All of a sudden your chest tightens and it’s hard to breathe. You begin to sweat and your stomach feels nauseous. Then, just as soon as it began, it passes. If you’ve had similar bouts of random, unexplainable symptoms in the past, what you may have been experiencing was a panic attack. Panic attacks come on suddenly and the symptoms may seem uncontrollable if you don’t know how to deal with them. If you suspect that you are prone to panic attacks, or know someone who may have them, read on to learn how to deal with them properly.
Know The Symptoms
The first step in dealing with a panic attack is to know what the symptoms are so you’ll be able to recognize what’s happening should a panic attack arise. There are actually two different sets of symptoms for a panic attack because a panic attack occurs on two levels: physical and psychological. On a physical level, you may experience:
- Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath or the sensation of choking
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Weakness, fatigue or shakiness
- Perspiration, hot flashes or the chills
- An irregular heartbeat, chest pain or heartburn
- Muscle spasms
- Tingling in the extremities
These symptoms will be accompanied by psychological symptoms, which can be feelings of anxiety or helplessness, feeling that you’ve gone crazy, or that doom or death is impending.
Related: Recognizing Signs Of A Panic Attack
Recognize The Triggers
The reason these feelings are part of a panic attack is because a panic attack is triggered by conscious or unconscious fear. This can be brought on by reliving a traumatic event, anticipating a negative experience, interpreting a situation as dangerous or visualizing the loss of control over a situation. Once a panic attack begins, your body goes on alert and the physical symptoms kick in as a means of protection. Your breathing becomes more rapid, and you may even hyperventilate. This brings on more symptoms, such as lightheadedness and chest pains, and more panic. The mind becomes caught in the feelings of fear and anxiety and is unable to let go of them.
For each person who suffers from panic attacks, the triggers are different. Therefore, if you suffer from them yourself or know someone who does, it’s important to figure out what those triggers are so you can try to stop an attack before it starts. To begin, try thinking about what was happening before the attack began. Do so with every instance of an attack that you can remember and take note of any patterns or recurring situations as these could be the triggers causing the panic attacks.
Even if you know what the triggers are, a panic attack could still arise unexpectedly. So what should you do when one comes on? Follow this three-step plan:
Step 1: Quiet those panicky thoughts
Force those panicked thoughts of doom and gloom out of your mind by repeating the words “Stop it!” Remind yourself that you are not in physical danger and that these symptoms will soon pass.
Step 2: Don’t fight the physical symptoms
Allow your symptoms to play out; don’t fight them. Give them plenty of time to pass.
Step 3: Refocus your mind
Focus your mind on your breathing. Inhale slowly and deeply and count to five. Then exhale slowly and count to five. Keep practicing this deep breathing technique along with relaxation techniques such as contracting and relaxing your muscle groups one by one, from toes to forehead. Practice these techniques daily so you’ll be prepared when an attack comes.
If you feel like a panic attack may be coming on, start to calm yourself immediately through breathing and relaxation techniques. Talk to someone about your fears, anxieties or anger. Move around, take a walk, find a quiet place to sit by yourself or visualize yourself in a tranquil place. All of these coping techniques can help you head off an attack before it begins.
How To Help Someone Experiencing A Panic Attack
You may not suffer from panic attacks yourself, but you may know someone who does. In that case, it’s still important for you to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of an attack and to find out what your friend or family member’s triggers are so you can help should you witness a panic attack. If you do happen to be with someone else who has an attack, you can also follow the three-step plan:
- Talk to that person and tell him or her to remain calm, and that the attack will soon be over.
- Help him or her stay calm and practice breathing and relaxation techniques, too.
- Help the person refocus his or her mind by talking, taking a walk or visualizing a serene experience.
What you want to avoid is saying or doing something that’s unintentionally insensitive. Comments such as “Just calm down,” or “There’s nothing wrong,” or “You’re overreacting,” can come across as uncompassionate and can make the person feel even more frustrated. Instead, ask questions such as “What can I do to help you relax?” or “Can I do anything to help you feel better?” This will show that you are truly concerned and truly want to help. Panic attacks aren’t always easy to deal with, but as long as you know how to cope with them you can make the roller coaster of symptoms go a lot smoother.