Years ago, the medical community did not fully understand panic attacks. They were generally not accepted as a condition that necessitated treatment. But awareness of anxiety issues has grown in recent years, and panic attacks are widely accepted as a legitimate medical condition. However, a greater understanding of the problem does not necessarily make it easier for most sufferers when they experience a full-blown panic attack.
This is why it is so important, if you are prone to panic attacks, to have not only a solid grasp on what constitutes a panic attack and what triggers them, but also an arsenal of effective strategies for dealing with the panic when you feel it start to come on.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for controlling panic attacks. But one positive takeaway from the negative experience of a panic attack is that the longer you deal with such experiences, the more insight you may be able to glean into what causes them, and the more tools you will have under your belt for helping them subside.
This Is Not a Heart Attack
Perhaps one of the most frightening aspects of panic attacks is that they can feel much like people would imagine a heart attack feels. This, of course, only induces more panic.
If you were an adult the first time you had a full-blown panic attack, you may have ended up in the doctor’s office or emergency room. With testing done on the heart and other possible causes of the symptoms ruled out, sufferers are often shocked to learn they’ve just experienced a panic attack. If you have had panic attacks since childhood, you have probably been aware for some time that they are brought on by anxiety and may have even come to accept them as a part of life. But unfortunately, knowing that panic attacks are not typically life-threatening does not make it any easier to pull yourself out of the panicked state.
Getting Panic Attacks Under Control Quickly
When you first feel a panic attack coming on, there are techniques that may help you bring it under control.
Try putting on calming music and breathing deeply. Stretch gently or perform some relaxing yoga poses. These actions can help to overcome the surge of adrenaline that is sending an emergency signal to your body. If you are consciously calming your nervous system, your body will not be able to sustain the fight-or-flight response that is responsible for your panic attack. Since panic attacks often come with hot flashes and sweating, it can help to tend to the physical discomfort by cooling off in the shower or sitting in front of a fan. Sometimes, a cold, sweet drink such as orange juice can act as a quick “fix” to help bring you out of the acute state of anxiety. (If you are diabetic, check into whether this is wise for you ahead of time.)
Distractions can also be invaluable.
Light reading, a funny movie, or a mentally stimulating puzzle can help soothe your mind. If possible, it can be very helpful to speak to a trusted friend or relative, whether in-person or on the phone. Even just checking emails may offer some relief — or try taking your mind off things by immersing yourself in busy physical work, such as washing dishes, doing laundry or scrubbing the floors.
If your panic attack is seemingly coming “out of nowhere,” these steps may be all you need to prevent it from overwhelming you. But remember, panic attacks mean that your body is trying to tell you something – so if a specific event or situation triggered the attack, do not attempt to “ride it out.” You need to remove yourself from the triggering scenario to allow your body to rest and your brain to stop receiving the “panic!” signal.
As with all treatments, it is best to consult your doctor. You may also want to meet with a therapist, who can help you identify your triggers.