A panic attack can be really scary and overwhelming.
A lot of people can get frustrated with themselves when they experience a panic attack.
It can be something that happens constantly and as a “regular” thing in your life. Because of that, you don’t feel comfortable going out in social settings or to work or other places where you fear you’ll have another panic attack. So you stay close to home and isolate yourself.
Panic attacks are a difficult experience that can cause disruption to your daily life. Let’s talk more specifically about what they are and what you can do the next time you find yourself experiencing one.
What is a Panic Attack?
A panic attack is a heightened state of anxiety. It can feel like a heart attack; you might experience heart palpitations (your heart beats really fast), chest tightness, headaches, and the inability to think clearly.
Sometimes the only thing you can do when you’re experiencing a panic attack is lay down in bed or some other safe space and wait for the pain to pass.
Why do we Have Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks can be a sign of dysregulated anxiety that’s become extremely physiological. Whenever we get anxious, our bodies sometimes give out smaller signals at first. We might feel fluttering in our chest, or we feel tension and anxiety around certain situations. Then it can build without our knowing it, until it gets to the point where it feels like something is physiologically wrong. Many people even go into the ER because they think they’re having a heart attack.
There’s actually a lot you can learn about yourself if you are experiencing panic attacks. When you experience panic attacks, it’s a sign that something is off in your life. Something is hard to deal with, something is putting pressure on you, you’re experiencing some sort of big stressor in your life. However, sometimes you don’t know what that is on the surface, which is frustrating and difficult.
How to Reduce Panic Attacks
1. Journal Panic Attack History
Set aside some time to journal and ask yourself a few questions. When did the panic attacks start? How bad are they? What’s the normal course of a panic attack for you? When does the pain start? What symptoms do you experience? How intense do those symptoms get? When does the panic attack finally pass? Usually panic attacks last under an hour, typically around 30 minutes. Have you always experienced panic attacks or when did they start to become a thing in your life? Was there a moment in which they became worse?
The reason these things are important to know is because when you go into a panic attack, you want to know what triggered it and how long the course of the panic attack might last.
2. Make a plan for the panic attack
A lot of people get frustrated when they experience panic attacks; they just want them to go away. But once you get to that heightened state, there’s not much you can do aside from waiting it out. As difficult as it may be, waiting it out requires you to release, relax, and let it all pass. So find a comfortable, safe space where you’re not around other people. It might be helpful to have something to hold, somewhere to lay down, something to drink – whatever will help you feel safest. Let yourself ride it out, knowing that it will eventually pass. You don’t have to talk about your anxiety during those 30-ish minutes or try to figure things out ways to make the panic go away. You just need to ride the wave. At the end of those 30-some minutes (or however long it takes for the panic to pass) is when you can do some assessing.
3. Assess Causes for the Panic Attack
Get out the same journal you originally wrote in (or a piece of paper or even a Notes app) and ask yourself: When did I first start experiencing this panic attack? When did it first start to come on? What was the earliest point that I can recognize I started to feel anxious? For some, the anxiety builds for a week before they experience a panic attack. For others, the anxiety builds for a day before they experience a panic attack. What was that moment for you, in which you started to feel anxious and tense? See if you can do a bit of exploration to understand the earliest moment at which you remember yourself feeling anxious.
4. Work with a Therapist who can treat a Panic Attack
In addition to these things, working with a professional will be important in order to understand your panic attack history and to learn ways to manage and regulate your anxiety before it escalates to a panic attack. Through therapy, you get the opportunity to learn how to pay attention to the cues your body gives you when you are feeling anxious, and know how to take care of yourself in the moments when you are feeling increasingly stressed. You learn to listen to yourself, to take care of yourself, and to resolve the anxiety before you find yourself in a full blown panic attack. We have therapists who can help with anxiety and panic attacks.
A panic attack can be treated, and you can experience relief
Those who deal with anxiety and panic attacks often feel very alone, but you are not alone. Please reach out to a professional if these are things you are struggling with. It might be nerve-wracking to do so but doing so is also a significant step towards better understanding yourself and prioritizing your mental and emotional well-being.
I help professionals who experience panic attacks to learn new ways of coping with difficult emotions.