Panic attacks can be not just worrying, but genuinely and sickeningly terrifying. Those who experience panic attacks likely know the dreaded signs: a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety, shaking, nausea, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and more, sometimes so severe that you may fear you’re dying.
This paralyzing fear may last anywhere between five to thirty minutes, but they can sometimes feel like the longest minutes of your life.
If you’ve handled a panic attack(s) in the past, know that you are not alone. Every year, around 11% of Americans face a panic attack.
The good news is that there are various steps that you may take to begin to regain control of your attacks, or at least techniques you can use to calm yourself down in the moment.
If you feel that you cannot navigate this journey on your own, and are looking for resources relating to mental well-being and health, consider utilizing resources like Mind Diagnostics to learn more about mental health and therapy.
Things to do When You Have a Panic Attack
The following suggestions can help you prevent, manage, and reflect upon panic attacks.
You know what works for you better than anyone else, though, so don’t be afraid to make choices specific to your situation.
Learn your triggers.
Over time, you may be able to recognize that a panic attack tends to be triggered by similar things, such as crowds, problems with money, or confrontation.
By learning to identify, manage or avoid these triggers, you may be able to reduce the intensity and frequency of the panic attacks you experience.
Use breathing exercises.
Rapid, short breathing is a common sign of a panic attack, and one that can certainly make you feel physically and mentally worse.
Breathing exercises can help you refocus your attention on your body, slow your heart rate, and force your mind to stop racing so quickly.
Try out the following steps:
- Close your eyes, and entirely focus on your breathing.
- Take a deep, long breath through your nose.
- Now, exhale a long deep breath out through your mouth.
- Try counting from one to five while breathing in and out on your fingers.
- Continue doing or similar exercises until you notice yourself calming down.
Try mindfulness activities (like The 5-4-3-2-1 Method).
Mindfulness is an excellent technique that teaches us how to respond to stress by being aware of what is happening in the present moment.
One of the ways to practice mindfulness is to go back to the basics of counting. Yes, it can be that easy!
All you have to do is remember the 5-4-3-2-1 logic:
- Appreciate FIVE things you see.
- Appreciate FOUR things you can touch.
- Appreciate THREE things you hear.
- Appreciate TWO things you can smell.
- Appreciate ONE thing you can taste.
Utilize progressive muscle relaxation techniques.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a popular technique to ease muscle tension during panic attacks through the following steps:
- Hold the tension for ten seconds in a particular area like your arm, leg or head.
- Slowly relax as you release the muscle.
- Let the muscle relax for ten seconds and then move on to the next muscle.
Repeat a mantra.
A mantra could be a sound, word or phrase that helps you focus and gives you strength.
Internally repeating a mantra will likely provide you with a sense of reassurance. It could be as simple as “this shall pass” or even “I am gonna be okay.”
Repeating a mantra shifts your mind to a more positive space, or at least one that isn’t so intensely focused on the panic attack.
Picture your happy place.
Everybody has a different happy place, or somewhere you feel the most relaxed and comfortable. Whenever you experience a panic attack, close your eyes and imagine the spot in front of you.
Try picturing the place as if you are right there, as if you can feel the soft rug under your feet or the smell of the sea or the snow in your hands.
Think of how calm it is there, and you may begin to experience a sense of peace.
Try some light exercise.
Not only does exercise engage different parts of your mind, it can also give you a chance to physically express some of the emotion you feel.
You might also try some stretch exercises to loosen and relax your arms and legs. This can help release endorphins, which generally improve your mood and make you feel more content.
Pursue professional treatment.
It may feel that you are fighting an uphill battle and that you are alone in this journey, but such a reality is simply not true.
If you deem it necessary, don’t wait to seek help and support from a mental health professional.
Even something more informal, like joining a support group, can help you develop effective coping mechanisms and give you a safe space to share your experiences.