Tips for overcoming panic attacks

Panic is a strong sense of fear that comes on suddenly, without warning, and sometimes without a clear cause. It can feel like a sudden wave of overwhelming anxiety, known as a panic attack.

What does a panic attack feel like?

Physical symptoms of a panic attack quickly escalate, including:

  • Palpitations: a strong, pounding heartbeat that may be noticeable
  • Perspiration
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing or feeling like you’re choking
  • Sensations of faintness or dizziness
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Tightness or discomfort in the chest
  • Shaking limbs
  • Feeling an urgent need to use the restroom

These symptoms are unpleasant and can be very scary due to their intensity. They might make people feel like they’re facing a serious health issue, such as a heart attack, or that they could pass out. As a result, the fear of having another panic attack can increase, making their physical symptoms worse and affecting their overall mental health.

Avoiding situations that may trigger panic attacks can inadvertently limit your activities and quality of life. This could involve avoiding crowded places, public areas, open spaces, confined spaces, or places that are far from home.

Please understand that the physical symptoms of a panic attack do not lead to a heart attack or cause any physical harm.

How long do panic attacks last?

Panic attacks usually last between 5 to 20 minutes, but in some cases, they can persist for up to an hour, especially if one attack triggers another.

Remember, the symptoms of a panic attack will eventually pass, and you will be alright. Even though panic attacks may feel endless, they do come to an end.

Tips for overcoming panic attacks

Here are some practical strategies to help cope with panic attacks:

Stay where you are

During a panic attack, staying where you are is usually recommended. If you’re driving, find a safe place to pull over and take a moment to observe your thoughts. Remind yourself that the anxiety you’re feeling is a normal reaction, even though there’s no immediate danger. These feelings will eventually pass, and it’s important to give yourself time to regain composure.

Stay with the panic attack; it will eventually fade away. Remember, the intensity is temporary, and you will regain control.

Learn to control your breathing

In a panic attack, hyperventilation often occurs, causing deeper-than-normal breathing. This can result in breathlessness, dizziness, disorientation, and chest pains.

By practicing slow, controlled breathing, you can mitigate uncomfortable physical symptoms and interrupt the panic cycle.

Focus on maintaining a slower, more regular breathing rhythm by taking deep breaths for 3 seconds in, holding for 2 seconds, and exhaling for 3 seconds. Ensure your abdomen expands with each breath to prevent shallow breathing, which can worsen symptoms.

Learn to use positive coping statements

In times of anxiety and panic, having “coping statements” prepared can be incredibly helpful. These statements act as reassuring reminders that panic is not harmful or dangerous.

Here are some examples of such statements:

  • Panic is simply high levels of anxiety.
  • Understanding that these symptoms are just a result of anxiety can help prevent them from getting worse.
  • My panic and anxiety will fade away naturally. It’s temporary and won’t last forever.
  • I can persevere without feeling the need to run away or avoid.
  • I have never fainted, choked, or had a heart attack during a panic attack.

Reminding yourself of these facts can help prevent further panic cycles from occurring.

Shift your focus

During a panic attack, negative thoughts like disaster or death may flood your mind. Instead of dwelling on these, shift your focus to something else that brings comfort or interest, such as observing a flower or a picture.

Another approach is creative visualization. Visualize a calming or soothing place or scenario in your mind. Direct your attention to this mental image, which can divert your focus from the panic and alleviate your symptoms.

Challenge unhelpful thoughts

Negative and unhelpful thoughts can worsen panic attacks. It’s essential to recognize that these thoughts are just thoughts, not necessarily accurate reflections of reality. Challenging them can help prevent panic cycles from escalating.

Consider how you could reframe the situation to ease panic. Instead of assuming a heart attack, think about what reassuring words you could offer yourself. Ask yourself: what comforting thoughts could replace the negative assumption?

Recognizing common negative thinking patterns is crucial for managing panic attacks. Keeping a journal of your experiences can help identify triggers and develop coping strategies for similar situations in the future. This proactive approach allows for a deeper understanding of panic triggers, leading to more effective management of symptoms in the long run.

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