“In my experience, the words “now just calm down” almost inevitably have the opposite effect on the person you are speaking to.” – Elyn Saks
A panic attack is a sudden and intense feeling of fear or anxiety that can be overwhelming and debilitating. It is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, dizziness, sweating, trembling, and a feeling of impending doom. Some people may also experience chest pain, nausea, and a fear of losing control or going crazy.
During a panic attack, the body’s fight or flight response is activated, even though there is no real danger. This response causes the physical symptoms of a panic attack and a heightened state of alertness and arousal.
Many things trigger panic attacks, social events, public speaking, conflict with family or coworkers, and situations reminiscent of past traumas. Sometimes, an accumulation of stress builds up over time and then pops up unexpectedly in a panic.
Most people believe they have a heart attack when experiencing a panic attack. They often go to the emergency room or their doctor for a checkup. When the doctor cannot find anything physically wrong with them, they suggest that the individual might have had a panic attack and recommend talking to a mental health professional.
Family and friends feel helpless around individuals who struggle with panic attacks. They can suggest useless advice or tell them to “calm down,” which never works.
Mental health professionals might offer several strategies to cope with a panic attack:
- Focus on your breathing: Take slow, deep breaths through your nose and out through your mouth. This can help to calm your body and mind.
- Use positive self-talk: Remind yourself that you are safe and that the panic attack will pass.
- Find a peaceful place to relax: Find a quiet place where you can sit or lie down and relax.
- Use relaxation techniques: Try progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, or mindfulness meditation to help you relax.
- Find a focus object: Redirect your attention to something in clear sight and consciously notice all the details about that object, engaging all of your senses if possible.
- Picture a safe place, face, or space: Visualizing a place or location that holds a positive memory can be helpful to calm the nervous system. Additionally, you can picture someone safe or an activity that gives you joy.
- Engage in light exercise: Taking a walk, stretching, or playing an outdoor game with someone can alleviate the stressful energy in your body.
- Use a mantra or affirmation: A positive statement, verse, song, or quote can redirect fear or worry about your condition and reset negative thoughts.
- Change your life situation: If panic results from stress, consider distancing yourself from people, changing jobs, setting boundaries, or reorganizing living situations for your future health.
- Reach out to someone: Talk to a friend or loved one, or consider seeking support from a mental health professional.
The best time to deal with a panic attack is before you have a panic attack. Trying to deal with one in the middle is highly challenging to control. A daily practice of calming, affirming prayer and meditation, healthier living, and new perspectives can strengthen the body’s defenses, so the panic never comes up again.
Panic attacks can be very distressing and may interfere with daily activities. It is essential to seek help from a mental health professional if you are experiencing panic attacks, as they can be treated effectively with therapy and medication. Consult Ron Huxley today if you are struggling with panic attacks and want help.