Panic attacks are awful experiences. People who suffer from panic attacks describe feeling as if they’re going to die. Symptoms vary in intensity, but people often report a racing heartbeat, feeling dizzy, shortness of breath, cold sweats, uncontrollable shaking, and racing thoughts. Panic attacks are just awful.
Panic attacks happen because of the body’s reaction to intense fear. Panic attacks can be triggered by something or they may happen spontaneously. It is estimated that nearly 23% of people will have a panic attack at some point in their life. This research also estimates that nearly 5% will suffer from Panic Disorder. In other words, panic attacks are a significant problem for a lot of people.
Here’s the good news. There are some things you can do to help decrease or even eliminate panic attacks. None of these are quick solutions, but they are quick to learn. Here are a few suggestions:
Talk to your physician about medications that may help. Consider the risks and benefits of all medications. It is also noted that some anxiety medications can be addictive. It is important to discuss this issue with your physician. Never be afraid to ask questions.
2. Learn to Breathe
Yes, breathing is something you do all day every day. However, learning specific ways to control breathing can reduce anxiety altogether. This, in turn, reduces the risk of having panic attacks. Try coherent breathing. This technique is easy to learn and easy to implement. You can find a description of that here.
It is important to practice these techniques when you’re not having intense anxiety. Practicing these techniques will reduce overall anxiety levels over time. Keep in mind this doesn’t happen immediately. It takes persistence and practice. You have to practice this technique for several minutes for several times per day. It may seem weird, but it will help.
Using self-talk to reduce anxiety, and lessen the likelihood of panic attacks, has to be done at non-panic times as well as in the moment.
3. Identify Your Fears
This may seem like a no-brainer. At the same time, it’s not that easy. This is particularly true when panic attacks are unexpected or “uncued.” Examine your thoughts. What, specifically, is the fear? The fear may simply be the fear of having a panic attack. Once you have done that, you can evaluate the fear.
Is the fear rational? If it is causing panic, one thing we can certainly assume is that it is at least partially irrational. Find the irrational parts and correct those thoughts. Seeing a therapist will certainly help this process a great deal.
4. Talk to Yourself
Not in a strange way. Tell yourself the truth about your fear(s). Fears get overwhelming when we catastrophize. Catastrophizing is taking something to the extreme and predicting the worst possible outcome. Some of the DirectTV commercials are actually pretty good examples of catastrophizing. One starts with paying too much for cable and results in finally getting body slammed by a lowland gorilla.
One problem with this is that, in the moment, our catastrophizing seems logical. Using self-talk to reduce anxiety, and lessen the likelihood of panic attacks, has to be done at non-panic times as well as in the moment. Again, seeing a counselor can really help a great deal with this process. Self-talk that challenges my “catastrophizing” will help me be more realistic. It may not make my fears go away completely. But it will certainly reduce them.
If you have ever experienced panic attacks, what are some things you have done to help? We would love to hear from you!