When It Feels Like the World Is Ending: Dealing with Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are traumatic. They can come out of nowhere for seemingly no reason and stop you in your tracks. The symptoms are physical and emotional. Sufferers describe it as a sense of impending doom, intense fear, and a feeling like you’re going to die. It may even send you to the emergency room since many people mistake a panic attack for a heart attack or other serious illness. Panic attacks are so uncomfortable that once you experience one, you never want to have one again – unfortunately, the fear of having a panic attack can be a trigger for another one.
There are things you can do to reduce your likelihood of having a panic attack and to handle the symptoms if you do experience one.
Recognize the Symptoms
Recognizing the symptoms of a panic attack can help reduce the fear you’ll feel during one. Keep in mind that you won’t die or have any serious long-term side effects after a panic attack. In addition to fear and anxiety, the common symptoms are:
- Heart palpitations
- Sweating and trembling
- Shortness of breath
- A sense of choking
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Chest pain
- A feeling of being detached from the world
- Chills or hot flashes
Practice the AWARE Method
During the panic attack, you can practice the AWARE method to help shorten its duration and intensity. AWARE stands for:
- Acknowledge and Accept: Recognize the attack is happening; don’t try to ignore it or pretend it’s not happening, which usually makes it worse.
- Watch and Wait: Watch from the outside and transform yourself from victim to observer. Resist your “flight” instinct and wait a few minutes for the panic to subside.
- Act: Some situations like public speaking or driving require you to act. Deep breathing can help. A good strategy is to breathe in for a count of five and then breathe out slowly for a count of 10. This will help slow down your heart rate and respiration.
- Repeat: Repeat the first three steps during the panic attack.
- End and Expect the Best: Keep in mind that the panic attack will eventually end, which can be comforting during the most stressful times of the attack.
Close Your Eyes and Focus on Relaxing Muscles
Another technique some panic attack sufferers find helpful is to close their eyes and focus on relaxing their muscles one-by-one. During the attack, you’ll likely tense up – so this strategy can help reduce your stress. Start with your toes and work your way up your body, relaxing each muscle group as you go.
Talk to a Mental Health Professional
A psychologist is an important resource for panic attack sufferers. They can help teach you techniques like mindfulness and guide you through cognitive behavioral therapy. Both have been shown to help create an understanding of why the panic attacks have been happening, and how to reduce their likelihood in the future.
A psychiatrist can also help with panic attacks by prescribing antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. They can help to reduce the frequency and severity of your attacks.
If you’re experiencing panic attacks, talk to your primary care physician for advice on how to start your treatment.