Panic attacks typically occur suddenly and can make you feel like you are about to have a heart attack pass out or lose control. During a panic attack, you may experience intense fear even though there is no apparent cause and you may experience physical changes such as rapid heart rate sweating, and rapid breathing. Panic attacks may become recurrent which can lead to panic disorder. However, treatment can help. You may be able to learn techniques to help you stop your panic attacks and prevent future attacks but it is important to seek professional treatment.
1. Recognizes physical symptoms.
When experiencing a panic attack your body enters into a natural response known as the fight-or-flight response. This occurs when you feel as if you are in a really dangerous situation and don’t actually involve in a dangerous situation. Symptoms commonly experienced during a panic attack include:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Dizziness or fainting
- Fear of dying
- Fear of losing control or imminent death
- Feeling of suffocation
- Feeling of detachment
- Feeling of unreality
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or face
- Palpitations, rapid heart rate, or pounding of the heart
- Sweating, chills, or hot flashes.
- Shaking or trembling
2. Control your breathing.
Panic attacks often cause shallow rapid breathing that fuels the attack and keeps symptoms going. By controlling your breathing you can help your heart rate return to normal decrease your sweating and restore a sense of control. One way to slow your breathing is to take a deep breath and hold it for as long as possible. This balances oxygen and carbon dioxide levels reducing the feeling that you can’t breathe. After holding your breath begin deep diaphragmatic breathing. Inhale slowly and deeply then exhale even more slowly. To practice, diaphragmatic breathing tries sitting in a chair with one hand on your chest and the other slightly below your rib cage. Sit comfortably with your knees bent and your shoulders and neck relaxed.
3. Take prescription drugs.
The best way to stop a panic attack is by taking oral anti-anxiety medications. These medications which are usually classified as benzodiazepines have a fast onset and can relieve symptoms within 10-30 minutes. Other prescription medications that belong to the benzodiazepine group work more slowly but remain in the bloodstream longer. Some examples of these agents include alprazolam lorazepam and diazepam. These agents have a fairly rapid onset and can help relieve symptoms within 10-30 minutes. Other prescription medications that belong to the benzodiazepine group begin to work a little more slowly but remain in the bloodstream longer.
4. Try to continue with your activity.
There is no need to panic; by carrying on with your normal routine and activities you are telling your brain that there is no need for alarm or for you to be in a state of fight or flight. You are also sending messages to your body that there is no danger present. By doing so you may be able to avoid becoming consumed by panic.
5. Avoid running away.
If you experience a panic attack in a specific location perhaps at the grocery store you may want to try fleeing the scene as quickly as possible. Staying where you are and controlling your symptoms will help train your brain to recognize that the grocery store is not dangerous. If you run away your brain may begin to associate that place and all grocery stores with danger creating feelings of panic every time you enter one.
6. Focus on other things.
There are many ways to deal with panic with the help of a therapist. By practicing these techniques you can learn how to focus your thoughts and manage your anxiety naturally. Some helpful things to do include drinking something warm or cold taking a walk singing your favorite song talking to a friend or watching television. Additionally, try focusing on other things besides panic such as stretching exercises doing a puzzle changing the air temperature rolling down the window if you are in a car or reading something that is interesting to you.
7. Distinguishing between a stressful experience and a panic attack.
Although both experiences can cause physical reactions such as an increased heart rate and increased blood pressure they are very different events. Stressful experiences happen to everyone at some point in their life. The body’s natural fight or flight response may be activated during a stressful or anxious situation like during a panic attack but there is always a trigger event or experience that is directly related to the reaction. Panic attacks are not linked to an event – they are unpredictable and can be very severe.
8. Implement relaxation techniques.
There are a few things you can do to help reduce your stress levels and control the anxious experience. By using established relaxation methods you can take control of the heightened stressful or anxious state. If you suffer from panic attacks or panic disorder working with a cognitive-behavioral therapist will help you learn relaxation strategies to control panic when it starts.