“For me, panic attacks often begin with a rush of heat and flushed face, intense fear, increased heart rate, and crying without significant triggers. For a long time, I wondered whether I could call what I experienced a panic attack, and struggled to “claim” my right to care and concern, assuming I was just being dramatic,” says Caroline Catlin, an artist, activist, and mental health worker, who frequently suffers from panic attacks.
Each individual experiences panic attacks differently; they are typically characterized by periods of extreme fear that cause physical symptoms such as a racing heart rate, sweating, or trembling. Sufferers may experience shortness of breath, headache, chest pain dizziness, and headaches. They may also be accompanied by feelings of imminent threat, harm, and sometimes even death, when in fact there may be no actual danger or cause for the panic.
Panic attacks often come on suddenly, heighten quickly, and tend to vary in intensity and duration.
Here is a video about what a panic attack can feel like:
Recurrent Panic Attacks
Whether it’s a factor such as genetic predisposition, major stress from a life event, or sensitive temperament, individuals that experience frequent and recurring panic attacks over a period of time, to the point that they interfere with daily functioning, are said to suffer from panic disorder.
Related to several other anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety, social anxiety or phobia disorder, panic disorder can be managed or possibly eliminated entirely with the proper treatment that usually involves psychotherapy, medications, or both.
Nearly 5% of all American adults will experience symptoms of panic disorder at some time during their lives. If you can relate, here are five tips to help you cope.
1. Recognize that you’re having a panic attack.
Understanding your symptoms and knowing what a panic attack feels like will allow you to recognize that what you’re feeling is temporary and will pass.
Experts say that the healthiest thing you can do is to acknowledge the panic attack coming on, and remind yourself that what you’re feeling is real anxiety. You can even practice a trusted, go-to response such as “I am ok” or “This is temporary,” if you feel a panic attack coming on.
2. Take deep, controlled breaths.
Hyperventilating is a common symptom of panic attacks so controlling your breath can help improve the situation.
“Your breathing plays an important role in managing the symptoms of panic disorder. Although you may not be conscious of your breathing process, it is likely that your breathing becomes accelerated when you are feeling nervous or afraid,” says licensed professional counselor, Katharina Star, PhD. She suggests taking fuller breaths, which will allow you to feel more calm and in control.
Try breathing in through your nose for a count of four, holding for one second, and then gently and slowly breathing out your mouth for a count of four.
3. Close your eyes.
Some people that experience panic attacks may get triggered by overwhelming environments such as a city street, busy shopping mall or a crowded bus. If you find yourself in a place with a lot of stimuli, close your eyes during your panic attack.
Literally shutting out the world around you will make it easier to focus on your breath and calm yourself down.
4. Shift your focus elsewhere.
What soothes each person varies, but it’s important to find something that will calm your mind.
Panic attacks may cause feelings of detachment from reality, so some find it helpful to engage in physical sensations that round themselves firmly in the present. This could mean feeling he softness of your clothing or running your fingers through your hair.
Others like to focus on one particular object in their sight during a panic attack, taking note of every nook, cranny, and detail as possible. This laser focused attention on something else can provide a valuable distraction from the panic attack.
It can also be helpful to imagine your happy place and picture yourself there. Whether it’s a sunny beach in the Caribbean, skiing in Colorado, or simply napping in your backyard hammock, see and think about every little detail. What do you see? What do you smell? Focus on each and every element, but remember that the place you’ve selected should be calm and relaxing.
5. Get moving.
Once you’ve gotten control of your breath and you’re starting to feel better, engage in light exercise. Endorphins will keep the blood pumping in exactly the right away, and will help boost your mind and spirit.
Because your body has been stressed, movement should be gentle like walking or swimming. The key is to engage in some sort of activity to get your blood flowing.
Watch this video for other ways you can calm yourself down during a panic attack: