Panic attacks are feelings of intense and sudden anxiety that can also include physical symptoms, such as shaking, nausea, feeling disorientated, rapid and irregular heartbeats, breathlessness, dry mouth and heavy sweating. While these symptoms are not dangerous, they can be really frightening, as they can make you feel as though you are experiencing a heart attack or going to collapse and even die.
According to psychology experts, it is important that you should not to let the fear of these episodes control you, as it will always pass and is not a sign that something harmful is happening, emphasizing that the symptoms are just caused by anxiety. This means that you can just ride it out by doing other things and leaving the situation until the feeling subsides. Here is a guideline on coping with panic attacks:
1. Learn About Anxiety.
By learning about anxiety, you will be able to understand what is occurring in your body when you feel anxious. As you can see, all the feelings and worries you are having are just part of this psychological condition. Regarding panic attacks, you should know that:
- Anxiety is adaptive and normal, and can help you prepare for danger, which means that you just have just to learn how to manage it, and not eliminate it.
- Anxiety would turn into a problem when your body tells you that there is danger, though there is no real danger at all.
2. Understand Panic Attacks.
As experts describe it, a panic attack is the “fight-flight-freeze” response that kicks in your body, which will prepare your body to defend itself against any kind of threat or danger. For example, your heart would beat faster to pump more blood to your muscles to give you the energy to fight off danger or run away from it. However, your body would sometimes react even when there is no real danger around you. Although they feel uncomfortable or scary, panic attacks are harmless. As you can see, they are the alarm system of your body, so they are not designed to harm you. so, if you feel like you are going crazy or dying without a real danger, you are just having one of these episodes.
Another fact that you should know about panic attacks is that they will just happen briefly, typically only 5 to 10 minutes, though they sometimes feel as though they can go on forever. As you can see, they take a lot of energy in your body, which is why they do not last very long. After an episode, you may find yourself feeling exhausted. Also, these attacks are a private experience, which means that other people, except those who are very close to you, could not usually tell that you are experiencing them.
Moreover, these attacks result from misinterpreting defensive sensations in your body as dangerous, so they might also cause you to live in fear that you will experience additional attacks and to begin avoiding things that might trigger these episodes. You would always be on the look-out for the next attack and would constantly scan your body for panic-like sensations. By understanding all of these things, you will be able to cope with panic attacks more easily.
3. Create Your Strategies For Managing Panic Attacks.
To cope with panic attacks, it is important to start managing them with the use of some effective strategies. To do this, you should know that these episodes are common in many people and that they are not harmful. Basically, you will be able to manage every episode effectively if you are not having the element of fear. Here are some techniques that you can adopt:
This strategy involves learning how to identify scary thoughts that can trigger feelings of panic. You can determine what frightens you in the event of an attack, like if you are going to faint, if you would embarrass yourself, if you are going to have a heart attack, if it could go on forever, or if you are going to die. To become specifically aware of such fears, you should identify your thoughts and feelings whenever you are feeling anxious or wanting to escape a certain situation. Thoughts associated with panic attacks are categorized into:
Overestimating – This type of thinking emerges when you believe that something highly unlikely is about to happen, which is usually associated with physical fears, such as hurting oneself, fainting, going crazy, having a heart attack or dying. To be able to challenge this thought, you should first realize that what you are thinking is just a guess about what is going to happen, and not an actual fact. Examine the evidence for or against such a thought, as people having panic attacks would often confuse probability with a possibility. It is also helpful to understand that some of the things you are afraid of are very unlikely to happen, where even if you are thinking that such fears would happen, they did not.
Catastrophizing – This type of thinking occurs when you imagine that the worst possible things are about to happen and that you cannot do anything about it. More often than not, this thought is associated with social concerns, like worrying that you will embarrass oneself. To challenge this thought, you can try imagining the worst and then find out how you can cope with it.
To determine whether you are in a state of overestimating or catastrophizing, you can ask yourself about the severity of the thought, its consequences and its effects on you, other people and the society as a whole. Moreover, it is very important to realize that a lot of the things you are scared of and can cause you to feel anxious are more of a discomfort or hassle, rather than a horror. Keep in mind that there are things that you can do to address such situations.
When you experience a panic attack, it is very helpful if you know how to calm yourself and then relax. The first thing that you should learn is to breathe calmly, which is an effective method that you can use to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety. Is you are experiencing such an attack, you will tend to breathe faster, which can make you feel lightheaded and dizzy, causing you to become even more anxious. Now, you can solve this with calm breathing, which requires you to take regular and slow breaths through your nose. Keep in mind that it is also important to understand that the objective here is to make it easier for you to ride out the feelings that come with panic attacks, and not to stop the attack for the feeling that it is dangerous. Another helpful method to calm yourself during an attack is knowing how to relax your muscles. This involves tensing certain muscle groups and then relaxing them to help lower tension and stress levels in your body that are main contributors to a panic attack.
Facing Your Fears
A very important technique in managing panic attacks and anxiety is facing your fears. Before you can do this, you should first know the certain fears you are having, and these can include: avoided activities, places and situations; and unpleasant bodily sensations that are associated with panic attacks. Remember that you could be typically sensitive to physical sensations, such as blurred vision, dizziness, increased heart rate and chest pain, and to overcome panic, you have to bring on the sensations you fear repeatedly, so that these feelings will no longer make you feel anxious over time. Most importantly, this will also provide you the opportunity to find out that such fears do not come true.
Creating Coping Cards
It can be difficult to remember how you managed to challenge scary thoughts when you are anxious, so it is recommended to create coping cards that include realistic thoughts about these attacks that you can bring with you during the day and use in managing anxiety. To create these cards, you can use index cards or pieces of paper and then jot down your realistic thoughts. It can really help to read these cards daily to keep you reminded.
4. Reward Yourself For Your Accomplishments.
Managing anxiety and panic attacks requires a lot of hard work, so is you are seeing some improvements, it would feel good to reward yourself. For instance, you can buy yourself a special gift or engage yourself in an enjoyable activity. You should not underestimate the power of positive self-appreciation, as it really helps you develop a good feeling about yourself.
Determining If You Have a Panic Disorder
If you feel constant anxiety and stress, especially about when the next attack might occur, then you definitely have a panic disorder. If this is the case, then you might want to avoid situations that can cause panic attacks. There would be no quick fix, but you can start with the steps above. However, if your attacks are happening from time to time, you can seek professional help.
Maintaining Your Progress
In a way, learning how to manage panic attacks requires a lot of practice, so perform the above-mentioned steps regularly. Also, it is best to make it a habit, even though you feel that you are better and have reached your goals. Do not be discouraged if you did old habits, as this is just normal during transitions in life and means you have to practice the steps!