In this week’s blog post the discussion is all about the symptoms of a panic attack and how you can try calm down during one such as breathing and muscle exercises, distraction techniques and more.
If you’ve ever suffered from a panic attack, the first and most important thing is to not be embarrassed, it is absolutely not your fault. The body’s natural response to a stressful or dangerous situation is flight, fight and freeze, and it’s not something you can always control. When you’re having a panic attack, you may feel intense fear, dizziness, heart palpitations, hyperventilation, shaking, sweating, nausea or even feel detached from yourself. Panic attacks can have any of these symptoms or all of them, and can last from minutes to much longer. However long it is, it’s frightening. If you’re hyperventilating, you might feel like you can’t breathe, which in itself is a terrifying experience.
The first step is to realize you’re having a panic attack. It sounds silly but the symptoms can be so scary you might think you’re having a heart attack. Realize you’re panicking, and accept it. The worst thing you can do is panicking about panicking. Don’t say ‘Oh god, oh god, I’m having my panic attack, I can’t stop, I can’t stop, stop panicking, you’re silly’. It’s easy to get lost in a trail of thoughts like that and you will only feel worse. So, stop. Accept your panic. You also need to stop before you make any rash decision. Flight, fight, either of these could result in actions you regret when you calm down. Hurting someone else or yourself isn’t going to help. So, stop.
Think about why you’re having a panic attack. Most panic attacks involve a ‘what if…’ or ‘I can’t do…’, not something that is actually happening in the present. You might be panicking about something that happened in the past, scared it might happen again, you might be scared of what is about to happen but it hasn’t happened. If you aren’t in a full-blown hyperventilating, can’t breathe panic attack yet, then try and focus on what you were doing or doing something else that you can focus all your attention on. Doodle or scribble on a piece of paper, listen to music, go for a walk. It takes effort to focus but try. It might help to keep a diary of how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it, and rationalize it. For example, you might have a panic attack with an intense fear that you’re going to die but you’re just sitting in the classroom at school. Consider the odds of something happening and be realistic. Be completely honest with yourself about the situation you are in. If you fear people laughing at you, look around you, is anyone laughing? Or are they just focused on their own work?
If you’re too far in to the panic attack to try distract yourself and you feel like it’s completely taken over your body, your mind, and there is no sense of control of yourself then the next thing is to think, how can I calm down? Breathing and muscle exercises can be extremely important during a panic attack although they do take practice and perseverance. For a breathing exercise, take a deep breath in, hold it for at least three seconds, then release for three seconds. Keep your hands on your belly. In a panic attack we often breathe from our chest but this only makes it more difficult to breathe. When you take your deep breath in, you should feel your belly move outwards, your hand should lift. If you want to try a muscle exercise to relax you can either go from head to toe or toe to head. What you need to do is tense each individual part of the body and then release. So you might tense your neck for five seconds then relax, tense your shoulders for five seconds then relax, tense your chest, arms and so on. You might do the same for your face too and scrunch your forehead, clench your jaw, grit your teeth. You can repeat these exercises several times until you calm down but breathing is the key part of a panic attack for many people so this might be something you want to focus on. It doesn’t matter how silly you think you look, you might think you look like a pregnant woman in labour, but does it matter? Who cares? All that matters is that you can get through this, and if you’re with other people, that’s all they will want too.
If you are with other people, it might help to try express how you’re feeling. Tell them what you’re feeling, tell them you’re feeling dizzy or whatever you’re scared of. If they try and soothe you and support you, listen and take what they say in. Ask for some water and try taking small sips. Ask for a tissue if you’re crying. Some people find it reassuring to feel secure, if you’re with your partner ask them to wrap their arms around you tight and see if it helps comfort you. You might want to curl up in a ball, you might want to lay on the floor and look at the ceiling patterns or count the tiles. A walk in the garden or park can be very soothing especially if there’s a nice breeze. If you feel like your head is spinning or there is an intense pressure then try holding your hands tight to your head. If you suffer from panic attacks regularly, you’ll probably find what works best for you through trial and error. Try different things. It’s difficult to push through the anxiety and even attempt to think straight, so if to begin with all you can do is sit and keep breathing until you calm down, that’s fine because you will get through it eventually and you will probably learn to cope better soon. If you think you may suffer from a panic disorder and your panic attacks are affecting your life to the point you can’t leave the house, it may be worth consulting for medical advice or Hypnotherapy for panic attack. Whatever happens, it isn’t your fault, it is nothing to be ashamed of and as much as a panic attack feels like it will never end, it has to.