Keep Calm and Carry On: How to Cope Through a Panic Attack

Jun 18, 2024 | Main Blog, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Your heart is racing. Your palms are sweating. You start to hyperventilate. You wonder if you’re having a heart attack, and the fear of losing control makes you freak out even more. You realize that you’re experiencing a panic attack.

Panic attacks are episodes of intense fear that are often triggered unexpectedly, and they can last from a few minutes up to an hour. They could be driven by a traumatic or stressful event, by being in an unsafe environment, or in the event of receiving bad news.

June 18 is International Panic Day, and it’s an opportunity to talk about these moments of acute panic many of us have experienced.

If you’ve had a panic attack before, know that you are not alone. Around 35 to 40 percent of us will experience one at some point in our lives.

While it may not be possible to completely avoid having them, there are methods you can use to manage your symptoms and return to a state of calmness.

Focus on your breathing

One of the fastest ways to calm down is by slowing down your breathing.

When we hyperventilate, we take in more oxygen than our body needs and the amount of carbon dioxide in our bloodstream can drop, causing us to feel faint and breathless.

Breathing deeply allows our oxygen and carbon dioxide levels to return to normal, which naturally lowers our heart rate and helps us feel calmer.

Slowly count to five as you inhale and exhale; do this for at least five minutes. Remember to breathe through your diaphragm rather than your chest – you can check this by placing a hand on your stomach and ensuring that your stomach rises as you inhale.

Focus on something else

Try to take your mind off the panic-inducing event by focusing your attention on something else.

Picture a place where you feel psychologically safe, a place that brings you calmness and comfort. Maybe it’s a reading nook you have at home, or a sunny beach where you’re lying down stretched out on a beach towel. If a specific place doesn’t come to mind, try to visualize nature instead – studies have found that visualizing nature, in instances where one can’t physically be in nature, can still be effective in reducing anxiety.

You could also redirect your focus by repeating a mantra. It could be a phrase of self-encouragement, such as “This will pass” or “I will get through this.” You could also try mantra meditation, where you repeat one short syllable, such as “Om” or “Ham.” Mantra meditation, widely practiced in many Eastern cultures, has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety.

Hug a loved one

Research has found that physical touch is effective in regulating our cortisol levels and reducing feelings of depression and anxiety.

If you have a friend or family member nearby during your panic attack, turn to them for a long, extended hug.

If there’s no one nearby, you could also mimic the sensation of touch through a weighted blanket or a stress ball. Though less effective than human touch, research has found that touching objects and even robots will still provide you with mental health benefits.

Practice grounding

Along the same vein, you could also engage your five senses through a grounding practice that forces you to connect with the present.

Ask yourself what sensations you are picking up through all five senses. You could immerse your hands in cold and hot water to better focus on your sense of touch or drink a glass of orange juice to use your sense of taste.

Whatever action you take, zone in on the sense that is being activated. This will help to shift your attention away from the fears arising from your panic attack, and instead focus on the present.

Accept this feeling, and remember that it will pass

Panic attacks don’t last forever. Your feelings of fear, helplessness and anxiety may feel incredibly heightened in that moment, but eventually, they will pass.

It’s important to accept that this is simply your body going through a fight-or-flight response, and to ride out your symptoms without attaching a narrative to your experience.

Having panic attacks does not mean that you are broken, or that you need to be fixed.

Your anxiety and fears are universal emotions, and like all other emotions, they are also transient. As terrifying and all-consuming as they may feel, it can also be incredibly freeing to remember that they don’t control you, and they will eventually pass.

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