Panic attacks can be very terrifying for those experiencing them for the first time. Statistics from the U.S indicate that some 2.4 million adults suffer from panic attacks.
Needless to say, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only contributed to increasing these numbers!
The article discusses panic attacks and 12 quick tips to managing it that could help.
What are panic attacks and why do they happen?
Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear that start with severe physical reactions in individuals without any apparent causes.
Studies from the US indicate that women are twice as likely to develop panic attack symptoms than men and that those afflicted with panic attacks typically develop them before the age of 24.
Panic attack symptoms
The symptoms of a panic attack tend to vary but most individuals tend to report having a sense of loss of control and rapid heart rate. In some severe cases, individuals reported feeling like they’re having a heart attack or dying.
Some of the most common symptoms of panic attacks are listed below:
- Sense of impending doom or danger
- Fear of loss of control or death
- Rapid, pounding heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Chest pains, shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
- Unexplained chills or hot flashes
- Nausea or abdominal cramps
- Headache, dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
- Numbness or tingling sensation in varying regions of the body
- Feeling of detachment from reality
Causes of panic attacks
The real cause of panic attacks has not readily been identified. However, several contributing factors such as stress, genetics and a person’s individual temperament may play a role in making someone more susceptible to a panic attack.
Some evidence suggests that panic attacks could be triggered by certain situations. It is best for the individual to monitor their own symptoms and behaviour to better understand which circumstances could potentially be a precursor to a panic attack.
There is some evidence to indicate that panic attacks may be caused by abnormal activations in the amygdala which is responsible for the control of emotions like fear.
Tips to cope with panic attacks
Now that you’ve gained a better understanding of what panic attacks are, let us go into the 12 tips you’ll need in order to help cope with panic attacks.
Tip 1: Practice deep breathing
Breathing deeply is a very powerful tool to help to calm oneself down.
To practice good deep breathing, first look for a quiet and comfortable place. Then, make sure you breathe in and out through your nose by placing one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
Keep in mind the most effective deep breathing exercises expand the belly and not the chest.
Tip 2: Shift your focus to an object
If you find yourself getting stuck in a panic attack inducing situation, try shifting your focus temporarily to a “feel good object” in your room. This could be a favourite object, a book, a picture or anything that brings in a feeling of happiness.
It is important for you to find what works for you and to change your focus temporarily.
Tip 3: Use the 5-4-3-2-1 method
This simple trick of counting backwards from five and engaging each of your five senses is supposed to help redraw focus to one’s surroundings. This can help individuals retain a sense of self-control
To use the method, when counting back from five, simply pick out five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things that you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
Tip 4: Chant a mantra or practice meditation
Similar to the deep breathing exercise in #Tip 1, chanting a mantra or practising meditation are simple tricks to help relax your mind and refocus your attention.
The practice of sacred utterances such as “Om” or focusing on one’s breath during a meditation exercise are great exercises that can help relieve panic attacks
Tip 5: Muscle relaxation techniques
If you feel anxiety or stress in various parts of your body, try massaging that region of the body for four to ten seconds and repeat the exercise until you feel better. Having problems reaching those hard to reach places? Try getting tools like massage pillows or a partner’s help.
Tip 6: Think of a happy time
Fond memories can play an important role in helping us feel better. Placing photographs and positive mementoes around your desk can help induce positive emotions that help prevent a panic attack. Try shifting your memory back to a happier time or recalling something positive someone said about you. This helps you regain a sense of positive wellbeing.
Tip 7: Use essential oils like lavender
Using a diffuser that disperses powerful essential oils like lavender may help prevent the onset of panic attacks as well. While lavender is one of the more popular choices of scents out there, other great options include Bergamot, Jasmine or Ylang-ylang.
Tip 8: Go for a walk
Nothing calms a mind faster than a soothing walk in nature. Spend some time after work to visit a nearby park or flower garden where you can enjoy a brisk walk. Taking in the sun and the beauty of nearby greenery is a free and relaxing way to reconnect with your own senses.
Tip 9: Practice some light yogic exercises
The practise of yoga is said to date back to 2,700 BC. Many of these ancient practices have been passed through the generations till today. Yoga exercises help condense many of the breathing and stretching exercises that help mitigate panic attacks.
Use yoga poses like the sun salutation poses to stretch out your back muscles and downward-facing dog to stretch out your shoulders.
Tip 10: Calming music
Music is another innovative way one can consider to help alleviate panic attack symptoms. Listening to upbeat and relaxing musical notes can help improve one’s mood.
Tip 11: Talk to your doctor about anti-anxiety medications
When all else fails, it is probably time for you to seek professional help from a doctor.
Consider providing the doctor with a detailed account of your medical history and how your panic attack symptoms have developed over time. It is also important for you to inform the doctor of any potential medical allergies to any medication you might have.
Tip 12: Talk to someone
Don’t forget the importance of a friend in helping you combat panic attacks.
Sometimes talking to someone who can empathise with your situation can be one of the most helpful ways you can deal with panic attacks. Seek out friends who are able to encourage and provide you with a sense of comfort during difficult times. All it takes is a simple phone call or text.
What to do after a panic attack?
The immediate onset of a panic attack can be distressing and it is important to help the person regain an immediate sense of control.
This can be done by practising deep breathing exercises. Generally, the presence of a trusted friend or colleague can help the person recover better during the attack but this should be kept to a minimum of only one or two individuals.
Panic attacks can sometimes be triggered by the presence of too many people and individuals assisting the afflicted should be mindful of this.
After the panic attack has passed, allow the person room to regain their composure on their own and offer support when requested to help the person feel better.
Conclusion: Remember: it will pass
It is important for the person going through the illness to understand that panic attacks are not their fault. Remember that this situation too shall pass with proper management.