*I am not a doctor and I am not giving you medical advice. I’m only speaking from my personal experience and knowledge. If you need professional help, please contact your doctor.
If you – like me – suffer from anxiety, then you’ve probably experienced a panic attack before. A panic attack is a sudden rush of anxiety and worry, combining mental and physical symptoms of terror. Even though there may be no real danger around you, your body acts as if there is and you get a rush of adrenaline, causing a “fight or flight” response. The fact that there’s nothing to fight or run away from (since there’s no real danger) just makes the panic worse.
Panic attacks can be caused by a number of different things, like generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, different highly stressful situations, or even phobias. Some people suffer from panic attacks caused by “triggers” and know what the warning signs are. But some people have chronic panic attacks that come on without warning, and there are no ways to tell what triggers them.
Even if you can’t prevent them, or don’t know what’s even causing them, there are definitely ways to help stop them and to calm yourself down. One key part of getting better at handling panic attacks is to better understand them. Like I said above, our mind sends a signal to our body that we are in immediate danger and our bodies react accordingly. The fact that we aren’t actually in danger is what causes the problem.Realize that your body is having a natural reaction and helpful reaction, the problem is just that it shouldn’t be happening when there’s no real threat.
Realize that your body is having a natural reaction that can actually help us when we’re in danger. The issue is that you’re getting this reaction when there’s no real threat and that’s what makes it scary.
Before I start talking about the ways that I cope with panic attacks, I want to first talk about the symptoms, in case any of you might not know for sure if what you’re experiencing is a panic attack.
How You Know You Are Having a Panic Attack
Here are some of the symptoms of a panic attack. But keep in mind that there are countless symptoms and experiences can be different from person to person.
- Tunnel vision
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Fight or flight feeling (can cause feelings of anger or intense fear)
- Fear of losing control
- Racing heartbeat
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pains
- Flushes or chills
- Tingling in the extremities
- Twitching or trembling muscles
- Feeling like you aren’t real
- Flushed face
- Feeling like something bad is going to happen
- Fear of dying
- Tingling scalp
Symptoms Are Similar to a Heart Attack
Many people mistake the symptoms of a panic attack with a heart attack since they are very similar, right up to the chest pains and dizziness. The problem with this is that even if you know you are having a panic attack, you have an intense worry that your worrying could lead to a heart attack, which then worsens the symptoms of the panic attack, making you feel like it is leading to a heart attack. This vicious circle can continue unless you are able to put a stop to it.
5 Ways to Stop a Panic Attack
Now let’s go over some different methods for getting rid of a panic attack. You should first understand that not every method will work for every individual and you might find other coping mechanisms that work better for you. I’m just giving my personal suggestions based on what I’ve experienced.
1.) Practice breathing exercises.
My first and biggest suggestion is to try doing breathing exercises in order to stop a panic attack. These panic attacks often make you feel like you are losing control and that you can’t breathe in and out properly. Try to inhale and exhale gently and slowly, focusing only on your breathing. Be careful not to start hyperventilating because this will just make your attack worse. Try deep, slow inhales of breath through your nose. Hold the breath for a second and then exhale through your mouth. This is a super simple breathing exercise, but it really helps my mind focus on breathing instead of my racing thoughts.
2.) The 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique.
One of my blog readers, Julie, taught me this (Hi, Julie)! This is a grounding technique that can help you become more mindful and aware of your surroundings and what’s happening outside of your panic attack. What you do is name 5 things that you can see around you, name 4 things that you can feel, name 3 things that you can hear, name 2 things that you can smell, and name 1 thing that you can taste. This can help you feel calmer, distract you from your anxiety, and help you think clearly again.
3.) Come up with a coping word or phrase.
Just like certain things can make your panic attack worse, certain coping words and statements can be very helpful for someone who’s going through a panic attack. This is especially true when you first start experiencing the symptoms of an attack. It’s helpful to come up with a coping word (or phrase) that you can use when you first feel an attack coming on. This can help snap you back to reality and help you understand that your mind created this panic attack and it’s in your head – you’re not in danger, you’re not having a heart attack, etc. For me, I always say something like “You’ve been through this before” or “These attacks always end” or “You’ll be okay.” I’ve heard that other people simply say the word “No!” or “Stop” and that helps snap them out of it. Just think of anything that will help you.
4.) Count backward from 100.
As you can see, the main goal to aim for when stopping a panic attack is to distract yourself. When you’re distracted from the panic, your mind can go back to a more relaxed state. Focusing on something simple, such as counting backward from 100, can do this – especially when you’re in public, driving a car, at work, or doing something else where you need to act more calm and collected. Just focus on counting.
5.) Do something else you know will distract you.
As I said, it’s all about the distractions. I know it’s easier said than done, but you just need to get your mind off of the anxiety. Listening to music, watching a movie or TV show, talking to a loved one, playing with a pet, going outside for a walk, or spending time on a hobby are all good ideas. Try out something different until you find what helps you the most, then stick with it every time you’re having a panic attack.
Anxiety (and mental health in general) can be tricky. I know that sometimes it can seem that you take one step forward and two steps back. Sometimes reading about it and learning more about your illness can help you. But sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to try not to think and read so much about it because that just feeds it and makes it worse. Distracting yourself and trying out different coping techniques until you find a few that work for you is the best thing you can do, in my opinion. But no matter what, know that you’re not alone. <3
Do you have any tips for stopping a panic attack?