Feel in control again
We know that a panic attack is very scary. It can feel like you’re losing control or something awful is going to happen. Shallow quick breathing, sweating, pounding heart, dizziness, feelings of unreality, nausea and chest pain are common symptoms. Something has triggered your fight/flight response releasing surges of adrenaline in your body. But in the modern world it’s unlikely that you’re in real danger.
Try these tips to help you tackle panic for the long term and in the moment:
- top tip: don’t avoid the place or activity you connect with the panic attack. You know already that the attack ends after a little while (for many people no longer than 5-10 minutes). If you can rationalise during an attack that the physical symptoms and frightening thoughts will go soon, and stay in the situation, you are on your way to controlling panic attacks.
- control your breathing: breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose for 7 seconds, hold your breath for a moment and breathe out through your mouth for 11 seconds. If you find it hard to remember the numbers, the important thing to remember is that the out-breath should be longer than the in-breath. Repeat for a few minutes.
In a panic attack quick, shallow breathing leads to chest tightness and light-headedness. This breathing technique counteracts the effects of taking in too much oxygen during shallow breathing and helps you regain control.
Relaxing your body can give calming feedback to the mind helping to turn off the fight/flight response which has been inappropriately triggered. Remember it’s impossible to panic when you are relaxed!
Key tip: invest the time to practice the techniques so that they come easily to you when you need them e.g. for a few minutes 3 times a day.
- avoid alcohol and smoking: their effects really don’t go well with feelings of panic.
- Go to your GP simply to confirm there’s no physical problem and reduce any worry you might have about that.
If you find the panic attacks aren’t going away, it’s helpful to speak to a talking therapist either through your GP or privately. Panic attacks can be caused by
- external factors that increase your anxiety eg flying
- internal factors eg fear of what others might think about you in a particular situation – often in a social setting or public speaking.
Working with a therapist who can use cognitive behavioural techniques (which focus on how your thoughts influence what you do and vice versa) may be a very positive step towards regaining control of your life.
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