A panic attack can be a terrifying and debilitating experience for those who suffer from the condition.
The triggers are not always known. Moreover, the causes of this out-of-proportion response to stimuli (characterized by irrational fear and the feeling that we are about to have a heart attack) are not well known.
But what’s for sure is that the loss of control is absolute, and can likewise be absolutely devastating.
It’s good to bear in mind that any of us could experience a panic attack, at any time.
Nobody should consider themselves immune to experiencing these feelings of intense fear, which unleash a powerful and unpredictable reaction in our bodies.
And even more important to know is that once we have experienced a panic attack for the first time, it’s very common for others to follow.
If this is something you’ve experienced, don’t hesitate before seeking professional advice and help.
At the same time, it’s important to understand that while a psychologist or therapist can give you some really valuable coping strategies, you are the one that is going to be facing those day-to-day situations, and trying to identify where our anxiety comes from and the root of our problems.
Below, we offer you 5 simple things to bear in mind when you’re facing such a situation.
However, you should also remember that the ideal situation is that we find our own coping strategies, ones that best suit our own particular needs.
1. Step One: Understand That You’re Suffering A Panic Attack
The first step is probably the most important: when we’re suffering from a certain ailment or condition, it’s essential that we try to understand what it is, and what causes it.
- Firstly, and most importantly, understand that a panic attack – no matter how terrifying it may be – is not going to kill you.
- Panic attacks are actually a very common problem, often generated by an excess of adrenaline in the bloodstream.
- This is a condition that’s triggered by fear. Fears are often irrational – much of the time, we don’t even understand what is causing them, or how to control them.
It’s interesting to note that anxiety is part of our natural, instinctive defense system, and is designed to prepare us to flee from dangerous situations.
In the past, this reaction helped us to survive by escaping from predators – but in today’s busy, modern world, our real predator can sometimes be our own lives, and the complications we encounter on a daily basis.
2. Recognize the symptoms
A panic attack is like an explosion. Let’s look at an example to demonstrate: Maria is a 42-year-old woman with a good job, three children, a partner, and an older relative for whom she cares.
- From the outside, it may look like Maria’s only problem is her multiple responsibilities. Throughout her life, she’s always been able to juggle things perfectly and do everything that’s expected of her – but lately, when she’s least expecting it, she has been suffering panic attacks.
- Sometimes they happen before she leaves for work, or when she has arguments with her partner or children.
- Her father died two years ago, and even though it was a traumatic experience for her, she was sure that she had got over it for the most part.
- But a month ago, the family pet died, and she felt as if all the suffering of the past had come back to haunt her.
As we can see, there are various different elements at play here that all combine to create a very complex situation: stress, pressures, a bereavement in the family, the loss of the family pet…
Now Maria is suffering from attacks more and more frequently, and her doctor has taught her to recognize the symptoms, so she is more able to take appropriate action:
- Negative thoughts
- The feeling that she is going to drown, or her heart is going to stop
- Difficulty breathing
- Abdominal pain
Controlling your breathing is a very important part of controlling and calming a panic attack.
We must try to remember that this psychological reaction to perceived danger takes a physical form.
This is why taking steps to regulate our breathing can help us in case of a panic attack, by controlling the acceleration of our heartbeat.
If you notice the onset of the physical symptoms of a panic attack, try to find a peaceful place and make sure you’re not physically restricted by your clothes – for example, take off your jacket or undo any buttons that are making your clothing tight – and sit down.
- Now breathe in for 5 seconds.
- Hold the breath for 7 seconds.
- Exhale for 8 seconds.
Repeat this pattern over the course of 5 minutes.
4. Block Out Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts can hit us like a wave during a panic attack. It can feel like you’ve opened a door and let a raging thunderstorm enter your mind.
Learn to block these thoughts and stand in the way of the wave of negativity. Say “no,” and take control of your mind by using very simple but effective visualization techniques to focus your mind.
- Visualize your negative thoughts as burning candles.
- Then, take a breath in and blow them out one by one, until none remain.
This technique allows you to continue practicing calm breathing, whilst switching off the negative thoughts that plague us during panic attacks and increase our feelings of anxiety.
5. Use Key Phrases to Calm You Down
Everyone should try to come up with their own phrases that work for them as individuals, if possible. Having a series of phrases to use when a panic attack hits is a simple, effective tool to help you calm down.
Here are some possible examples:
- “Everything is OK – I am going to calm down, and my mind is in balance.”
- “Everything that is going to happen has already happened. I am safe, and nothing is going to hurt me.”
- “Stop, stand up, and take control. Take the reins and calm down right now.”
- “Nothing is going to happen to me. I’m safe, I just need to take a breath and trust in myself.”
The strategies we’ve looked at here are very basic but can be extremely effective. Don’t hesitate to create your own strategies, or adjust these according to your personality and your specific needs. You may find them a great tool in times of crisis.