Visualize Your Panic As A Wave
When you begin to feel panic sensations, instead of trying to shut them out, visualize each feeling as a wave which you are riding until it comes to rest on the shore, says Dr. Chuck Schaeffer, a strength-focused psychologist. Anticipate the wave passing and becoming less and less intense as it crests. Remind yourself that just because you might feel like you’ll drown beneath the wave, it doesn’t mean you can’t swim. You might also remind yourself that the panic sensations are just passing waves on the constant, powerful ocean that is you.
Dr. Rodriguez seconds this metaphor, adding that the waves will rise and fall, and that typically a panic attack peaks at 10 minutes and then abates.
Why Might I Have A Panic Attack
A panic attack can happen at any time or place, and because it can happen quite quickly, it might feel unexpected.
Because a panic attack is an intense feeling of fear and anxiety, it often happens if you are feeling very anxious about something happening in your life, or you have experienced something difficult or stressful. This might be:
- a difficult situation at home that is making you anxious
- a frightening experience like abuse, or neglect
- feeling stressed about things like exams, work, friendships or relationships
- if you have lost a friend or family member
- if you are being bullied
- anxiety around school, college or university
There are many reasons why you might feel anxious and have a panic attack. Everyone has different experiences and thats okay. Sometimes, it might feel like there is no clear reason why you are having a panic attack.
Whats important is to try and understand what you might be feeling anxious or stressed about, and what types of situations or places can cause you to have panic attacks.
The first step to doing this is to talk to someone you trust, like a friend, family member, teacher or GP. They can help you understand what you are experiencing and help you find the support you need.
I get a pounding heart and my breathing becomes rapid like I cant get any air in – it feels stuck in the back of my throat.
How To Talk To Yourself
Talk to yourself about what is happening, and what you need to do. One question my patients find very helpful is this: is it Danger or Discomfort? Some of the other responses my patients like include the following:
1. Fine, let’s have an attack! It’s a good chance to practice my coping techniques.
2. Answer your “what if…?” fears by saying “So what? I’ll get afraid, then calm down again.”
3. It’s okay to be afraid.
Ways To Prevent Panic Attacks
“You need to try to work out what particular stress you might be under that could make your symptoms worse,” says Professor Salkovskis. “It’s important not to restrict your movements and daily activities.”
- Doing breathing exercises every day will help to prevent panic attacks and relieve them when they are happening
- Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, will help you to manage stress levels, release tension, improve your mood and boost confidence
- Eat regular meals to stabilise your blood sugar levels
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking these can make panic attacks worse. Panic support groups have useful advice about how you can effectively manage your attacks. Knowing that other people are experiencing the same feelings can be reassuring. Your GP can put you in touch with groups in your area
- Cognitive behavioural therapy can identify and change the negative thought patterns that are feeding your panic attacks
Breathing Exercise For Panic Attacks
If youre breathing quickly during a panic attack, doing a breathing exercise can ease your other symptoms. Try this:
- breathe in as slowly, deeply and gently as you can, through your nose
- breathe out slowly, deeply and gently through your mouth
- some people find it helpful to count steadily from one to five on each in-breath and each out-breath
- close your eyes and focus on your breathing
You should start to feel better in a few minutes. You may feel tired afterwards.
Visit the No Panic website for another breathing exercise to calm panic.
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Causes Of Panic Attacks And Panic Disorder
Although the exact causes of panic attacks and panic disorder are unclear, the tendency to have panic attacks runs in families. There also appears to be a connection with major life transitions such as graduating from college and entering the workplace, getting married, or having a baby. Severe stress, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss can also trigger panic attacks.
Panic attacks can also be caused by medical conditions and other physical causes. If youre suffering from symptoms of panic, its important to see a doctor to rule out the following possibilities:
Prevalence Of Panic Disorder
Panic disorder affects 2-3% of people every year in the United States and Europe, with varying rates depending on race and ethnicity. On average, Native American Indian populations experience panic disorder at higher rates than non-Latino white Americans. In contrast, African Americans, Latinos, Caribbean Blacks, and Asian Americans all experience the disorder at lower rates than non-Latino white Americans. In addition, it has been well established than females are twice as likely to be diagnosed with panic disorder than males . A number of factors have been identified as possibly influencing sex differences in rates of panic disorder . However, no one theory has been determined so the underlying reason for sex differences in rates of panic disorder remains unknown.
The typical course of panic disorder begins in adolescence and peaks in early to mid-twenties, with symptoms rarely present in children under the age of 14 or in older adults over the age of 64 . Caregivers can look for symptoms of panic attacks in adolescents, followed by notable changes in their behavior , to help potentially identify the onset of panic disorder. Panic disorder is most likely to develop between the ages of 20-24 years and although females are more likely to have panic disorder, there are no significant sex differences in how the disorder presents .
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Write Down The Signs Of An Anxiety Attack
Once you know youre having an anxiety attack, try to jot down a few of the symptoms and thoughts you are experiencing. This can help you put your anxiety attack into perspective.
One of the things that worsens anxiety and can make it develop into a panic attack is looking at those symptoms in a catastrophic way, says Cheryl Carmin, PhD, director of clinical psychology training at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center and a professor at Ohio State in Columbus.
Acknowledge The Panic Attack
People spend most of their time in the two wrong places: the past or the future. In the past, you drown yourself in depression. In the future, youre scared for your life. But in the present, thats where you can find the most joy. While having a panic attack can be wildly unpleasant, its important to sit with yourself in the present moment and acknowledge it.
Tell yourself, Right now, Im having a panic attack. I feel scared, anxious, and worried that something will go wrong. However, right now nothing bad is happening right now. I am safe. I feel myself taking a deep breath in. I feel the oxygen entering my lungs. I feel my toes grounded on the floor. Im shaking my arms back and forth. This moment isnt perfect but it will pass. Good moments are up ahead. All I need to do is feel this present moment.
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Panic Attack Signs And Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of a panic attack develop abruptly and usually reach their peak within 10 minutes. They rarely last more than an hour, with most ending within 20 to 30 minutes. Panic attacks can happen anywhere and at any time. You may have one while youre in a store shopping, walking down the street, driving in your car, or even sitting on the couch at home.
Panic attack symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
- Heart palpitations or racing heart
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings
- Feeling dizzy, light-headed, or faint
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy
Is it a heart attack or a panic attack?
Most of the symptoms of a panic attack are physical, and many times these symptoms are so severe that you may think youre having a heart attack. In fact, many people suffering from panic attacks make repeated trips to the doctor or the emergency room in an attempt to get treatment for what they believe is a life-threatening medical problem. While its important to rule out possible medical causes of symptoms such as chest pain, elevated heart rate, or difficulty breathing, its often panic that is overlooked as a potential causenot the other way around.
What Do I Do If Im Having A Panic Attack
With or without panic disorder, panic attacks are common. And theres a big misconception around dealing with them, Gruner explains.
The most common advice people hear when theyre experiencing a panic attack is to take deep breaths, think positively, and try to calm down, he says.
However, trying to control anxiety in these ways can backfire. Struggling to prevent a panic attack can have a paradoxical effect and actually cause a panic attack.
During a panic attack, a person should do the counterintuitive thing: let go of control and allow the panic attack to run its course.
It can also be useful to remind yourself that you cant die from a panic attack, and that its your bodys normal, natural reaction, which is not dangerous.
Gabe Gruner, LICSW, is a psychotherapist at the Psychiatry Outpatient Clinic at Brigham and Womens Hospital .
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A Panic Attack Comes Out Of Nowhere And Is Not An Anxiety Attack
Though we tend to use the terms panic attack and anxiety attack interchangeably, its worth noting that professionally speaking , theres actually no such thing as an anxiety attack, per se.
Anxiety is an excessive persistent worrying over an imminent event that can last a while. A panic attack is a burst of intense fear that typically lasts fewer than 30 minutes, Dr. Carolyn Rodriguez, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford tells NBC News BETTER. She says that she would never use the term anxiety attack to define any such event, noting that the term is something of a lay approach.
Additionally, when panic attacks are linked to a panic disorder, they come out of the blue with no apparent trigger, but anyone can experience a panic attack. If youre afraid of heights for instance, and are up on the roof, you might have a panic attack. The difference here is that in this case, the panic attack has a clear cause, whereas with a panic disorder theres no obvious culprit in the environment.
Social Anxiety Is My Old Friend
3. Relax Your Muscles: Another helpful tactic is progressive muscle relaxation, which essentially involves doing a full-body examination and tightening then releasing each muscle group in your body. You can start at your toes and work your way up, taking turns tensing one muscle group for a few seconds, then relaxing it for about 30 seconds. Move on to the next muscle group until youve worked your way up to the top of your head.
4. Remember, You Arent Dying Youre Having a Panic Attack: Remind yourself that what youre experiencing is a panic attack, and the feelings it brings are normal panic symptoms. Describe your symptoms to yourself, allowing yourself to feel them so you can let them go. Instead of judging your symptoms, just acknowledge them. Remind yourself that this is simply a sympathetic nervous system response that will soon pass. The first thing people tend to do is try to fight their symptoms and judge themselves for having them. Be with your symptoms and try to quiet your thoughts. That’s the best way to start gaining control of the panic attack without trying to get rid of it right away. Just be with your experience in the moment.
6. Drink Chamomile Tea: Recent clinical and laboratory research has determined that chamomile is not only relaxing but it can also significantly decrease anxiety and even fight depression. When feeling especially anxious, place four chamomile tea bags in hot water. After letting them soak for five minutes, drink up slowly.
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How I Overcame Anxiety
As mentioned earlier, I have plans to sharemy entire story and more specifically the day my life turned upside down 30,000 ft in the air and the weeks that followed that eventually woke me up.
I wouldnt wish my experience on anyone. But I also wouldnt trade it. The truth is, without the complete breakdown of my life, I wouldnt have had the opportunity to take action and grow in some very specific ways.
Strategy #: Avoidance Feeds Panic
Think of a situation that makes you panickyIll bet you white-knuckle it until you cant stand it anymore, and then quit, which makes you feel better.
But consider this: While quitting does make you feel better in the short-term, it also reinforces the idea that what youre doing was truly dangerous, and getting out is what saved you. This makes sense if youre feeling panicky about swimming with sharks while you have a nosebleed, but it doesnt make sense if youre feeling panicky about crossing a parking lot, sitting in a restaurant, or riding the subway. You must be willing to endure a little anxietyemphasis on little never more than youre ready forso your brain can round the corner and start getting bored.
But you dont have to jump in with both feet. Aim for inducing about a 3 on a 1-10 scale. You need to start with some anxiety, in order to give you something to work with. Experience the 3, and then wait it out. Your anxiety might escalate to a 4 or 5 at first, but if you stick with it rather than quitting, it will go back to a 3, then a 2, and then a 1.
Try it out. Do the thing youre scared of, a little at a time. Your brain will get bored, but you have to let it get over the hump. Then you can move on to the next step. As you master more and more situations, even the things you thought would be 9s or 10s will start to look easier.
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