The experience of panic attacks is somewhat common, and probably quite known to people whom experience a lot of anxiety. A panic attack is a rapid rush of overwhelming fear or panic that peak within 10 minutes. If you experience anxiety, it is important to understand and learn how to manage panic attacks.
The symptoms include the following physical sensations:
- Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
- Racing heart
- Feelings of weakness, faint, dizzy
- Chest pains
- Feeling sweaty or chilly / hot and cold flushes
- Tingling sensations around the face or extremities
- Feelings of choking in throat
- A feeling of intense fear or panic, or impending doom
The following cognitions are also common and include the feelings that you are:
- Going crazy
- Having a heart attack
- Losing control
- Going to die
It is common for people to get confused between heightened anxiety, and a panic attack. So what is the difference? Heightened anxiety is the experience of high anxiety symptoms, either a brief period or chronic, though they may not peak suddenly to the intensity of a panic attack. When a person experiences a panic attack, you will generally know that it is a panic attack because it will feel very intense, to the point where you fear you are going to die or have a heart attack is quite common. Heightened anxiety on the other hand may just feel like a sudden increase of anxiety in the body including some hyperventilation and feeling a bit “panicky”.
If you notice that you are about to experience a panic attack, whether for the first time or another one, try these following strategies to help calm your anxiety down. With panic attacks, or even heightened anxiety, it is really important to try and calm the anxiety down as quickly as possible so to avoid the panic attack being even more intense, and also to prevent an episode of heightened anxiety from turning into a panic attack. Also, the less intense you can keep your heightened anxiety/panic attack from becoming in that moment, then the quicker your feelings of the anxiety will settle down back to normal.
- Get control of your breathing
The breath is really important to be with when experiencing anxiety, no matter how strong the intensity of the anxiety is. Never underestimate the power of the breath; it is our life force energy that flows through our entire being and is connected to our nervous system. It is good practice to try and be with your breath as much as possible throughout your day, working up to being with your breath the entire day with practice. This is involves just simply being aware of your breath, sitting with it, being with it even as you go about other activities. Many people do not pay attention to their breath, they just breathe unconsciously. This way, when you start to have anxiety, you can know how to be with your breath even more so, and at the time of the anxiety do the HeartMath breathing practice to calm your anxiety down as quickly as possible. Click here for how to do the HeartMath breathing technique.
- Surrender to the anxiety/panic
It is really important that you try and surrender to the emotions coming up for you, which means to just sit with/in them, rather than trying to ‘get rid of the anxiety’. Many people try to make their emotions stop, which usually only makes the emotions more intense and last longer. So instead of doing that, just allow yourself to feel the anxiety/panic coming up as you stay in your heart space with your breath. And just remember that the anxiety will soon pass.
- Shifting your unhelpful thoughts
When experiencing panic attacks, our minds tend to become quite irrational with all sorts of unhelpful thinking going on which only makes the anxiety more intense and last even longer. So to help keep your anxiety as low as possible and pass as quickly as possible, remind yourself that of the following:
- The panic attack is a normal bodily system response to perceived threat. Panic attacks happen because the mind has perceived that there is some sort of danger, and so to protect you it kicks this flight/fight survival mechanism into gear releasing an array of chemicals and hormones in your body, which is why you get all of these physical symptoms.
- A panic attack cannot harm you. They just feel incredibly uncomfortable, and scary if you don’t know what is happening at the time as you then tend to think that you’re having a heart attack or dying.
- The panic attack is only temporary and thus will pass. The panic attack will not last forever, even though it may feel like that it is never going to end.
- Ground yourself into the Earth.
If possible, get yourself barefoot onto the Earth as the Earth is our body’s natural state of resonance and will help to ground you quicker, and do your HeartMath breathing while you do this. This is called Grounding.
- Cocoon your body into a blanket.
If you’re at home, some people find it helpful to Cocoon themselves into their blanket by tightly wrapping their whole body into their blanket cocooning themselves. The pressure from being tightly wrapped helps to provide a sense of safety and calmness, kind of like how when someone gives you a tight hug and it helps to calm you down.
- Hot/Cold Showers.
Having either a hot or a cold shower when you’re having a panic attack can also be helpful. Most people generally find that a cold shower is better for them because they are generally feeling quite hot and sweaty from the panic attack, however it is best to choose a water temperature that best suites you.
The more that you practice these strategies, the easier it will become to get control of and reduce the frequency and intensity of any future panic attacks, and the more confident you will feel about dealing with the panic attack when it happens, instead of ‘freaking out’ about it.
If you’re finding that your panic attacks are:
- Occurring often
- Accompanied by feeling anxious much of the time even when not having a panic attack
- Interfering with you engaging socially, going to places, attending work and work performance
- Giving you fear about having another panic attack again
- Having you avoid places where you might have a panic attack
- Experienced in relation to some other psychological issue such as Social Anxiety phobia, or a traumatic experience (e.g., Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD)
Then we suggest that you seek professional help from a Clinical Psychologist for professional treatment of your anxiety/panic attacks. Panic attacks that become problematic such as that described above can become quite debilitating for the individual and this kind of suffering on your life is not necessary as there are many effective psychological treatments available to help improve your anxiety and panic attacks.
At Vitality Unleashed Psychology, we specialise in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders including panic attacks and Panic Disorder, and related psychological conditions. Contact us today on 07 5574 3888 or complete the enquiry form below to talk with us about how we can help you recover from your anxiety today.
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