A panic attack is a sudden onset of immense, overwhelming emotions such as fear, panic, or anxiety. Your mind feels uncontrollable seemingly out of nowhere, causing several emotional and physical symptoms.
A panic attack may make a person feel detached from reality or from themselves during the episode. They could experience a myriad of symptoms such as feeling like they can’t breathe, sweating profusely, trembling, feeling like their head is spinning, and feeling their heart pounding. They may even experience chest pain and think they’re having a heart attack or stroke!
Needless to say, panic attacks can be scary, especially when they hit you suddenly and quickly. However, there are certain things you can do to fight one-off. Here are 11 things you can do to get yourself back in control when you have or feel a panic attack coming on:
Identify the Panic Attack
Since a panic attack can feel a lot like a heart attack, it’s important to identify what it is so you can remind yourself that it is temporary and that it will pass. Since panic attacks can make people feel like they’re about to die or impending doom, taking stock of what it is will then allow you to do certain things to reign it back in.
Hyperventilating is a common sign of a panic attack. You may feel like you’re not able to breathe and therefore, hyperventilate, and this can make things a lot worse!
Therefore, one of the first things you should try to do is bring your breathing under control. Focus on taking deep breaths through your mouth. Count to four while inhaling, focusing on the air slowly filling your chest and stomach, hold your breath for one second, and then breathe out by counting to four once again.
Do Muscle Relaxation Exercises
Similar to the effects of deep breathing, muscle relaxation exercises can also help combat a panic attack by controlling your body’s response as much as possible. Starting from the tips of your fingers or toes, slowly focus on working your way up to your body.
If you are prone to panic attacks, you can practice muscle relaxation techniques regularly. This will help you do them more efficiently when you are in the moment.
Close Your Eyes
Sometimes, a panic attack can be caused by outside stimuli that trigger you, such as a crowded room or something that is happening in front of you. The best thing to do would be to either leave the place or if that’s not possible, close your eyes to block it out. This can make it easier for you to focus on your breathing.
Do Some Light Exercise
Endorphins are essential in getting your body to efficiently pump blood, and they are also the best mood booster. Exercise is a great way to get endorphins flowing through the body! Since your body is already feeling stressed, don’t force yourself to do intense actions – so, no cardio or HIIT training! Light exercises like walking or swimming are what you should be going for here.
However, if you are hyperventilating, exercise of any form can make it even harder to breathe. Do whatever you can to get control of your breathing before doing anything else!
Mindfulness is the practice of being in the moment. Panic attacks often make you feel a sense of impending doom or a detachment from reality. By taking stock of what is happening at that very moment and the things that are around you, it can help you fight the feelings of panic.
Try focusing on the physical sensations around you, like tapping your feet on the ground or rubbing your palms against the textures of your clothes or whatever is around you. These actions can help ground in reality and also give you something solid to focus on.
Find Something to Focus On
Just as some people find it helpful to focus on sensations, others feel better when they focus on something that can distract them from the overwhelming feelings.
To do this, pick an object that is in clear sight and describe everything about it to yourself at great length. Look at that house in front of you; how big is it, what is the color, how many windows does it have? There’s a water bottle in front of you; how tall is it, how full is it, what pattern is printed on it?
Focusing on something other than yourself can help the symptoms of a panic attack subside.
Go to Your “Happy Place”
Imagine the most peaceful place on earth you can think of. Is it a sunny private beach with quiet lapping waves? Or a cozy cottage on a breezy hillside? Close your eyes and imagine you are in that place at this very moment. Imagine taking in your surroundings, feeling the sand on your feet, smelling the salt in the sea, or feeling the cool breeze wafting through your hair.
Whatever place it is, make sure it is calm, quiet, and relaxing. You may be a city guy or gal – but your happy place can’t be a busy metropolitan street!
Chant an Internal Mantra
Repeating a mantra to yourself can be reassuring and calming, giving yourself something to focus on during a panic attack. At first, it may seem like just a string of words, but you will come to believe it the more you keep saying it. What you choose to say is up to you. It can be something as simple as “this too shall pass” or something that is personal to you. Make sure to keep reiterating it until you feel the panic attack begins to diminish.
Smell Some Lavender
Lavender is renowned for its stress-relieving and soothing properties, which is why people often use it to help them relax. If you are someone who gets panic attacks or even if you’re just really stressed out, you can have some lavender essential oil on hand. Just put a few dabs on your forearms when you feel especially anxious – or even during a panic attack – and breathe the scent in. You can also drink some lavender or chamomile tea; both of them can help you relax and unwind!
However, if you are taking benzodiazepines, please note that you should not combine it with lavender as it has been known to cause intense drowsiness!
Benzodiazepines can be helpful in combatting panic attacks if you take one as soon as you feel one coming on.
Keep in mind that drugs should be your last option. It is always best to try and fight a panic attack off using some of the techniques we discussed earlier, but there are certain people who are unable to do so fully or even at all without the intervention of pharmacological approaches. Since this is only in extreme cases, Benzodiazepines cannot be taken at a whim. You will need to get a panic disorder diagnosis and a prescription for them from a mental health professional to take such medication.
Benzodiazepines can also tend to be highly addictive, so the body needs time to adjust to it. They should be used sparingly and only in cases where nothing else will work.