Relax Your Body To Ease An Anxiety Attack
It’s easy to say, “Just relax,” right? But once you start to observe your body during an anxiety attack, you might find that certain parts of your body clench up during an attack. Make a deliberate effort to tighten and then relax those parts of your body.
Or, if those parts feel like they wont obey during an anxiety attack, pick a body part that will respond, such as your toes or your shoulders. The more you can breathe deeply and relax, the easier it will be to cope.
Write Down Your Thoughts & Triggers
Journaling is always a great practice for reducing anxiety and panic attacks. During the times when you feel fine, write down your thoughts on your panic attacks.
This can give you a different perspective for when you are experiencing an attack. And then, when you do have a panic attack, also write down how youre feeling.
Getting your thoughts out can quickly help calm you down and alleviate some of the symptoms of a panic attack.
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How To Help A Dear One Who Lives Alone To Deal With A Panic Attack
If you have a relative or friend who has experienced intense feelings of nervousness and has no one around they may need help coping.
In the event that they talk about their panic attacks or experience one when you are around it is best to ask if they want to be let alone. Many people prefer to cope when they are by themselves. Our article How can you help someone having a panic attack explains the best way to help a loved one dealing with intense fears.
Also, it is good to ask how are they feeling. This can give you an idea of how you can help.
What to say to someone having a panic attack over text messages or phone? Just like if you are in front of them. Be compassionate, supportive, and patient. Remind them to keep breathing and tell them it will pass. A word of caution: If you show them worry they will feel worse.
Depending on the pandemic guidelines you can visit them but always keep your distance and wear a mask. Also, video messaging can help as well.
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Aromatherapy And Essential Oils
Essential oils, the extract from plants, have been used for thousands of years to treat a number of conditions, including anxiety. Essential oils activate certain areas of your brain and release feel-good chemicals such as serotonin. They have been found to ease symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression, improve mood, and improve sleep.
Recommended use includes diffusing, inhalation, or topical treatment which can aid with anxiety symptoms. When diffusing an essential oil or essential oil blend you will need an essential oil diffuser to fill your space with the desired scent. Inhalation is used by deeply smelling the essential oil straight from the bottle or by applying a drop or two of the oil on something such as a diffuser pad or lava bead that is connected to a bracelet, necklace, or even keychain. You can also place a drop or two of essential oil into your hands, rub them together, then cup your hands and take a few deep inhalations to get the desired effect.
You should be sure that the essential oils you use are pure oils and not mixed with chemicals. Some good brands to use include: Mountain Rose Herbs, Plant Therapy, Young Living, Doterra. You can do your own research to find a brand that will best work for you and your budget. Remember that a bottle of essential oil will last a long time since you typically use only a few drops at a time.
Essential oils that are great for treating anxiety include:
How To Help Someone Who Is Having A Panic Attack
- Stay with the person
If you can, stay with the person during their panic attack. Just by you being there, you can help them to calm down and remind them that help is available. It is okay if you are finding it overwhelming. You can find another friend, family member or teacher they trust to support your friend and you.
- Talk to them and encourage them
You can chat to the person about how they are feeling or anything that they like, such as favourite Netflix shows or their hobbies. This can distract them from their anxious thoughts, helping them to feel calm and to slow down their breathing. They might find it difficult to talk and might want to focus on their breath – thats okay and its important to respect their boundaries and how they are feeling.
- Check in with your friend
Even though your friend may no longer be panicking, they can still feel anxious or on edge afterwards. You can check in with them to see how they are feeling. This will remind them that they are not alone and you are there for them.
Talk about how you can support themIf your friend feels comfortable to, you can suggest talking about how you can support them in the future. This can be things like helping them find a safe space or finding breathing exercises that can help in the moment. This will help them feel better about coping with panic attacks.
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How Is Panic Disorder Treated
First, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor should do an exam and ask you about your health history to make sure that an unrelated physical problem is not causing your symptoms. Your doctor may refer to you a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Panic disorder is generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment for you.
Psychotherapy. A type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy is especially useful as a first-line treatment for panic disorder. CBT teaches you different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to the feelings that come on with a panic attack. The attacks can begin to disappear once you learn to react differently to the physical sensations of anxiety and fear that occur during panic attacks.
For more information on psychotherapy, see .
Medication. Doctors also may prescribe different types of medications to help treat panic disorder:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
Another type of medication called beta-blockers can help control some of the physical symptoms of panic disorder, such as rapid heart rate. Although doctors do not commonly prescribe beta-blockers for panic disorder, they may be helpful in certain situations that precede a panic attack.
Understand Their Panic May Not Make Sense To You Or Them
Panic attacks can be confusing as well as scary. People generally cant predict them and theres often no clear cause. They can happen in stressful situations but also during calm moments or even during sleep.
It might seem helpful to tell your friend theres nothing to be afraid of. But theyre probably perfectly aware theres no actual threat.
Thats part of what makes panic attacks so confusing. The reaction matches a fear response but nothings happening to cause that fear. In response, someone who gets panic attacks might begin to fear the symptoms themselves, or link them to a serious health issue.
Its typical to feel embarrassed or ashamed of such an intense reaction, Bingham explains. But having a trusted companion offer compassion can allow space for the person to return to baseline.
You can be that person even without understanding why they get panic attacks. Thats far less important than your ability to offer empathy and recognize their distress as real and significant.
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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.
Sensory Grounding With Ice Or Cold Water
If you have a washcloth and a water bottle, you have a good start to a panic attack survival kit. Sometimes panic attacks make people feel uncomfortably hot. A damp washcloth around the neck or face can ease this feeling and give you a sensation to think about.
3 ways water can calm a panic attack:
- Hold an ice cube in your hand and focus on the sensation
- Place a cold, wet washcloth on the back of your neck
- Dunk your head into a bowl of ice water
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What Causes Panic Disorder
While the exact causes are not known, what researchers do know is that panic disorder does sometimes run in families. And it is often seen in individuals who suffer from other anxiety disorders explains Cole.
For example, a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder may experience a panic attack when their schedule or compulsions are interrupted. Individuals who struggle with specific phobias are also susceptible to panic attacks. A person with an extreme fear of heights may experience a panic attack in a penthouse apartment.
And for someone with generalized anxiety disorder , a condition characterized by extreme fear or worry, the unending anxiety can escalate to a panic attack. People with post-traumatic stress disorder have a higher incidence of panic disorder than the general population. Illness or traumatic events increase the chances of panic attacks.
People with hyperthyroidism , mitral valve prolapse, and other conditions or diseases also may be more easily triggered.
Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia
Agoraphobia was traditionally thought to involve a fear of public places and open spaces. However, it is now believed that agoraphobia develops as a complication of panic attacks and panic disorder. Although it can develop at any point, agoraphobia usually appears within a year of your first recurrent panic attacks.
If youre agoraphobic, youre afraid of having a panic attack in a situation where escape would be difficult or embarrassing. You may also be afraid of having a panic attack where you wouldnt be able to get help. Because of these fears, you start avoiding more and more situations.
For example, you may begin to avoid:
- Crowded places such as shopping malls or sports arenas.
- Cars, airplanes, subways, and other forms of travel.
- Social gatherings, restaurants, or other situations where it would be embarrassing to have a panic attack.
- Physical exercise in case it triggers panic.
- Certain food or drinks that could provoke panic, such as alcohol, caffeine, sugar, or specific medications.
- Going anywhere without the company of someone who makes you feel safe. In more severe cases, you might only feel safe at home.
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A Panic Attack Cant Hurt You
First and foremost, be aware that a panic attack cant hurt you. It isnt dangerous, and it doesnt mean youre crazy, no matter how it feels! In fact, panic attacks make biological senseeven though they may feel completely senseless.
You might think of your bodys reaction to a minor threat as though its a major emergency the result of an exquisitely sensitive nervous system, possibly combined with early life experiences that may have taught you to overestimate the likelihood of danger in different situations.
During a panic attack, your body reacts as though youre in danger, releasing adrenaline and noradrenaline to prepare you to fight an unknown enemyor to run for your life. This in turn produces a host of alarming sensationsa pounding heart, an urge to flee, difficulty thinking straight and feelings of impending doom.
The problem, of course, is that during a panic attack, the bodys alarm system kicks in when its not needednot when youre facing an attacker, or a natural disaster, but when youre giving a talk in a course youre taking, or sitting quietly in the classroom. And though you may feel as though you will, you wont faint you wont have a heart attack you wont do something crazy or out of control. And you wont die. Reminding yourself of those facts can reduce the frightening sensations of panic.
What Is Hyperventilation
Even though your body needs oxygen to survive, and turns that oxygen into carbon dioxide when itâs been used up within the bloodstream, your body also expects a healthy amount of carbon dioxide in your circulatory system as well. Hyperventilation is the act of breathing either too quickly or incorrectly in such a way that youâre taking in too much oxygen while breathing out too much carbon dioxide.
Interestingly, during this time it may feel as though youâre not getting enough air, and your instinct may be to take deeper breaths. But by responding to that sensation by trying to take in more air, youâre actually making your hyperventilation worse, which is why those that try to get deeper breaths often feel their symptoms getting worse, causing further panic.
When there isnât enough carbon dioxide in your blood, you experience the symptoms of an anxiety attack, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness and more
Notice how each of these symptoms are the same as when youâre suffering from severe anxiety, which is why it often feels like an âattackâ and why the symptoms feel so physical. They build on each other to create an experience that feels like something is terribly wrong.
The most likely cause of hyperventilation is breathing too quickly, which is a common response to anxiety. But itâs not the only cause either. You may also hyperventilate because:
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Keep Lavender On Hand
Lavender is a traditional remedy that many people use to reduce stress and help them relax.
Research suggests it has a calming effect but doesnt lead to dependence or cause withdrawal symptoms. Using products that contain diluted lavender oil may help reduce or manage symptoms of anxiety.
However, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate essential oils, and strengths and ingredients vary widely.
If you use lavender essential oil, make sure you:
- get your oil from a reputable source, such as a pharmacy
- follow the instructions for use
- avoid applying concentrated oil directly to the skin
- avoid using lavender with benzodiazepines because the combination can cause intense drowsiness
Mental Health Treatment Program Locator
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides this online resource for locating mental health treatment facilities and programs. The Mental Health Treatment Locator section of the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator lists facilities providing mental health services to persons with mental illness. Find a facility in your state at . For additional resources, visit www.nimh.nih.gov/findhelp.
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How To Respond To Internal Triggers
To put it simply: donât do anything about the fact that youâre panicking.
Let yourself panic but donât let it stop you from doing anything. Act as if you werenât panicking: Continue on with whatever you would be doing with your time in that moment if the panic feelings werenât there.
Avoidance maintains anxiety, so anything you do to try to fight or get rid of the panic will make it worse in the long run even if it makes you feel better right now. You want to teach your brain that these internal sensations are not actually dangerous. For your brain to learn that, it must repeatedly register that you can do absolutely nothing in response to the sensations and nothing actually happens. This is the basis for Exposure Therapy, a very effective treatment for panic disorder.
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Its As If A Vice Is Squeezing Me
Anita Lesko, 61, Pensacola, Fla.
Courtesy Anita Lesko
Anita Lesko has always been a germaphobe, so her anxiety started to build when she first read about the coronavirus in early 2020.
A certified registered nurse anesthetist , Lesko knew she was at higher risk of exposure because of her job administering anesthesia to patients before surgery. When she began hearing about the nationwide lack of personal protective equipment for health-care workers, Lesko really began to worry.
The prospect of going to work, getting exposed and ending up on a ventilator or dead thats what pushed me over the edge, she says.
One morning in March, when she was between patients at the hospital, Lesko developed a deep feeling of impending doom. She began to hyperventilate, her heart started racing and she broke out in a sweat. Pressure began building in her chest.
I got a gripping sensation in my whole chest and throat area, as if a vice was squeezing me, she said. Then I started shaking literally to the core of my body.
Lesko asked to leave early and fled to her car. She collapsed into the drivers seat and burst into tears.
I was just sitting there trying to talk myself out of it, and trying to make myself breathe normally, she recalls.
It took about 30 minutes before she was calm enough to drive. When Lesko got home, she was so exhausted she had to sleep for a few hours before she could do anything.
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