If you have ever experienced a panic attack you know what it means to feel paralyzed with fear and anxiety. Panic attacks are like a tsunami of intense fear that appear out of nowhere, often without provocation, and sweep you up in a torrent of uncontrollable anxiety. As unpredictable as they are frightening, a panic attack might even feel life threatening.
So what exactly are these over-the-top manifestations of fear? The panic attack is a sudden and unforeseen wave of extreme fear that literally takes over the body. Although the panic attack usually lasts only about 10 minutes, to the one suffering attack it may feel like an hour.
About Panic Disorder
In some cases, panic attacks become more frequent, and are not associated with any specific triggering event. This condition is diagnosed as panic disorder. Panic disorder is one of the mental health disorders within the anxiety disorder spectrum. Panic disorder impacts about 6 million U.S. adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and affects twice as many women as men.
When not treated, panic disorder can be highly disruptive in daily life, with the constant dread or fear of the next attack. This is because it is very hard to know when a panic attack might be forthcoming, which inhibits sufferers from leaving a place where they feel safe and in control. Panic disorder can have a devastating impact on someone’s quality of life.
The symptoms experienced can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Racing heart or palpitations
- Sense of choking
- Hot or cold flashes
- Nausea and diarrhea
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Feelings of detachment
- Feeling that you have no control over it
- Fear of dying
The exact cause of panic attacks remains a mystery, although there is a tendency for these attacks to run in the family. Severe stress attributed to negative life events such as divorce, loss of a job, sudden death of a loved one, or any major life transition can set up conditions for panic attacks. Certain medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia, or a heart condition called mitral valve prolapse may also be behind the panic attack symptoms.
Actions to Take if You Experience a Panic Attack
What should you do if you are paralyzed with fear and anxiety? Here are 4 helpful tips for navigating a panic attack:
- Acknowledge the panic attack instead of trying to deny it is happening. Make pronouncements aloud, such as “I am only having a panic attack and I will not die from this,” or “I feel like I am having a heart attack, but my heart is fine.” Talk yourself off the cliff with realistic self-talk that helps ground you, telling yourself that it is a difficult but temporary event.
- Focus on your breathing during the attack. Make a conscious effort to practice slow and deep breathing—which may be easier said than done if the panic attack causes hyperventilation. Mindful breathing is a powerful relaxation technique that can quickly help the body normalize the respiratory physiology. Breathe in slowly and deeply to a count of 5, hold the breath for a count of 5, and release the breath for a count of 5. Repeat this pattern several times.
- Find a comfortable place to sit and practice meditation or guided meditation. A short impromptu meditation can be extremely helpful in diffusing the attack. Using visualization helps distract yourself from the symptoms and help you regain a sense of control. Whether you go to your “happy place” or use a mantra to help unwind the fear, a brief meditation session can be helpful.
- Sip some chamomile tea. Just taking the proactive steps to prepare a cup of chamomile tea can help distract you from the event. The tea itself has relaxation effects that can help. Sip the tea while deep breathing with eyes closed and meditating thoughts, and it will take the edge off the attack. Closing the eyes reduces stimuli and allows you to concentrate on your breathing.
Try These Tips to Avoid or Reduce Anxiety
Rather than allowing this mental health condition to run away until you feel paralyzed with fear and anxiety, why not adopt some of the many accessible methods at our disposal for managing anxiety when it crops up:
- Get moving. Multiple studies have confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt the power of exercise to improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety. Just being outside in the fresh air for a short daily walk will net both physical and mental health benefits. Selecting an activity that makes you smile, like taking a Zumba class or hiking along to an energetic playlist, can make the time spent moving your body even more enjoyable.
- Get organized. So much of the daily stress we experience is due to feeling out of control. With never-ending tasks, appointments, and errands gobbling up our time it is easy to feel like you are drowning in the demands of the day. Jotting down a quick to-do list in the morning helps put a sense of order to the day and alleviates that feeling that you will forget something important. Practicing better time management and organizational skills can go a long way to minimizing anxiety.
- Nutrition. Skipping meals or eating a diet heavy in junk food and sugars will exacerbate your feelings of anxiety. The brain needs lean proteins, fresh veggies and fruits, nuts and seeds, and whole grains for peak functioning. Instead of defaulting to candy bars and chips when you feel hungry, have a handy stash of almonds, walnuts, or peanuts on hand that you can grab. A banana is a great choice for a quick snack, and so is a chunk of beef jerky.
- Unplug. Recent studies show that social media is responsible for ramping up stress and anxiety. Feelings of insecurity resulting from the sense that everyone else’s life is superior to your own can result in social anxiety and low self-esteem. The freeing feeling of unplugging, even for just a day, will remind you that real life is way more interesting that those filter-enhanced photos on Instagram.
- Get better sleep. Sleep deprived people do not manage stress well. Humans need at least 7 hours of sleep per night to be able to face the demands of the day. Begin winding down with a cup of herbal tea an hour or two before bed. Take a bath with aromatherapy-infused Epsom salts for a boost of magnesium, a natural stress-reducer. Put a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillowcase, and purchase a white noise machine if you need to block out sleep distractions.
- Practice mindfulness. Once you train yourself to access awareness of the present moment you will quickly notice how helpful the practice of mindfulness is in managing anxiety. When something upsetting or stress-inducing is happening, force your thoughts to focus only on your breathing and your senses. This purposeful attention immediately results in a calm state of being. You can practice mindfulness anywhere and anytime that anxiety strikes.
- Journal. It’s great to have a best friend and confidant to share your fears and worries with, but writing in a journal about struggles, conflicts, and worries can promote relaxation when a friend is not around.This is because while jotting down your concerns or hurt feelings over this or that you are processing emotions and thoughts. Just the process of writing itself can be like dumping all that worry out onto paper, and that takes away its power.
- Resolve conflicts. Nothing can stoke anxiety like unresolved conflicts. You sit there ruminating about someone insulted or offended you, and then all the things you wished you had said. In reality, mulling over the events in your head is self-defeating and a big time waster. Why not practice timely conflict resolution? The easiest way is to either a) apologize for any role you had in it, or b) tell the offending party that you would really like to put it away and move forward, or c) forgive them.
- Be constructive. When things are bothering you, get up and do something about it. For example, if you are having financial troubles, sit down and make a budget for the month. Note the ways you might be squandering money and commit to some cost cutting measures. In like manner, if you are worried about work, make a plan to improve productivity or your job performance instead of sitting there worrying about losing your job. Take constructive action, take control, and watch stress melt away.
If you experience an occasional panic attack, ensure yourself that the intense surge of fear and resulting physical symptoms will soon pass. Incorporating regular stress-reducing practices, such as yoga or mindfulness exercises, can go a long way to training your mind to cope more effectively with anxiety-provoking stimuli in daily life. A skilled psychotherapist can work with you in developing the techniques that can assist you during a panic attack, as well as helping to prevent them in the first place. If outpatient counseling isn’t effective in taming your anxiety, you might consider a higher level of care such as a residential mental health center.
Elevation Behavioral Health Evidence-Based Mental Health Treatment for Anxiety
Elevation Behavioral Health is located in a serene setting that is perfect for individuals struggling with severe anxiety. Our compassionate team of mental health experts strives daily to provide a safe, healing space to guide our guests back to wellness. If you are feeling paralyzed with fear and anxiety, do not hesitate to contact the team at Elevation Behavioral Health for assistance. Call us today at (888) 561-0868.