You know that awful feeling. It's the paralyzing sensation where the world is closing in on you, and you can't breathe, and you feel like you're dying? That feeling is as terrifying as it is frustrating, and it can debilitate you for the rest of the day.
If you're dealing with panic attacks, you already know how much of a toll they can have on your mental health. Even though they may seem random, you can learn helpful ways to cope with these incidents. With time, you can also learn to recognize early warning signs and prevent an attack from happening altogether. Let's get into what you need to know.
Educate Yourself About What's Happening
Panic attacks can look different for everyone, but it's important to know the typical symptoms you may experience. These include:
Feeling completely out-of-control
Feeling detached from your body (known as derealization)
Experiencing intense heart palpitations or an increased heart rate
Heat and sweating
Tingling sensations throughout your body
Feeling dizzy or light-headed
Hot and cold flashes
Chest tightness (like a heavyweight is on your chest)
Knowing these symptoms in advance can help you feel prepared for when they begin to arise. Simply having this insight can make you feel more empowered and confident with your mental health.
Reflect on Your Triggers
If you struggle with chronic panic attacks, it's important to start recognizing your anxiety triggers. For example, do you have more attacks in the morning or at night? Do you notice them in particular settings, like the car or workplace? And when have you gone a long period without experiencing an attack- what were you doing differently then?
All this insight can help you increase your awareness about your panic attack patterns. Having this insight allows you to create an action-based strategy for managing symptoms when they emerge.
If you're not sure, consider starting a journal. Write down what happens before and after the attack. Pay attention to potential trends. Review them with a trusted friend or mental health professional.
Remind Yourself That You're Safe
Even though you may feel like you're dying, it's important to remind yourself that you aren't dying! Your thoughts can have a profound effect on your feelings and behaviors. If you don't try to challenge your panic, it often festers and becomes even more intense.
Instead, try to develop a calming mantra like:
I am safe right here.
This will pass.
I can get through this moment.
I am going to be okay.
This is just a short, temporary experience.
I am confident I can be calm during this time.
Remind yourself of this mantra once you start experiencing the initial anxiety symptoms. Write it down if you must!
Focus on Breathing
When was the last time you thought about your breathing? If you can't remember, that's probably a sign that you need to work on this skill!
We often take our breathing for granted, but anxiety can constrict our breath, and this constriction can exacerbate anxiety (which can trigger more panic attacks!). Fortunately, the opposite is also true. When you take slow, deep breaths, you naturally decrease your heartbeat and stabilize your blood pressure.
Don't be surprised if you find deep breathing challenging at first. Begin by inhaling through your nose and counting for several beats, until you feel like you can't breathe in anymore. Hold for one more count and then exhale with your mouth. Release all the air from your body. Repeat this same process at least ten times.
Engage in More Mindfulness Throughout the Day
Mindfulness refers to the conscious act of remaining present and attuned to the current moment. For many of us, it's easier said than done! We spend most of our time running on auto-pilot, trying to get things done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
When was the last time you just focused on doing a single task at a time? Or allowed yourself to acknowledge all the gratitude you feel in your life? Have you recently stopped to just stare at something beautiful?
Mindfulness is a natural treatment for anxiety, and it's one of the best ways to counteract a panic attack in real-time. Focus on grounding yourself by identifying different sensations you observe- pay attention to the sights, smells, and sounds around you. Try to be with the moment, and you'll feel calmer in return.