Panic attacks are sudden bouts of extreme anxiety that can lead to sweating, hyperventilating, and potential loss of consciousness. While panic attacks are not dangerous in themselves, they can be somewhat crippling when it comes to your social and professional life.
What’s more, is that they can lead to fainting which does introduce some serious risk of injury.
The good news is that panic attacks are relatively easy to control and overcome once you know precisely what’s happening.
Here are 9 effective coping strategies that will help.
The first thing you need to do is to try and get your breathing under control. When you experience a panic attack, you will find that a flood of anxiety-causing hormones result in your heart pounding in your chest, and your breathing speeding up. This only serves to worsen matters and get you more worked up.
The reason for this is that breathing sends a powerful signal to our vagus nerve, the large nerve that connects the brain stem to our autonomic nervous system. When we breathe fast and shallow, it tells our brain that we’re in danger.
The easiest way to reverse this effect then is to breathe more calmly and slowly. You can do this by using box breathing. Here, you breathe in for the count of four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and then repeat.
Rebreathing involves breathing into a paper bag in order to prevent fainting; you’ve likely seen this before in friends or even on television!
The idea behind this is that it forces you to recycle air that you’ve already breathed out. This air has a higher concentration of CO2, which we actually need in order to utilize the oxygen in our red blood cells. This is why hyperventilation leads to fainting, and why breathing out of a bag can prevent that!
3. Continue As Normal
The problem with a panic attack is that it tends to result in racing thoughts and anxiety. One of the most common fears people experience is that they are actually having a heart attack or that they’re going to be sick or faint in public. The more you think about these things the more anxious you become!
The solution then is to just wait it out, and the best way to do that is to try your best to carry on with whatever you’re doing. Don’t let the panic attack take control, just be aware of what is happening and continue.
4. Sit Down
While you should try to continue as normal, you should also sit down if possible. While panic attacks are harmless, fainting can cause damage if you land on concrete. Sitting down prevents this, and also means that your heart doesn’t need to pump quite so hard to get blood around your body. Lying down can help even more – but only if you’re able to continue to distract yourself!
5. Take Some Meds
There are many medications that doctors can prescribe for panic attacks, which tend to include anxiolytics and sedatives. These can work extremely well and help to lower the heart rate so you can get things back under control.
Remember, the aim is to try and control panic attacks yourself and so you don’t want to be overly reliant on meds. But for situations where you are in public, this can be a very useful aid. Not only that, but they can be useful as you learn to recognize your bodily signs and what works.
6. Try CBT
CBT is cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a psychotherapeutic approach used by a therapist to treat all manner of ailments. It works by teaching you to recognize the contents of your own thoughts, and then to amend the most troubling and unhelpful thoughts.
In time, this therapy can train you to recognize warning signs and triggers for your attacks and to get your racing thoughts under control during them.
7. Have a Sugary Drink
During a panic attack, blood sugar can drop very low due to the production of cortisol and increased metabolism. This can further increase your risk of fainting. A sugary drink can help a lot then, and may also increase your production of the feel-good hormone serotonin.
If nothing else, a sugary drink (or snack) is comforting and helps put you more at ease.
Biofeedback means monitoring any kind of vital sign and then using this information to learn to control your own body. In this case, a very simple method that works well is to wear a heart rate monitor. You’ll then be able to see it raising, and you’ll also be able to learn what you need to do in order to get it back down again.
Heart rate monitors today are very cheaply available to be worn on the wrist!
I’m not suggesting that you try and learn meditation for the first time the next time you’re having a panic attack! But what you can do, is to practice meditation the rest of the time, in order to improve your focus and calm and to reduce your likelihood of having those attacks in the first place. Meditation provides a calm and safe space where you can go when you need it, and helps you to take life’s challenges more in your stride!
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