Table of Contents
When you feel a panic attack setting in, try to breathe deeply. This may seem like the most cliché advice, but it is one that has continuously proved to be effective. As long as you keep an open mind and keep faith that breathing deeply will help alleviate your panic attack, not only will it help you psychologically but will also allow the oxygen you are taking in to calm your nerves.
Hyperventilation is one of the most prominent symptoms of a panic attack. In fact, it can even make your panic attacks and other symptoms far worse. Breathing deeply is an effective way to reduce hyperventilation. When you take shorter breaths, you are invariably working your lungs up and putting your body into overdrive. Breathing deeply is the way to relax your mind and your body. So when you do feel a panic attack coming on, breathe in and out deeply through your mouth and focus on your breath. Try to visualize your breath filling your chest and lungs. As you keep breathing, you will feel the symptoms of your panic attack gradually reduce.
When a panic attack begins to set in, acknowledge it. Do not deny that you are experiencing physiological symptoms of a panic attack. Recognize that you are having a panic attack so you can remind yourself that the last time it happened, it passed. Which means it will pass this time too.
If you mistake a panic attack for a heart attack or think that you are having a nervous breakdown, the symptoms of panic attack will only flare up. So when you feel like this may never end or that you may be dying (both common feelings when you are experiencing a panic attack), recognize those as symptoms of a panic attack so you can make yourself understand that it will pass, just like it always does. It will not leave any permanent physiological damage and you have to wait for it to pass. When that feeling of doom is removed from the situation, you can focus on using other techniques to overcome your panic attack.
Sometimes panic attacks may be triggered by some kind of specific stimuli. Perhaps there is a certain kind of light that is setting you on edge or there is a song that is making you anxious. Try to recognize the stimuli that may be triggering your panic attack and discomfort and try to block them out. For example, if there is a flickering strobe light that is bothering you, try to close your eyes and block out the visual stimuli. If there is a song that is making you nervous, ask for the song to be turned off (if you are in a group setting) or try to block it out by keeping your hands on your ears and screwing your eyes shut (it would help to keep breathing deeply while doing this).
If it helps, try to remove yourself from a situation that may be triggering your panic attack. If you are in a stuffy room with a lot of people you do not know, try to step out for some fresh air. Take a trusted ally along with you for moral support.
Whenever you feel panic set in, find something to focus on so you can keep yourself distracted from the thoughts that are making you anxious. For example, some people may find it calming to focus on a neutral object in the room that does not set off any triggers. So if there is a plant in the room or a table (or quite literally any article of your choice), focus on it and try to block everything else out. Look at the object’s form, color, shape, design, etc. If it is an object you can pick, try to see how it feels. Make note of its texture, shape and other details. The more indepth you go into this, the greater the chance that you can steer your mind away from the symptoms of your panic attack.
If you get panic attacks regularly, you could try to keep a small stress ball with you at all times. Pressing stress balls and focusing on its texture and malleability will help take your mind off the panic attack.
Mindfulness will help root you in the moment. Often, when a panic attack sets in, it cuts you off from your reality. It launches you into a feeling of disconnect and often in the midst of all your irrational fears. Mindfulness will help bring your mind back to the present.
Focus on your physical surroundings and how it is impacting your body. Focus on how your feet feel on the cold floor or how the cushion feels on your palm. Focus on the texture of your clothes, the temperature of the room, etc. It is similar to finding something to focus on, as described in the previous point. But instead of picking one thing to focus on, with mindfulness, you will try to be mindful of the present instead of letting your mind wander to a hyperactive place that induces anxiety.
Exercise is a sure shot way to pump some endorphins into your body. If you feel a panic attack coming on, try to get some light exercise. Exercise is a way for your brain to release endorphins, the hormone that regulates mood. Exercising will also get your blood flowing and improve circulation, which could be what your body is missing when it triggers alarm bells of panic. However, be careful of what kind of exercise you choose. Since you are already feeling stressed, do only light exercise and do not overexert. Take a walk outside or take a swim if a pool is easily accessible. But if you panic attack has already flared up and you are hyperventilating, focus on getting your breath steady before you start any kind of exercise.
Catch your breath by taking deep breaths or by trying to meditate.
Essential oils awaken your olfactory senses and help sharpen your mind. Aromatherapy has been known to help with anxiety and stress disorders. Different kinds of fragrances have a unique impact on your brain. Some are meant to be soothing and others may wake you up and make your sharper. If you experience panic attacks often, it may help to keep a vial of lavender essential oil on your person.
Lavender is known to have calming and soothing qualities. It is especially helpful to those with anxiety and stress disorder and is a tried and tested fragrance in aromatherapy. Apply some lavender oil on your wrist or take a whiff from the vial. Alternately, you can also sprinkle some on a cloth and smell it. It may also help to drink lavender or chamomile tea. Be careful about mixing lavender with other opiates if you are using prescription drugs as it could induce severe drowsiness.
It may help to chant something encouraging repeatedly. People who practice Buddhism often find it helpful to chant before they prepare for meditation. But what you choose to chant does not necessarily have to be traditional or any kind of religious text. Even reciting the periodic table or listing the characters of your favorite Broadway musical may work. It is important to set a rhythm and allow your body to find comfort in a consistent pattern. As soon as you are through with chanting the list the first time, do it a second or third time and keep doing it until you find yourself feeling better.
Chanting something internally and repeatedly is reassuring for your brain. Soon enough, the panic attack may subside.
You may keep hearing this repeatedly on television sitcoms dealing with stress or your friendly aunt trying to help but how easy is it to simply go to your happy place? This advice, however, is not simply to make light of your situation. It is a tested, certified way to draw yourself away from a situation you find stressful.
Your happy place does not need to be what anybody else defines as ‘happy’. Happiness is subjective and what may make you happy may not be what somebody else thinks is their idea of happiness. But your happy place is an entirely private thought in your mind. Do not be afraid of any kind of judgement and pick what truly makes you happy. Even if it is watching children’s cartoons on a weeknight, while you feel ‘guilty’ about participating in other ‘grown-up’ activities. Think about what your happy place makes you feel and go into details about what it looks like, until your mind almost transports you physically to your happy place. Pick something that makes you feel calm and content and focus on that. Finding your happy place can be instinctive or it can take some searching. But once you master visiting your happy place in your mind even if you are not there physically, it could help a lot with your anxiety and panic attacks.
This is the last item on the list as dependency on medication can be dangerous. Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medicines that often help subdue panic attacks. But they are likely to make you drowsy and should only be taken when prescribed. If you experience panic attacks regularly, consult a doctor. To be able to take prescription medication, you need to be diagnosed with a panic disorder of some kind.
If you are diagnosed, your doctor may prescribe you anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines. There are also antidepressants that help overcome panic attacks. There are also medications that stabilize irregular heart beats. However, avoid self medicating and stay away from recreational drugs and alcoholic substances that may trigger your anxiety.
The reasons why people experience panic attacks are still unclear. It may be deeply personal reasons that may differ from individual to individual. You may also have experienced panic attacks but do not necessarily suffer from a panic disorder. A few common reasons for feeling anxiety and experiencing panic attacks could be:
You may be genetically predisposed to stress and anxiety if somebody in your family also experiences it. You may have been born with a likely tendency of developing panic attacks.
The panic attacks could have been a result of your environment. If you were brought in circumstances that induced anxiety, the triggers could reappear subliminally in your adulthood. Perhaps your parents were overprotective, or you set unreasonable standards for yourself for some reason. Often the way you processed things as a child also becomes your defence mechanism to deal with stress when you grow up.
If there have been changes in your life recently that you have not been able to grapple with, those could trigger anxiety. For example, if you are feeling lost after entering the workforce for the first time, or if you had a death in the family, they could all be triggers for your anxiety.
Panic attacks can be difficult, debilitating experiences. Even if you do not have a panic disorder, having a panic attack once may make you feel anxious that it may hit you again when you least expect it. If you are an anxious person generally, try to take up an activity that calms your nerves. Try to maintain a schedule for yoga and regular exercise. This will keep your blood circulation in check. Yoga is also therapeutic and will keep your mind composed.
The key to overcoming a panic attack is not let your mind get the better of you. After all, your physical symptoms are elevated only after your mind goes into a tizzy. So try to call your mind before the physical symptoms set in and always remember, this too shall pass!