How to Cope With a Panic Attack
Anybody can have a panic attack. It doesn't mean that you're suffering from anxiety or depression, and nor does it mean that you have mental health issues. Having a panic attack means that you've been overwhelmed by a specific set of circumstances, and your body is having a physical reaction to it. Panic attacks are as likely to happen to CEOs of the world's biggest companies as they are to the average person in the street, and they're always traumatic when they happen.
Having a panic attack is nothing to be ashamed of. Statistics indicate that as many as thirteen per cent of people will have at least one panic attack at some point in their lives, and some people have them once or twice a month. That means more than one in ten people know what it’s like to have one, and that will include some of your family and friends even if they choose never to talk about it. They’re as likely to happen to you as they are to happen to someone you know, and that’s why it’s so important to recognise the signs and understand what to do when it happens. We’re here to help you with that. This article explains how to deal with a panic attack and get your mind and body back under control.
Accept It’s Happening
Acceptance is the first and most important step. The chances are that if you try to fight against a panic attack, you'll cause yourself to panic more, and the problem will get worse. Make the decision to give yourself permission to have the panic attack. Take a moment to tell yourself that this will pass, and you'll be OK soon. Your acceptance will likely make the panic attack pass more easily than it would if you tried to push back against it.
Concentrate on Your Breathing
The most obvious symptom of a panic attack is hyperventilation, which is also the most important thing to get back under control as quickly as you can. The 4 7 8 breathing method can help you with this. Breathe in through your mouth for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then breathe out slowly for eight seconds. This will be difficult at first, but you’ll get closer to your target times with each repetition. As you do this, you’ll notice the other symptoms of the attack coming under control. You’ll shake less, and your heart should stop racing. By the time you’re following the 4 7 8 pattern consistently, the worst of the attack should have passed.
Shut Your Eyes
Part of what brings a panic attack on can be a feeling of overstimulation. Much of that comes from the world around you. You need to shut out as many external influences as you possibly can and concentrate on bringing the panic attack back under control. The easiest way to do this is to close your eyes altogether, allowing you to hone in on yourself, your breathing, and the way you’re feeling.
Focus on One Thing
When you're in the middle of a panic attack, intrusive thoughts often appear. They flit through your brain quickly without settling, adding to the sense of panic. In metaphorical terms, your brain is spinning like the reels of an online slots game. It might be helpful to keep that metaphor in mind. Your wins and losses at online slots come when the reels stop spinning, and everything settles into place. Imagine yourself at Rose Slots for New Zealand Players, watching the symbols spin around on the online slots game of your choosing. Let them settle, and imagine you've won. We're not suggesting doing this for real (unless that's your chosen hobby), but imagining something spinning and then coming to a stop can help settle your brain down. Hone in on just one thought and hold onto it until the attack is over.
Tense and Then Relax Your Muscles
When your attack is at its peak, every muscle in your body is likely to be tense whether you want it to be or not, so you might as well make it part of the plan. Start with your toes, and then work your way up through your body to your neck and shoulders. Tense every muscle one at a time and then slowly release it. You can do this at the same time you’re working on your breathing, and you should find that the two techniques work well in conjunction with each other. This is something you can practice at night when you’re trying to get to sleep, which makes it easier to perform the technique when you’re panicking.
Have Lavender Nearby
You’re unlikely to have any lavender to hand the first time you have a panic attack, but after you’ve had your first, it’s a worthwhile investment to make sure you have some on hand in case it happens again. It’s a natural stress reducer, and it’s very effective. Carrying actual lavender plants around with you isn’t necessarily practical, but you could have some in a pot in your office. Failing that, buy lavender oil and keep this on your person. The scent of the plant should naturally calm you down. It might even make you feel a little drowsy - but that’s better than the hyper-awareness that comes with a panic attack.
Grab Onto Something
When you have a panic attack, it can feel a little like your brain is trying to exit your body. You can counter this by grounding yourself in the world around you. Notice how your feet feel on the ground, or how your hands feel on your chair, your desk, or even the texture of your clothes. Feel the coldness of a glass or the roughness of a fabric. This helps to stop that "flying away" sensation and bring you back into the moment.
Panic attacks are terrifying, but they're very short. In the overwhelming majority of cases, they're over and done within five minutes, and you'll be back to your usual self. They're not heart attacks, and they're not usually hazardous to your health. Focus on one thing, relax your muscles, breathe deeply, and it will soon be over. By being pragmatic about panic attacks, you make them less of a problem. In turn, that might even make them less likely to happen to you in the future.
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