A panic attack can be caused by anxiety and stress or by an underlying physical condition. Although not life threatening, panic attacks can be scary and distressing because of intense feelings of dread and irrational fears. Attacks tends to come in waves, varying in intensity and peaking for approximately 10 minutes. The attacks can last for minutes up to a couple of hours and their underlying causes are not always easy to identify. Certain situations, circumstances and certain activities can act as triggers, however in certain circumstances panic attacks can occur randomly. Physical symptoms often accompany panic attacks in the form of palpitations, sweating, shaking or trembling and breathlessness or hyperventilation. These symptoms are the result of adrenaline being released into the bloodstream, which prepares the body for defensive responses as it enters a state of heightened arousal. If our nervous system is unable to stabilise to a calmer state, it can cause an over-exaggeration of threat causing increased anxiety and panic.
There are strategies you can adopt to cope with panic. Firstly, face up to the fear of panic so that it does not control you. Ride out the attack and remain in the situation until the panic subsides. By so doing, you will allow yourself the opportunity to learn that nothing is going to happen. When the panic subsides, continue with what you were doing before the attack. It is helpful to have someone with you who can offer you reassurance that the sensation will pass and you should try not to worry.
Control your breathing
Avoid the urge to take short, shallow breaths. Take longer slow, deeper, gentle breaths. Breathe in through your nose, counting from 1 to 5 then breathe out slowly, deeply, gently through your mouth counting 1 to 5. Do not hold your breath but try to continue breathing in a much slower way. Don’t worry about feeling yourself wanting to yawn but are unable to. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Practice breathing each day to prevent panic. Also view our blog on diaphragmatic breathing.
Eat a healthy diet
Regular healthy meals regulate blood sugars. Be aware that caffeine, tobacco, alcohol and drugs can exacerbate panic and anxiety.
Take regular exercise
Exercise, especially aerobic exercise, helps to alleviate stress and anxiety and release tension. It boosts confidence and can lift mood.
Seek professional support
A trained therapist or counsellor can offer you professional advice and support for anxiety and panic attacks. A short course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help you to find strategies to cope with negative thoughts that accompany panic attacks.
For further information contact Revive Counselling and Therapy.