By Mariah Kelty
Imagine feeling overwhelmed by a sudden, intense surge of anxiety and fear, almost as if the world is closing in around you and your heart is racing a mile a minute. These are the hallmark symptoms of a panic attack, a frightening and disorienting experience affecting millions. So many of my clients enter therapy experiencing such symptoms without knowing what is happening and how to recover. As a therapist, I want to shed light on what panic attacks are and provide some practical guidance on navigating them when they occur. By understanding and learning coping strategies, you can regain control and find relief.
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is a sudden and intense episode of fear or anxiety that often peaks within minutes. It can happen unexpectedly or be triggered by specific situations or objects, and the symptoms can be both physical and psychological. According to the National Institute of Health, here are some common signs of a panic attack:
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Trembling or shaking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Detachment from reality
- Fear of losing control or dying
What do I do during a panic attack?
- Recognize it: The first step is acknowledging that you are experiencing a panic attack. Understanding that it is temporary and reminding yourself that it will pass usually helps. A panic attack is not a life-threatening reaction; it will pass eventually, usually after 15-20 minutes.
- Focus on breathing: Concentrate on taking slow, deep breaths. Inhale through your nose or a count of four, hold for four and exhale through your mouth for a count of four. This can help regulate your heartbeat!
- Ground yourself: When you can, try implementing a grounding technique, such as the 5-4-3-2-1 method. Identify five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This can bring you back to the present moment.
- Stay in place: If possible, sit or lie down in a safe and quiet place until the panic attack subsides. Often, creating space for yourself away from others is helpful.
Challenge negative thoughts: Remind yourself that the panic attack will pass and won’t harm you. Challenge irrational thoughts of impending doom.
What do I do after a panic attack?
After the worst of it passes, it is often best to begin with self-compassion. Panic attacks do not define you as a person, and they are not your fault. It is very easy to beat ourselves up after such an intense reaction, but it’s important to be kind to yourself. Rest and rehydration are critical as well. After a panic attack, your body and mind need time to recover. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member, as talking with someone can put you at ease and help with negative thoughts or feelings. When you have a moment, reflect and consider what triggered the panic attack. Sometimes, our worst moments give us good data to know about ourselves. How can you manage or avoid a similar situation or feeling in the future?
Panic attacks can be terrifying, but remember that you are not alone, and that help is available. Therapy can be a safe space to explore the aforementioned questions, unpack and understand any anxiety triggering the attack, and learn coping strategies to regain control over your life and reduce the impact of these episodes. With time and practice, you can develop resilience and live a fulfilling life, even with and in the challenges of anxiety.
Ready to take control of your anxiety and regain your life? Reach out to Optimum Joy Counseling today to get the support you deserve.
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