It feels like you are at war with yourself when you are having a panic attack. You wouldn’t wish this feeling on your worst enemy! Everything hits you all at once, you may hyperventilate, feel dizzy, nauseous, sweat profusely and can even have trouble breathing. During a panic attack a triggering thought that was hidden somewhere in your subconscious mind, becomes acted out in your conscious awareness. Your thalamus – the part of the brain responsible for regulating consciousness, sleep and alertness – transfers that information to your amygdala – the part of the brain responsible for emotional reactions, decision-making and memory – which marks it as “danger” and sends a signal to your sympathetic nervous system, activating the fight-or-flight response. As you are receiving signals of danger, your brain will also shoot an extra dose of adrenaline inside your blood system, thus triggering the initial panic attack symptoms like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating and blood pressure rise.
When all of this is going on you are left feeling helpless and unsure what to do. The good news is that panic attacks are absolutely treatable. Panic disorders affect about 2.5% of population and can occur at any age. Accordingly, panic disorders often run in families and several high risk factors include smoking, psychological stress, and a history of child abuse.
The symptoms of a panic attack are immediately felt, with the maximum degree of symptoms occurring within minutes and ending within 20 to 30 minutes. It is very normal for someone vulnerable to panic attacks to have ongoing worries about having future attacks and avoidance of places where attacks have occurred in the past.
My heart goes out to those struggling with panic attacks. Hope and treatment is available and I encourage anyone suffering to reach out to a skilled therapist who can support you. If you are currently vulnerable to panic attacks, below please find my top 7 tips on what to do when having a panic attack. I support you in either utilizing and/or sharing these tips with those who can benefit. Brighter days are available. I believe that patience, compassion, self-awareness and the right support can make a big difference.
What To Do When Having A Panic Attack:
1. Stand up and stretch: Do some simple stretching. Stretching and especially yawning instantly helps you relieve muscle tension and interrupt the terrible cycle you are in.
2. Have an ice cold glass of water: Hydrate often and carry water with you. Drinking water will help you regulate your body’s temperature and reduce the cycling of panic. Make sure to slowly drink a glass of cold water and take small sips, focusing on every gulp you make. While drinking, visualize your body and mind is cooling down.
3. Focus on a single point on the floor, wall, ceiling etc: To activate your parasympathetic nervous, focus your gaze on a single point in front of you or imagine a point to focus on. Utilizing your peripheral vision and being mindfully single focused, allows your brain to relax. Practice this technique when you aren’t triggered in addition to when you are – the more you practice the greater the ability to help you to relax in any situation.
4.Walk, move, change locations: When your brain thinks it is facing danger, it will hit you a huge amount of of adrenaline. The hit of adrenaline can be overpowering and instinctively you will want to get rid of it. The best way to release energy is to walk it off. Additionally, neuroscience has taught us that the physiology of our bodies affects our emotions and that, when the two are in opposition with each other, physiology will combat your emotions and change to match your physiology. So by changing your physiology (body position) to that of someone who is in alignment and secure you will effect a change in your emotions and behavior.
5. Breathe: Utilize the four-six-eight breathing technique — inhale for four seconds, hold for six seconds, exhale for eight seconds — to combat the shallow breathing an anxiety attack typically brings.
6. Carry a protective or supportive object: Whether it is a bracelet, crystal,picture of a loved one or a necklace. When the feeling triggers, touch that object and say, “I will get through this.”
7. Don’t hold back feelings: The saying goes, “what you resist, will persist.” In other words, the more you resist panic and anxiety, the more it keeps coming back. Quite often, the buildup of emotions in an anxiety attack are related to other emotions from previous traumas that have not been felt. Excuse yourself and allow yourself to cry and/or call someone you trust on the phone. You need to acknowledge your feelings and let them out.
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Sending you peaceful thoughts and wishes for brighter days.