How To Deal With Panic Attacks
A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety.
Panic attacks can also have physical symptoms, including shaking, feeling disorientated, nausea, rapid, irregular heartbeats, dry mouth, breathlessness, sweating and dizziness.
The symptoms of a panic attack are not dangerous, but can be very frightening.
They can make you feel as though you are having a heart attack, or that you are going to collapse or even die.
Most panic attacks last somewhere from five minutes to half an hour.
Learn To Recognize The Signs Of Anxiety
Anxiety disorder is the most common mental health condition in the United States, affecting up to 18% of the population. Knowing the signs of anxiety can help you realize when someone you love is having fearful thoughts or feelings. Symptoms vary from person to person but can be broken into three categories:
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 .
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Other Strategies To Overcome Anxiety
This is just a small sample of the many strategies for reducing anxiety. Some people find relaxation exercises like visualization and progressive muscle relaxation to be helpful. Others find goal setting, staying socially active, and spending time with fun distractions to be all they need. Others need to consider herbal supplements like kava and passionflower that can help control anxiety.
But the most important thing to realize is committing to changing your anxiety is the most important step.
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Challenge Negative Thought Patterns
People with social anxiety often spend an exorbitant amount of time worrying about what could happen. Often, these worries are over every little thing that might go wrong in a social setting.
Maybe you worry about:
- Laughing at the wrong time or inappropriately
- Sneezing or coughing
- Falling ill in front of others
While, yes, there is always the potential for these things to happen, and its true they might be a little bit embarrassing, try to keep things in perspective. We all make mistakes, and everybody understands this. Most times, any mistake you could make in a social setting or at a social event would be in front of people who wouldnt judge you. Just because you make a mistake doesnt mean someone is going to think differently about you or look down on you.
If you find that you have negative thoughts about an upcoming event, challenge yourself by trying to replace them with more helpful, positive ones. Try using a technique known as realistic thinking ask yourself questions about the scenarios youre worried about, and then answer in an honest and fair way. When you catch yourself imagining the social situation ending in disaster, you can ask yourself what is the worst that could happen? The best? And whats the most likely? Running through these kinds of scenarios with the help of your therapist can help you refocus your mind away from disaster scenarios.
Some questions you could ask yourself might include:
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Learn How To Manage Your Anxious Thoughts
Anxiety doesn’t come out of the blue. When you have anxiety attacks, it’s often because your mind tends to spiral into negative thoughts – often without your control. Sometimes you can control this anxiety by keeping these thoughts at bay and learning to dismiss triggers that cause you anxiety.
For many, this is easier said than done. But there are many different strategies you can try that may be effective. These include:
A Question Checklist
When you feel anxious, have a checklist on hand of questions to ask yourself about that anxiety experience. The longer the checklist, the more you’ll find that your thoughts become more realistic. Questions that you can use include:
- Is there a reason to believe something is wrong?
- What evidence is there that something is wrong?
- Is there a chance I’m blowing this out of proportion?
Affirmations not for everyone, but those that do use them find them to be very beneficial. Affirmations are things that you say to yourself to make yourself feel better. These include:
- I’m okay. This is just anxiety and I will get passed this .
- I have a great life and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
- My anxiety won’t control me.
Getting Used to Physical Symptoms
The latter is known as “exposure therapy” and there are countless ways to create exercises that will habituate you to your panic attack triggers.
When To See A Doctor
While natural treatments can help with anxiety symptoms, some signs may indicate that you need to call your doctor:
- Your anxiety is chronic , and it interferes with your ability to function daily
- Your symptoms have persisted for six months or more
- Youâre experiencing physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, difficulty sleeping, stomach issues, or chronic fatigue
- Youâre avoiding people or places
- Youâre having thoughts of self-harm or suicide
Your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medications or refer you to a specialist. In some cases, the natural remedies described above may be used along with more conventional treatments to help you manage your symptoms.
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Learn To Use Positive Coping Statements
When you are feeling anxious and panicky it can be helpful to have ‘coping statements’ which can be used to remind you that panic is not dangerous and isn’t harmful.
Such statements could be:
- Panic is simply high levels of anxiety
- My anxiety and panic will pass naturally given time. It doesn’t last forever
- I can continue without needing to escape or avoid
- I have never fainted, choked, or had a heart attack
Reminding yourself of these facts can help to prevent further panic cycles happening.
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.
Anxiety and panic are interrelated, and both contribute to panic disorder, says Gabe Gruner, LICSW, a psychotherapist at the Psychiatry Outpatient Clinic at Brigham and Womens Hospital.
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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How The Pandemic Changed Social Anxiety
Many people who didnt experience social anxiety before may be experiencing it now. If you would have once described yourself as an extrovert, but now are less inclined to host or attend social events, you arent alone. It is, in part, a matter of falling out of the routine of being social.
Lockdowns and online working have led to people becoming less habituated with being around others, Franz says. Weve fallen out of the habit of hosting get-togethers, and as a result may find them more stressful than they were before. Theres more lethargy, more inertia when it comes to making these plans.
Self-described extroverts that are now experiencing social anxiety may in fact have had underlying anxiety before. But because in the past, social events were a bigger part of their routine, they may not have linked this anxiety specifically to socializing.
Some people are finding it easier to connect in person, Franz says. But others are finding it more awkward and disconcerting. Often, they may have been a little more at risk of having anxiety before.
Franz also notes that some anxiety associated with going to a social event or back to the office may in fact be COVID related. We became so accustomed to standing apart, not hugging, and avoiding big groups, Franz reflects. Sometimes what may come across as social anxiety may actually be a fear of getting or transmitting COVID.
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Identify And Learn To Manage Your Triggers
You can identify triggers on your own or with a therapist. Sometimes they can be obvious, like caffeine, drinking alcohol, or smoking. Other times they can be less obvious.
Long-term problems, such as financial or work-related situations, may take some time to figure out is it a due date, a person, or the situation? This may take some extra support, through therapy or with friends.
When you do figure out your trigger, you should try to limit your exposure if you can. If you cant limit it like if its due to a stressful work environment that you cant currently change using other coping techniques may help.
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Signs Of An Anxiety Attack
These are some of the more common mental and physical symptoms of anxiety:
- feelings of danger, panic, or dread
- nervousness or restlessness
- numbness or tingling in your extremities
- feeling hot or cold
If you notice that quick tips havent been working, you may want to consider seeing a professional for help. Especially if you believe you have GAD and its interfering with routine activities and causing physical symptoms.
A mental health professional can help with streamlining the process of identifying your triggers, maintaining long-term strategies through behavioral therapy, medications, and more.
Anxiety may always be a part of your life, but it shouldnt overtake your day-to-day. Even the most extreme anxiety disorders can be treated so that the symptoms arent overwhelming.
Once you find what treatment works best for you, life should be a lot more enjoyable and a lot less daunting.
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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Panic Attacks I Turned My Mental Health Crisis Into A Mental Health Triumph
Although it’s taken me a long time I have learned I am a strong person who has the potential to help others.
You might find that you become scared of going out alone or to public places because you’re worried about having another panic attack. If this fear becomes very intense, it may be called agoraphobia. See our pages on types of phobia for more information.
I felt like I couldn’t breathe, I just wanted to get out, to go somewhere else, but I couldn’t because I was on a train.
What Is An Anxiety Attack
An anxiety attack is a high degree stress response activated by either overly apprehensive behavior or by the involuntary action of a chronically stressed body.
In other words, anxiety attacks have two main causes:Voluntary anxiety attacks: When we worry something terrible might happen and the body responds with a high degree stress response.
Involuntary anxiety attacks: When the body activates a high degree stress response all by itself due to the adverse effects of chronic stress.
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Controlling Anxiety Takes Time
Theres no quick fix for anxiety, and it may often feel like an uphill struggle. But by gaining awareness of what causes your symptoms, and getting help from your doctor, you can manage your symptoms.
You may find some of these hacks work for you straight away and others may have no effect at all, but the important thing is to keep trying.
Giving in to feelings of anxiety by retreating from the world only served to make my life more difficult in the long run. Continuing to search for solutions that work for me has been key to my recovery. Practice makes perfect, so dont stop trying to find ways that work for you.
Fiona Thomas is a lifestyle and mental health writer who lives with depression and anxiety. Visit her website or connect with her on .
Anxiety And Panic Attacks
Explains anxiety and panic attacks, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.
Mae’r dudalen hon hefyd ar gael yn Gymraeg. This link will take you to a Welsh translation of this page.
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What Triggers An Anxiety Attack
Anxiety attacks are unusual, in that they can be triggered under moments of heavy stress or fear, or they can be triggered by nothing at all. Often the first anxiety attack comes at a moment in a person’s life when they’re experiencing a lot of stress . But future panic attacks can be caused by almost anything:
- Worry that theyll have another panic attack.
- Paying too much attention to how the body feels.
- Absolutely nothing.
Once again, it is because anxiety attacks can seem and feel so random that not everyone that has them even knows or believes that theyre having an anxiety attack. Those that have panic attacks too often may even start to develop other anxiety conditions, such as health anxiety, because of how difficult it is to feel like their anxiety attacks are real.
Not everyone that has an anxiety attack once will have it again, however. Some people only experience an anxiety attack because they are under profound stress and exhaustion, or theyre faced with a dangerous situation. For example, if you almost got into a car accident you may experience a panic attack, but only because your anxiety in that situation was so strong that it was uncontrollable.
But many that have panic attacks will have them again. It depends on the individual.
Panic Disorder Treatment Options
Panic attacks and panic disorders are treatable once the underlying cause is identified. Usually medical conditions and other factors are ruled out before making the diagnosis, says Flo Leighton, psychiatric nurse practitioner, and therapist with Union Square Practice in Manhattan. Getting to the root cause typically takes a couple of sessions, says Leighton. Here are some options that may be recommended to you :
Cognitive behavioral therapy , is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events. The National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists says the benefit of this therapy is that we can change the way we think to feel and act better even if the situation does not change. CBT focuses on determining the thought and behavior patterns responsible for sustaining or causing panic attacks. CBT is a time-limited process that employs a variety of cognitive and behavioral techniques to affect change.
Medication can be used to control or lessen symptoms related to panic disorder. It is most effective when combined with other treatments, such as the aforementioned cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy. Medications used to treat panic attacks and panic disorder include antidepressants, though they take several weeks to reach effectiveness. Benzodiazepines such as Ativan and work quickly. However they are addictive and should only be used for a short time,
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Tips And Strategies To Manage Anxiety And Stress
At some point, anxiety and stress affect everyone. They can manifest differently in different people, and the level of anxiety one experiences can vary, but there is one thing for certain: there are ways to manage anxiety, even if it feels out of control.
Of course, if anxiety is affecting your everyday life and getting in the way of your daily productivity for an extended period, please seek assistance. Find Help
Information about causes and treatment goes a long way in helping to understand anxiety and stress, but there are also some physical and mental things you can do when feeling anxious or stressed. Some coping strategies from ADAAs experts include:
What Do Panic Attacks Feel Like
During a panic attack, physical symptoms can build up very quickly. These can include:
- a pounding or racing heartbeat
- feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed
- feeling very hot or very cold
- sweating, trembling or shaking
- pain in your chest or abdomen
- struggling to breathe or feeling like you’re choking
- feeling like your legs are shaky or are turning to jelly
- feeling disconnected from your mind, body or surroundings, which are types of dissociation.
During a panic attack you might feel very afraid that you’re:
- losing control
- going to die.
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