Having a panic attack can leave you feeling powerless. Luckily, there is a way to stop them and I am going to talk about how you can quickly and easily do this.
First lets talk about the symptoms of anxiety- specifically a panic attack. See my previous blog “Do You Have Anxiety?” for more information. Panic attacks can be very hard to describe, leaving you speechless. Some people actually think that they are having a heart attack as the symptoms are very similar. You should always check with your health care professional regarding the correct diagnosis and treatment. For some people going to the doctor is nerve-wracking in itself. However, getting an accurate diagnosis for people suffering from panic attacks can take months and even years in some cases.
Below is a list of the symptoms of a panic attack:
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feelings of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
- Chills or heat sensations
- Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
- Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
- Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- Fear of dying
Not everyone will have all of these symptoms, but having four or more of these symptoms along with intense fear and discomfort that comes on suddenly, means that you are likely having a panic attack. Some people can really get caught up on what has triggered their attack. I actually encourage people not to get hung up on this. Panic attacks can come out of nowhere from when you’re driving, out to dinner, or watching a movie. I find that most of my clients are never able to specifically identify a single trigger. As opposed to focusing on why this is or has happened, switch your focus to how to make it stop.
There are two main coping skills that I have found stop a panic attack in its tracks. These are known as distracting and self-soothing.
First, get your breathing under control. One of the first things that happens during a panic attack is shortness of breath. This can feel like an elephant is sitting on your chest and you just can’t get enough air in to breathe normally. Unfortunately, this shortness of breath is also what triggers your body to continue to release that pesky adrenaline, that we really want to stop. I recommend square breathing to my clients. This is fairly simple: breathe in for 4….hold for 4….and breathe out for 4…. If the count of 4 is hard for you simply make sure that the amount of time you breathe in and out for match. Repeat this pattern until your panic attack is dissipating. This breathing pattern will trigger your body’s parasympathetic nervous system to release a hormone that will counteract adrenaline and calm you down.
Second, (this one is going to sound silly, but I promise you it works) we need to distract the part of your brain that is releasing that adrenaline to focus on something else. The best way to do this is to force yourself to be in the moment. Basically, what you are going to do is look around you, starting at one side of your vision (left or right) and work your way to the other. I want you to describe everything, don’t miss one minute detail. In addition, use every sense that you can- what do you hear, smell, feel, see. For example, where I am the color of the wall is blue, there is a clock on the wall, it is brown and white with black numbers and black hands, the smallest hand moves with the seconds and the other hands don’t seem to move at all. The surface of the clock appears to be smooth in texture…. And so on… I know this sounds silly and you can do this out loud if you are alone or in your head if you are with other people The key idea here is to distract your brain, your brain cannot multitask in this way. You can’t release adrenaline when you are using your senses for something else. This will stop your panic attack quickly.
I am excited to see responses on how this works for everyone!