If you suffer from panic attacks or are prone to them, you might find that you are experiencing them more than usual. The uncertainty in these challenging times as we face a global pandemic — it’s the perfect storm for intense fear and a sense of dread that cripples those who suffer from panic attacks. It triggers physical symptoms like a pounding heart, sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, chest pain, or trembling. It can last 5 to 20 minutes but can feel like forever. Despite the scary situation you find yourself in, the “silver lining” is that once you learn to recognize when your attacks are coming on, you can find ways to naturally stop them, and get the relief that you so desperately need.
Don’t let fear control you.
It’s understandable that you would want to avoid a panic attack at all costs. Who wouldn’t? But it’s equally important not to let fear control your life. For example, don’t avoid places where you’ve had panic attacks in the past. If you have one, stay where you are, assuming it’s a safe and neutral spot. When the attack is over, you will realize that nothing terrible happened.
Identify your feelings.
When you feel a panic attack coming on, remind yourself that what you are feeling are feelings of anxiety, and not real physical danger. You can even try directly addressing the fear. Practice a go-to response like, “I am not afraid” or “This pandemic will soon pass.”
As tempting as it may be to try to focus your mind elsewhere, the healthiest way to deal with a panic attack is to acknowledge it in the present. Try not to fight your symptoms. Keep reminding yourself that they will pass.
Practice Deep Breathing
A panic attack may make you take quick, shallow breaths, so it’s important get your breathing under control.
Close your eyes. Put your hand between your bellybutton and the bottom of your ribs. Inhale through your nose slowly and deeply. Then, let all that air out gently through your mouth. You will feel the hand on your belly rise and fall.
If it helps, you can count from 1 to 5 on each inhale and exhale. After a few minutes, you should start to feel better.
Play with Your Senses
Notice five things you can see around you. Then, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, followed by one thing you can taste. When you stay grounded in what’s going on around you, it gives your mind something better to do than focus on real/imagined fear, or bounce from one worry to the next.
Practice the H.A.L.T. Approach
H.A.L.T. stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired — four feelings that bring out the worst in everyone. If you’re prone to panic attacks, they can turn into triggers. When symptoms pop up, check in with yourself: Am I hungry? Am I angry? Once you pinpoint what’s going on, you can take steps to fix it.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
When you feel a panic attack coming on, or are actively in the middle of one, tense one muscle at a time and then relax it. Repeat this everywhere until your whole body is relaxed. You can even focus on one specific area if that is easier for you.
Don’t Fuel Your attacks
Panic attacks feed on thoughts of “what if.” What if I can’t do it? What if everyone laughs at me? Acknowledge that fear, then shift from “what if” to “so what?” Sometimes the worst case scenario isn’t as bad as it seems.
When fear scrambles your mind, rate it on a scale of one to 10 every few minutes. This keeps you in the present moment. It’s also a good reminder that you’re not on a 10 the whole time. Some fluctuation is quite normal.
Caffeine can make you feel nervous and shaky. While it serves to keep you awake, it can trigger tiredness later. Nicotine and alcohol can make you feel calm at first, then make you jittery as your body processes it. All three can trigger panic attacks, or make them worse. It’s best to limit them, if you can, or avoid them altogether.
Physical activity lowers stress, which is one of the main causes of panic attacks. A workout, especially the kind that gets your heart pumping, can also get you to a calmer place. Can’t work in a workout? Even a 10-minute walk outside surrounded by fresh air can help reduce the frequency and intensity of your panic attacks.
Slow your body down, and your mind will follow. Practices like yoga, basic meditation, and tai chi use slow body movements that train the mind to be calm and more self aware, thus decreasing anxiety and stress levels.
Panic attacks are quite scary and not easy to control in the moment you are experiencing one. In between your attacks, however, it is important to familiarize yourself with the above mind/body exercises so that next time you can stop your panic attack a lot more quickly and effectively before it gets out of control. Learn what is in your power to control, and let go of what you can’t.
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