Sweaty palms, shortness of breath, feeling like you’re going crazy—have you experienced any of these sensations? Chances are, you were in the clutches of a panic attack. Millions of us experience them every day, and they have a negative impact on daily life.
Coping with panic attacks can be incredibly stressful in itself. This article will give you tools and strategies to help you cope with your panic attacks and reduce the likelihood of future panic attacks happening.
What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is a common reaction to perceived threats and dangers. In short, it is your body’s fight-or-flight response. This is a natural and, in evolutionary terms, useful mechanism that prepares the body to react and defend itself from real, or perceived, environmental dangers.
During a panic attack, your body feels threatened and will act very quickly to maximize your chances of survival. A number of internal processes are enacted with the intention of getting you out of harm’s way and back to a position of safety. Within a matter of seconds, your body will ramp up your heart rate to feed oxygen-rich blood to the parts most crucial to your defense. This can produce uncomfortable sensations, and here lies the difficulty with the modern panic attack.
Such biological reactions may be very appropriate to the threat of an attack from a wild animal, and in situations of actual danger, they may very well save your life. But, in the modern context, it is rare for us to require such a dramatic response. However, this is still exactly what happens in answer to all manner of daily worries—when that deadline is looming, if you just cannot face the grueling morning commute, or when that unexpected bill lands in your lap. Recognizing the potential causes and symptoms is crucial to managing your panic attacks.
Panic Attack Symptoms
The symptoms associated with panic attacks can be scary, especially if the trigger for the attack is unclear, and you are caught by surprise. During a panic attack, you may experience any number of the following symptoms:
- Increased heart rate or heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
- Feeling faint
- Hot or cold flushes
- Numbness or tingling
- Feeling like you’re about to die
- Feeling outside of your body
- Feeling detached from reality
With such a frightening list of afflictions, it is no wonder that some people go on to develop symptoms of panic disorder. Whereas a panic attack can be defined as a survival response to a perceived threat or danger, panic disorder can develop because of the fear of future panic attacks. Thankfully, there are many strategies you can use to make coping with panic attacks easier.
Coping with Panic Attacks – Short-term Strategies
Awareness is the first step, so, in learning about panic attacks, you are already well on the way to overcoming them. If you recognize what is happening and when, these short-term steps will bring immediate relief.
Breathe calmly and deeply—Become aware of your breathing, and work to bring each breath under control. This is a powerful technique that targets one of the parent causes of many other uncomfortable symptoms. Slow, deep breathing will bring down your heartrate and arrest the attack before it has a chance to develop.
Acknowledge and accept—It is important to understand that the majority of panic attacks are caused not by a real and present danger but, rather, by your thoughts and projections into the future. The idea of what might happen in a given situation can set in motion a chain reaction of anxious thoughts that take hold of your senses and trigger the onset of panic attack symptoms. By observing what is happening in reality, you can acknowledge the situation for what it really is and accept that you are having a fear response to something that is perhaps not anywhere near as dangerous as your thoughts would have you believe.
Coping with Panic Attacks – Long-term Strategies
The best time to prepare for a panic attack is when you are relaxed, calm and centered. With a little bit of reflection and preparation, you will break the cycle of highly distressing panic attacks for good.
Mindfulness—You can use mindfulness in both the long and short term. It works perfectly in conjunction with controlled breathing. Mindfulness is a wonderful technique for managing the stressful aspects of modern life and their impact on your mood. The key to achieving a state of mindfulness is to guide your attention to the present moment.
Focus your attention on what is happening in and around you. If you are practicing deep breathing, concentrate on the rise and fall of your chest, the sensation of air passing through your nostrils as you inhale and exhale. You can also count in your mind—1 as you inhale, 2 as you exhale, 3 as you inhale, and so on to the count of 10, then start again from 1. If you are in a position to do so, close your eyes, and direct all your attention to the sounds you can hear. Armed with mindfulness techniques and a little practice, you will find this a great way to cope with panic attacks as well as stressful situations in general.
Identify troublesome thoughts—Learn to spot the thoughts that trigger your panic attacks. Perhaps particular subjects fill you with fear, or the idea of certain situations makes you feel anxious. Write these thoughts down, and challenge them. “Why should I feel so scared about X or Y?” “Is the way I feel about a given situation in proportion to reality?” Keep a thought diary or journal, and take a moment each day to go through any thoughts that have made you feel anxious or panicky. As you learn to identify the thought patterns that trigger anxiety, you’ll find that coping with panic attacks gets easier.
Speak to a therapist—Sometimes, we all need a helping hand. If you feel overwhelmed by your panic attacks, a therapist can help you get to the root of the issues and find strategies that work for you.
Whatever triggers your panic attacks, you can use the strategies in this article to help you cope with them. Understanding the symptoms and what is causing them allows you to take control of the situation and free yourself from panic attacks.
Have you experienced a panic attack? How do you cope with your symptoms? Do you have any tips to share with other readers? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so please drop us a line in the comments section!