Panic Attack

Have you ever been present when a person was having a panic attack?  This information hopefully can help if you or for someone you might know have panic attacks.

A panic attack is a very sudden and frightening experience that can feel like you are having a heart attack, dying, or losing control. Many adults experience only 1 or 2 attacks in a lifetime, but others have recurrent attacks, which may be an indication of an underlying condition called panic disorder. A panic attack is an abrupt onset of intense fear for no apparent reason, accompanied by very real physical changes, such as a rapid and pounding heart rate, sweating, and rapid breathing. Steps can be taken to stop a panic attack, and to help prevent further attacks from happening.

Recognize the physical symptoms, during a panic attack, your body goes into a natural fight-or-flight response, just as if you were in a truly terrifying and dangerous situation, only no dangerous situation is actually occurring.  Symptoms that are commonly experienced during a panic attack include:  Chest pain or discomfort; Dizziness or faintness; Fear of dying; Fear of losing control or impending doom; Feeling of choking; Feeling of detachment; Feeling of unreality; Nausea or upset stomach; Numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or face

Palpitations, fast heart rate, or pounding heart; Sweating, chills, or hot flashes

Trembling or shaking

Try to control your breathing. Most panic attacks cause rapid and shallow breathing which fuels the attack, by controlling your breathing, it helps to become normal, helps blood pressure, sweating and feeling back in control.

Take a deep breath. Breathe in slowly and deeply, then exhale even more slowly.

To practice diaphragmatic breathing, sit in a chair with 1 hand on your chest and the other a little below your rib cage. Sit comfortably with bent knees, relaxed shoulders and neck.

Another method is the 5-2-5 method. Inhale with your diaphragm for 5 seconds. Hold your breath for 2 seconds. Then exhale for 5 more seconds. Repeat 5 times.

Take prescription medication, one of the most effective ways to stop a panic attack is by taking oral agents classed as anti-anxiety medications, prescribed by your physician.  If you suffer from panic attacks or panic disorder, working with a cognitive behavioral therapist will help you learn relaxation strategies to take control of the panic when it starts.

Try to continue your current activity and daily routine to prevent the panic from consuming you.  Continue talking, moving, and keep your thoughts focused. By doing so, you are sending messages to your brain, and your panic, that there is no danger, no alarm, and no reason to be in a fight-or-flight state.

Avoid running away, if you have a panic attack at a specific place, maybe a grocery store, then you may want to run away.

By staying where you are, and taking control of your symptoms, you are taking steps to train your brain in recognizing the absence of real danger.

If you run away, your brain begins to associate that place, and maybe all grocery stores, with danger, and may create feelings of panic each time you enter a grocery store.

Focus on other things, learn ways to naturally focus your thoughts, and take control of the panic. Some examples: drinking something warm or cold, taking a short walk, singing, talking with a friend, watching TV, stretching exercises, doing a puzzle, rolling down the window if you are in a car, going outside for some fresh air, or reading.  Try to find something new that you can hear, other than the sounds of your heart beating.

By taking those few moments to review what your senses are experiencing, you have redirected the focus away from the panic, anxiety, or stress.

Distinguish between a stressful experience and a panic attack.  Stressful experiences happen to everyone at one time or another. The body’s natural fight or flight instinct may be activated during a stressful or anxious situation, just as it is during a panic attack, but there is always a trigger, event, or experience that is directly tied to the reaction.  Panic attacks are not tied to an event, are unpredictable, and the severity of an attack can be extreme and terrifying.

Use your senses to tackle the attack. Whether you experience a panic attack, an anxiety attack, try focusing on your senses, you can possibly slow it down.

Notice pleasant things in your immediate surroundings or close eyes and visualize flowers, favorite painting, favorite beach, or something to get relaxed.

Stop and listen to what is around you such as the birds, the wind or the rain, or even the hum of traffic on a nearby highway.

This is clearly not resolving the cause of the panic, anxiety, or stress, but concentrating on your senses is useful in addressing the unwanted physical reaction your body may be experiencing.

Talk to your doctor about your attacks.  Panic attacks are commonly related to other underlying disorders, including some mental health conditions and some medical problems.  Studies show that people that are treated for panic attacks and panic disorder early, have better overall outcomes with fewer complications.

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