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What To Do When You Have a Panic Attack

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

Have you ever experienced a lion running towards you from afar? Or, spotted a bear lurking in your tent? Or, maybe you have experienced a ferocious wolf eyeing you up for dinner? If not, I am sure you are able to imagine the amount of fear and panic that would overcome your body.

Experiencing a panic attack feels as though you are in immediate danger but there is no lion, bear or wolf out there ready to attack. The feelings you experience while having a panic attack are completely overwhelming, unnatural for the situation and scary. You generate the feelings and adrenaline of being chased by a wild animal, except there is no immediate threat. These feelings I would not wish upon anyone.

The surprising news is that more people suffer from panic attacks than you would think. In America 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the population are affected by panic attacks (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). If you have experienced a panic attack before please be rest assured you are not alone, even though at the time I am sure it feels as though you are.

For those of you out there that are suffering and don't think you will ever get better, you will, with a little therapy, time, effort and understanding. I hope the tips listed below will help you as much as they helped me in the past but please do not push yourself to try any of the below if you are not ready. (This advice does not replace that of your doctor or a medical professional).

But first, are you unsure if you have experienced a panic attack?

If you are unsure if you have experienced a panic attack before then to sum up: You feel as though you are going to die. Most people generally describe a panic attack as feeling like they are losing control and experience other feelings such as:

  • A racing and pounding heart

  • Hot and cold sweats/flushes

  • Trembling

  • Tight muscles

  • Chest pains

  • Fear of going crazy or dying

  • Dizziness or lightheaded

  • Feeling faint

  • Choking and hyperventilation to name a few.

More often than not people experiencing a panic attack for the first time will go straight to the hospital thinking they are having a heart attack (Anxiety Network). This gives you a little idea of how serious a panic attack can feel.

What causes panic attacks?

Everyone's experience is different and there are many factors in a person's life that could lead them to have an attack. Medical News Today suggests that:

“Experts say that anxiety and panic, to a certain extent, are a necessary part of our survival. However, when levels become so high that they undermine regular thought processes, a person naturally becomes afraid”.

We have this innate capacity to escape danger and produce adrenaline in order to do this but, today we are not usually faced with real life threatening events however, we panic anyway. Such things as genetics, life events, abuse and health issues can be the cause of panic attacks but, more often than not there is no underlying trigger.

I know the reason for my panic attacks was the fact I swallowed my stress and anxiety and suppressed it to the back of my mind. It’s crazy how powerful your subconscious is. Even though you can not access this part of your mind the thoughts you have suppressed can still roll over to affect your conscious mind.

Not sure how to overcome panic attacks?

Outlined below are a few tips and tricks to try if you have experienced a panic attack and are lost for what to do: (Not to replace medical advice).

1. Bring on a panic attack:

This might seem counter productive but really it will teach you to tackle your fear head on. Once you have had the panic attack and understood you were the one to bring it on you will in turn, begin to understand that you are the one in control. By diving into your triggers you can learn to control them and prosper.

For example, maybe you are scared of being dizzy or lightheaded as this is what happens when you are experiencing a panic attack? You could bring on the feeling of being dizzy by circling around in a swivel chair. Keep going until you feel lightheaded and worried. Push yourself as far as you are willing to go.

2. Drink plenty of water:

When you have just had a panic attack or can feel the panic coming on make sure you have some fresh water handy. The cooling sensation of water moving down your throat will be comforting in a time of panic.

mental health journal prompts for anxiety

3. Get some fresh air:

There is nothing more important when you are experiencing panic. The fresh air will automatically help you to feel less trapped. If you can, take multiple deep breaths while you are outside as this too will help you to take control and eventually help to subside your thoughts.

In America 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the population are affected by panic attacks

4. Get some medication but don’t use it:

This again, may sound rather strange. But for me, this was one of the most powerful tools to overcoming my panic attacks. Receiving medication from the doctor was a pretty degrading experience as I felt like I was incapable of ‘fixing’ myself but, actually having the medication in my house and not using it was extremely powerful.

I received a light dose of Diazepam from the doctor and felt safer just having it in my presence, knowing I could use it if I absolutely had to.

The placebo effect was pretty evident here.

Whenever I had a panic attack and knew I could go to my draw and receive pretty instant relief it actually helped my panic to become less evident. Diazepam can be really addictive so it was a cause of worry for me that I would become addicted and be less in control than I was before.

I understand this worked for me and might not work for you. But from experience I believe it could help others who want to take control and stop letting panic attacks ruin their life.

I encourage you to take control.

5. Exercise

This can be really beneficial in helping you to overcome your panic. Exercise releases endorphins which make you happy and taking the time to look after yourself is extremely important. Exercise may also help you to feel more tired meaning you have less energy to be panicked. If you are worried about the racing heart you experience while in your panic attack then pushing yourself through exercise to increase your heart rate can be a great tool.

Notice how your heart is pounding against your chest and understand that it will stop. Practicing this thought alone will help you when you are in the midst of a panic attack. But please take your time and don't push yourself beyond your limits.

6. Understand your thoughts

When you experience a panic attack your thoughts often whirl wind out of control. Understanding the thoughts that make your panic attacks worse is extremely beneficial to recovery. Take this diagram for example...

First, you will have the initial feeling of panic followed by anxiety and fear about your panic.

Next, you will likely be confronted with uncomfortable body sensations and then start to become anxious about the way you are feeling.

If you notice you are having a panic attack and then start to panic about the physical sensations in your body, you actually end up in more panic and do this thing called “fight or flight”. Meaning you literally stay there and try to fight off your sensations or you take flight and run away.

Eventually your panic attack stops and you tell yourself “If I didn’t do ___ I would have died”.

And the cycle continues over and over every time you have another attack.

Cutting the thoughts off before they explode is imperial to stopping the panic.

For example, (and I know this is way easier said than done, but please try it and be patient) as soon as you feel your panic attack coming on do what you can to lessen the effects e.g. getting some fresh air and drinking some water and consciously saying to yourself "I am just having a thought". The thought has no meaning unless you attach meaning to it. If you tell yourself this over and over and over again then eventually you will start to believe it.

*If you haven't downloaded this free app already, check out the ultimate free resource for those suffering from OCD and related symptoms!

In America 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the population are affected by panic attacks

From experience: After time, I learned how to stop the continuous cycle of panic by cutting off the anxiety I felt about the body sensations I was experiencing. It took a lot of practice and discipline, but I know you too will be able to do it.

7. Meditate

I can not stress enough how amazing the benefits can be. Calming your thoughts is the foundation for overcoming panic attacks and meditation can teach you how to do this.

Meditation teaches you to be in the present moment and to really connect and be in tune with yourself. I urge you to give it a go and to see if it helps your thoughts subside and lessen the frequency of your panic attacks. (If you would like to learn easy mediation tools please sign up via my website, link below).

You May Also Be Interested In: Meditation for Mental Health | Muse

8. Therapy

Therapy helps immensely. Even if this doesn't help to overcome your panic attacks, just pouring out your problems onto someone who is qualified to deal with it is an amazing feeling. They really can teach you invaluable tools in helping you recover that will stick with you for a long period of time.

I hope this post has been useful to you and you do get to try some of the tips recommended above. If you are suffering from panic attacks please know you won't have to suffer forever. Be kind to yourself, be brave, seek help and in time you will overcome them.

With love,

Lee X

P.s. I am always here to help those who are needing some reassurance, guidance or an ear to listen so please feel free to contact me at any time.


About the Author:

In America 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the population are affected by panic attacks

Lee-Ann is a positive well-being blogger who often shares advice about how to develop positive mental health. She encourages people to overcome their obstacles and live a life without the confinements of a mental illness. She shares tips and tricks to dealing with and overcoming mental illnesses such as, anxiety and depression and posts regularly about gratitude, mindfulness and meditation to name a few. She has suffered from anxiety and depression in the past and is still battling today, but feels there are too many people suffering from these illnesses to keep quiet and knows she can do a thing or two to help.

Lee-Ann is located in the beautiful country of New Zealand and in her spare time enjoys hiking and adventuring around the incredible country, playing with her angry bunny rabbit, taking photos of nature, running, yoga and spending time with family and friends.

Discover more about Lee-Ann and connect with her via her website, Instagram, email or Pinterest below.

In America 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the population are affected by panic attacks

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