A panic attack is characterized as a sudden and intense, often overwhelming, feeling of anxiety. Panic attacks are often accompanied by physical symptoms like lightheadedness, nausea, sweating, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, and disorientation. These attacks are characteristic of many anxiety disorders, especially panic disorder. Fortunately, there are strategies to help sufferers deal with panic attacks.
1. Take Preventative Steps
Taking steps towards a physically and mentally relaxing lifestyle can help prevent attacks. Eating healthy foods can make you feel prepared and focused, avoiding the anxiety that can lead to attacks. On the other hand, stimulants and depressants, like caffeine and alcohol, can modify your mood and increase anxiety, so limit your use of these substances when you can.
Exercising has been shown to relieve anxiety. Find an activity that you enjoy, whether it’s walking, running, yoga, or a group fitness course. With so many fitness options available, there are choices for all lifestyles and incomes. It’s especially helpful to find a partner to make exercise more fun and hold you accountable.
Mental health is equally, if not more, important than physical health. Allow yourself to be creative through a hobby like painting, scrapbooking, or sewing. This reduces anxiety and can improve mood. Even those of us less artistically inclined can enjoy the mental health benefits of creative activities with the increasingly popular adult coloring books. Therapy, either in an individual or group setting, with a licensed psychotherapist like Caree Brown can also help you to take preventative action through the opportunity to discuss what triggers your anxiety, advice to help you understand how panic attacks affect you individually, and medication. However, don’t expect these strategies to totally eliminate panic attacks from your life. They can only make them less common.
2. Don’t Try to Avoid all your Triggers
Taking steps to prevent panic attacks, however, does not mean you should try to avoid things that trigger attacks altogether. Avoidance often makes panic worse, and interferes with your life, which can raise your anxiety levels. Facing your fears, however, can help make panic better. For example, if elevators can trigger your attacks, try standing in one without moving, or even simply walking by one regularly if your fear is severe. Talk to a psychotherapist about ways you can confront your triggers without being overwhelmed.
3. Acknowledge That You’re Afraid
We often try to force ourselves to not succumb to a panic attack, but fighting only makes the panic worse. Recognize that you’re panicking and realize that that’s okay, because you also realize that there’s no real threat. Instead of fighting your panic and further distressing yourself, accept that it’s happening so you can take steps to get through the attack.
4. Breathe and Count
Proper breathing is imperative in calming yourself during an attack. Breathing slowly and deeply, from your belly, can abate the symptoms that accompany an attack, such as a racing heart, while the shallow and panicked breathing that people suffering attacks generally engage in can actually make symptoms worse. During an attack, take long, deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Your breaths in should last about five seconds, while your breaths out should last about the same length of time or a bit longer, about five to eight seconds. While the breathing helps relieve physical symptoms, focusing on breathing properly can help calm a racing mind. Many people find that closing their eyes, if it is safe to do so, can help them focus even better, and frees them from aggravating distractions.
5. Listen to Your Body
Finally, listen to what your body is telling you. Some people find that during a panic attack they benefit from moving around, while others feel the need to sit or lie down. Do whichever makes you feel better. If activity alleviates your panic, go for a walk, even if you’re just doing laps around the room, or try stretching if your mobility is limited. If you feel the need to sit or lie down, find a spot to do so, even if it’s the floor. If you are unable to do what your body suggests, whether due to panic or your surroundings, there is still an option. Continue your deep breathing and slowly, starting at your feet, tighten your muscles, curling your toes and flexing your arches as you inhale until you count to five. At the start of your exhale, relax your muscles. Repeat this throughout your body, moving up from your feet to your calves, then thighs, and so on.
Bonus Tip: Seek Help from a Professional
It is important to remember that these strategies won’t solve a panic disorder, but they can help you prevent panic attacks and make the attacks that do occur easier to handle. Working with a licensed psychotherapist, like Caree Brown, is imperative in treating any disorder, and while these steps can be helpful, they are not a substitute for treatment by a professional. They can, however, not only prevent panic attacks and alleviate their symptoms, but also alleviate the fear so many people who suffer from panic disorders face by providing a plan. Don’t live in fear. Schedule an appointment today and start taking back control.