Panic attacks are severe episodes of anxiety and fear, which leave the sufferer feeling exaggerated symptoms within their bodies, and an intense loss of control over their feelings and thoughts of well-being.
Panic attacks can lead a person to feel as if they are having a heart attack, losing their minds, dying, or some other dire circumstance, which is not actually the case.
If you are a victim of panic attacks or you know someone who suffers from panic attacks, you can use these steps to stop an attack from spiralling fully out of control.
One of the hardest things that people with anxiety and panic disorders struggle with is being able to distinguish between having a panic attack vs a serious medical situation. This is because panic attacks can cruelly mimic things such as heart attacks.
Every person will have their own unique experience when having a panic attack, and the first time might even land a person in the hospital purely because of how intense and scary the symptoms are. Knowing that the doctors and everybody else around you has confirmed that you are healthy and only suffering from panic disorder is a very fleeting comfort. You may be convinced in your own mind that the doctors are wrong, for example.
That is why it is so important to accept your diagnosis, and know what the symptoms of your panic disorder are. If you are aware that you get a rapid pulse and dizzy spells when suffering anxiety, you can notice the attack very early on while you are still in a somewhat calm mind; and this in turn gives you the power to stop it in its tracks.
Once you have acknowledged your attack for what it is, you can tell someone else what is happening. Be it a phone call to a family member, telling a colleague, or a stranger in a shop, telling somebody that you are not feeling well and that you are having a panic attack gives you immediate support.
Fair enough, that person may not know how to respond to your needs, but you can now rest assured that there is somebody there to help you through the ordeal and stop things from spiralling out of control. It is even better if you inform people who love you and know about your disorder. They will be able to calm your mind, help ease your symptoms, and possibly even distract you from the attack all together. It is always good to have somebody there for you.
Most of the panicky symptoms, if not all, come from the fact that your breath becomes quick and deep (known as hyperventilation) when you are in an anxious state. This deep and rapid breathing releases higher than usual amounts of carbon dioxide. Only a person who is physically not breathing (drowning, obstruction in the throat, allergy attacks, etc.) is not receiving oxygen, but so many people feel that they cannot draw breath when they are having an attack, and are given the wrong advice: breathe deeply.
A person having a panic attack is receiving normal amounts of oxygen as per usual, but are exhaling carbon dioxide in such great amounts that feelings of dizziness, a more rapid pulse, nausea and confusion – as well as other worrying symptoms – take hold ; all just because they are hyperventilating and breathing too deeply.
Taking control of the breath during an anxiety attack is one of the most empowering, effective and immediate ways of controlling the situation – but only if we are doing it correctly. Shallower breaths at longer intervals vs quick deep breaths can effectively reduce the symptoms of hyperventilation, in a method known as CART (capnometry-assisted respiratory training). The shallow breathing effectively reduces how much carbon dioxide we release, and so the unpleasant side effects diminish.
One of the absolute worst things about a panic attack is how it takes over your whole mind: all you can focus on are your unpleasant and scary sensations, and the more you focus on them, the more they seem to worsen.
Distracting yourself the moment you feel an onset of panic can stop the full force of the anxiety before it even begins: you busy your mind elsewhere so that the sensations are no longer your focus.
It doesn’t even have to be anything very in-depth. Simply watching a funny show that could make you giggle a little can be very effective. By just laughing alone, you can trick your mind into stopping the panic attack – your mind starts realising there is nothing wrong if you are having a good laugh, and it naturally eases tension in your body.
If you are creative, submerging yourself in your art can keep the mind busy enough, and it helps channel some of the negative emotions that you may be feeling. Remember, anxiety and panic start in the mind and then are felt in the body; so distracting your mind can have a positive effect.
If that does not help you though, you can try a reverse method of this; by easing the body and physical symptoms, which will in turn ease the mind. A slow walk, or some light physical task such as stretching, can remind you of the control you have over your body, while simultaneously relieving some of the physical tension you are experiencing.
A Shift in Perspective
Another small but incredibly powerful thing that you can do is to get a change of scenery when you start to feel a panic attack take hold. Often we don’t notice the subtle environmental factors that contribute toward our anxiety, and yet these small features can be the tipping point when you are experiencing panic.
If you are feeling suffocated, going outside can help reduce the feeling of being trapped. If there is an unpleasant situation, leaving the room where the problem occurred can remove you from that tension.
It helps your mind separate you from the contributing factors that may have triggered the panic attack, and give you a different perspective.
Remember, a panic attack can be a very debilitating disorder to suffer from. You are not weak if you find that you still can’t manage your attacks despite all the little things that you may try. It takes a while before people learn to accept their disorder and learn to manage and control it, and eventually even be free of it for good.
It can be very trial and error to learn what works for you when stopping a panic attack, and it may even be that other long term methods – such as life style changes and even therapy – would work better for certain individuals.
The most important thing that you should realise right now is that panic disorder is not something you should feel stigmatized or embarrassed. Do not suffer alone. There is an abundance of resources and support options available to you, and slowly but surely, you will conquer the disorder because your mind and body are amazing, and you deserve a life that is not run by anxiety.
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