death is imminent, which can obviously further anxiety. If you find yourself catastrophizing like this, telling yourself its a panic attack can reduce anxiety both in the moment and when it comes to future attacks, explains McCabe. It also keeps you from paying too much attention to your individual symptoms, which can escalate panic, McCabe says.
Full disclosure: This is probably going to be most effective when youve actually had a panic attack before. If you dont have past experience to inform whether youre having a panic attack or something like a heart attack, dont hesitate to seek medical attention. But once you know panic attacks are on the table, you can learn what distinguishes them from heart attacks, like the overwhelming sense of dread. Then, when one rolls in, you can tell yourself with certainty, This is just a panic attack.
By the way, these tactics come from cognitive behavioral therapy , a first-line therapy treatment for panic disorder. In short, CBT teaches you to think about and react to panic attacks differently, and that can help lower their frequency. Leaning in and facing fear of fear is a core component of CBT, says Martin Burch.
How To Stop A Panic Attack
Trying to force yourself to stop a panic attack may make your symptoms worse. However, there are some ways to stop a panic attack when you feel it coming on.
Understanding how panic works and the stages of a panic attack can help you control your racing thoughts and calm yourself. When you understand whats happening with your body and what will happen next, you can talk yourself through the attack.
Learning how to control your breathing can help with hyperventilation and can be a focus for racing thoughts. A technique called box breathing involves inhaling for four counts, holding for four counts, exhaling for four count, and then holding for four counts. Repeat this for a few minutes and focus on the counts and the breath.
Exercising regularly and getting proper sleep are also ways to lower your susceptibility for panic attacks. Exercise helps regulate your emotions and reduce stress. Regular, quality sleep can make it easier to manage upsetting situations and negative emotional responses that accompany them.
Relaxation techniques, like gentle yoga or daily meditation, can also help center you. When you practice mindfulness and develop consistency with meditation, you may more easily be able to soothe your fears with the meditation techniques you practice when youre calmer.
Other triggers for panic attacks include certain life changes and major transitions like having a baby, losing a loved one, getting married or divorced, losing your job, or graduating college.
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What Happens During A Panic Attack
Panic attacks are associated with physical symptoms that include:
- Shaking or trembling
- Feeling that your heart is pounding or racing
- Feeling that you are choking
- Tingling or numbness in your hands, arms, feet or legs
- Chills or hot flashes
- Sense of unreality or dreamlike sensations
A person may also have an extreme fear of losing control, going crazy, or dying during a panic attack. It is very rare for a person to have all of these symptoms at once. However, the presence of at least 4 symptoms strongly suggests that a person has panic disorder.
Many of the symptoms that occur during a panic attack are the same as the symptoms of diseases of the heart, lungs, intestines, or nervous system. The similarities between panic disorder and other diseases may add to the persons fear and anxiety during and after a panic attack. For example, you may believe that you are actually having a heart attack.
Just the fear of having a panic attack is often enough to trigger the symptoms. This is the basis for a condition called agoraphobia. A person who has agoraphobia finds it difficult to leave home because he or she is afraid of having a panic attack in public or not having an easy way to escape if the symptoms start.
How To Deal With The Anxiety Attack ‘hangover’
Panic attacks are hard enough at the time, but what about that sense of feeling completely drained in the aftermath? Judy Johnson finds out how to recover, with tips on dealing with anxiety and the after effects of an attack
A tight, constricted throat, a pressure in your chest that feels as though your lungs are being crushed, clammy palms, an erratic, pulsating heart and a lightheadedness that stops your eyes from focusing properly if youve been unlucky enough to have had a panic attack or have read any of the many accounts of them online, you probably recognise the symptoms. Ive experienced anxiety attacks for as long as I can remember – though I only realised thats what they were in my early twenties, when rather than simply feeling hot, faint, dizzy and sick in certain situations, my breathing became affected, chest tight, and I finally twigged what was happening to me.
The body is beautifully designed to meet the fight or flight need, but only once in a while
All very well if youre in a situation that might require you to fight it or leg it, but when youre standing on the tube in rush hour its the last thing you need. “The body is beautifully designed to meet the fight or flight need, but only once in a while, Lucy agrees. “Too many dramatic changes, or too much adrenaline sloshing through our system too often is draining, causing fatigue.”
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Always Seek Professional Advice
Always seek medical advice if you are not sure whether your symptoms, or another persons symptoms, indicate a panic attack. In an emergency, dial triple zero for an ambulance. Its important to see your doctor for a check-up to make sure that any recurring physical panic-like symptoms are not due to illnesses, including:
Simple Deep Breathing Exercise
Youll breathe with your mouth for this technique:
- Get comfortable. It may help to sit or stand with your back against something supportive.
- Slowly inhale for 3 to 4 seconds, paying attention to the sensation of your breath filling your lungs. Some people find it helpful to place a hand on their stomach and feel it expand with each breath.
- Hold the breath for a second or two.
- Slowly exhale for 3 to 4 seconds.
- Continue until the lightheaded feeling passes and you can breathe more naturally on your own.
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Get Involved In The Present
People don’t panic in the present. People panic when they imagine something bad happening to them in the future or in the past. This is why your panic attacks are almost always accompanied by some “what if…?” thought. The reason you say “what if…?” is because what you fear is not actually happening!
Get back into the activity you were engaged in prior to the attack, and become involved with the people and objects around you. If you’re in a store, resume shopping, reading labels, comparing prices, asking questions, etc. It will move you closer to your goal of overcoming panic attacks when you bring your focus and energy back to the present environment. By this I mean, work with what is around you.
Improves Systolic Blood Pressure
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Stress can worsen the condition, but PMR may help.
In a 2019 study , PMR with music therapy improved systolic blood pressure in older adults.
A study done in 2018, which used PMR by itself, also found that it had the ability to significantly improve systolic blood pressure in adults with high blood pressure.
In both studies, however, it didnt seem to have an effect on diastolic blood pressure.
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Living With Panic Disorder
Panic attacks are often unpredictable, even after your diagnosis. They can make you feel helpless. In addition to your treatment plan, consider these lifestyle changes to help reduce risk of a panic attack.
- Exercise. Physical activity can help you minimize stress. It can also calm your mind.
- Sleep. Not getting enough rest can leave you groggy. It can also cause you to be more emotional. This may make you more prone to anxiety and an attack.
- Skip the alcohol, caffeine, smoking, and any recreational drugs. Any of these can trigger a panic attack or make it worse.
- Join a support group. Its always good to know youre not alone. Many times, simply talking about your panic disorder can create a feeling that you have power over it.
Strategy #: Slowly Inch Into Panic Situations
One client of mine had a panic attack in a spin class and not only didnt go back, but also stopped exercising entirely. She wouldnt even take the stairs. She was worried that getting her heart rate up would induce another panic attack, something she never, ever wanted to experience again.
So, to fight her panic, in addition to challenging the thought that her heart couldnt handle exertion, she also started slowly inching back into exercise and getting her heart rate up a little at a time. First, she jogged a few steps, then a block, then around the block, and slowly, she got herself back to the gym.
If its a place you fear, like being worried youll have a panic attack in the middle of the grocery store, start by going in to buy one item close to the checkout lane. Next time, grab a basket and browse, deliberately taking a little longer. When thats boring, grab a cart and do a weeks worth of shopping. Dont try to rush through it and get out. Take your time. Dont move on to the next level until the current one is easy. Remember: Your brain has to get bored.
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Could You Be Suffering From Panic Disorder
Take our 2-minute panic disorder test to see if you may benefit from further diagnosis and treatment.
During the day if she was out, the attack felt like my head suddenly weighed a thousand pounds and my chest would get really heavy. It literally felt like something was pulling me down. I would usually have to head home immediately. I would then experience foggy vision where itactually looked like there was fog in the air. I also experienced double vision and parts of my bodylike my neck or one arm or one entire side of my facewould go totally numb.
In addition to the emotional turmoil and the physical manifestations that Caroline and Kirstie describe panic attacks can cause palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate sweating trembling or shaking sensations of shortness of breath or smothering feelings of choking chest pain or discomfort nausea or abdominal distress feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed or faint chills or overheating numbness or tingling feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself fear of losing control or going crazy and fear of dying.
Isolated attacks are bad enough. But when the attacks recur in a short period of time or when the fear of another attack is so strong that you begin to avoid situations, places, and people that may trigger an attack, you may be diagnosed with panic disorder.
Accept That Its Happening
This is a hard one, but acceptance is very effective when it comes to dealing with a panic attack. We instinctively fight panic attacks because theyre awful and we dont want to experience them. Its like asking a man if hed like a kick in the balls? No thanks! However, this resistance lengthens the lifespan of the attack by further sending distress signals to the brain.
So, how do you accept an attack? Say to yourself, either out loud or internally: This is just a panic attack. It cant hurt me or make me go insane. It cant make me do anything stupid. The worst that will happen is that Ill feel very uncomfortable for a while and then itll go away. I can deal with this. Im safe.
Let it wash over you like a wave, and then slowly begin to belly breathe. Tensing and then relaxing your muscles is good too, as this will feel comforting.
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