What are Panic Attacks and How can I Stop Them?
Essentially, a panic attack is an intense and sudden feeling of anxiety. Sometimes they have a very specific reason that you can point to, but just as often, they just seem to come out of nowhere taking you completely by surprise. This can make them particularly scary to people and can make it seem like you have no control over them. However, there are things that you can do to help yourself if you are experiencing panic attacks.
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
The symptoms of a panic attack can vary from person to person but can include any of the following:
Intense feelings of fear, anxiety, or panic
Shaking of the leg, hands, or overall body
Numbness, or a tingling feeling
Nausea, feeling sick to your stomach
A choking or smothering feeling
Rapid, racing heartbeat, or a pounding heartbeat
Fear that you are having a heart attack or are going to die
A feeling of doom, like something horrible is about to happen
Having the fear that you’re losing control or “going crazy”
Feelings or unreality, or of being outside of yourself
This can lead to a fear that people will see you and will make fun of you or think there’s something wrong with you. It also can lead to an intense fear of having another panic attack. Because of this, after having a panic attack, some people develop fears of going out alone, going into social situations, or even of leaving home.
How Often Do People Have Panic Attacks?
Some people will only have 1 or 2 panic attacks in their lifetimes during a time of stress. However, since it is an intense, scary experience, this can turn into repeated panic attacks lasting for several months to years and can really end up causing you some distress as well as turmoil in your life. If this is happening to you, it might be a panic disorder that can really benefit from getting treatment.
When am I Most Likely to Have a Panic Attack?
As stated above, panic attacks can happen at any time, and sometimes for no reason that you can see. However, there are some times that you are more likely to have a panic attack. If you have a trauma history, there might be certain times, places, or events that you notice trigger them for you. Others might get panic attacks during times of stress like for instance before a job interview or when you have a large project due tomorrow. If you are able to find a pattern to your attacks, use this knowledge to prepare yourself before the trigger. You can use some of the techniques listed below to do this. However, be careful not to get in the habit of avoiding whatever your trigger is! This will reinforce the anxiety and teach your brain that this is something to be feared, making your anxiety or panic attacks worse.
How Common Are Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks are pretty common actually. About 35% of the population have a panic attack at some point in their life, and about 1 in 10 people will have one this year. Because of this, you don’t have to feel alone if you have them, chances are someone you know gets them too.
Is There Anything I Can Do to Help?
Yes! There are many different techniques you can try to manage your panic attacks. Try some of these…
1. The first thing you can do is to remind yourself that panic attacks do end, and they don’t cause any long-term adverse
effects physically. People often become afraid that they’re dying, but you can remind yourself that you aren’t going to die. No one has ever died from one. And be sure to remind yourself that this is your anxiety talking. It’s not reality.
2. Do a deep breathing exercise. If you don’t have a favorite one yet or know about the benefits of deep breathing, check out my blog here or Dr. Weil’s video here. I promise deep breathing can help! Just try and believe it!
3. Use a grounding technique like the ones listed here! These will help to bring you back to the here and now. They will help you to focus in the here and now, rather than focusing on your feelings of anxiety or panic.
4. Create emotional distance from your anxiety and panicked feelings by using a technique from thought diffusion. The idea is instead of thinking, “I am so anxious! I think I might be having a heart attack”, change that to, “I am having the thought that I am anxious and am having a heart attack”. Creating this distance can help to remove or at least reduce the feelings.
5. Do your best to stay in the moment and avoid running away. Leaving the situation or thing that is causing your anxiety will only serve to reinforce your sense of panic. You will be teaching your brain that this situation is something to be feared. If instead, you stay and can see that nothing horrible happened, you will reduce the likelihood of the anxiety happening again. Remember, most panic attacks only last 5-20 min.
6. Regular physical activity or exercise can help prevent anxiety and panic attacks. Recent research shows exercise can be more effective than medications or therapy. And you don’t have to do any sort of heavy-duty exercise either- moderate exercise is good enough. Think of taking a brisk walk.
7. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine as these can make panic attacks worse. Research has shown that these types of substances can increase your anxiety and make the panic attacks more frequent. And no, marijuana does not make anxiety better- it also will make your anxiety and panic worse! So, avoid marijuana as well.
What Can I do if Someone I’m with is Having a Panic Attack?
The most important thing you can do is to stay calm and be a calm, soothing presence for them. Ask if there is anything you can do to help. Ask the person to take some deep breaths with you and talk them through the breathing. Remind them that it’s a panic attack and will be over soon, and generally reassure them that they are safe.
Panic attacks are fairly common and generally respond well to treatment. If you’ve been having reoccurring panic attacks and nothing that you’ve been trying to help has been working, it may be time to talk with a professional. I use CBT therapy to treat people with anxiety and/or panic attacks because it has been proven to be an effective treatment. If you would like to talk more about anxiety treatment, please contact me here. I would love to talk with you!