There are few things more distressing than experiencing a panic attack. You feel your heart beating as if it’s going to burst, you can’t breathe, maybe you start sweating, trembling, or feeling like you’re suffocating. And the moment that it hits you, well, that’s the moment when it’s hardest to do anything about it. The good news is that if you’ve been experiencing these frightening sensations, there are simple strategies you can adopt to minimize their occurrence and help you manage them during an attack.
The first step is to investigate the type of attack you’re suffering from and to try to establish the root cause of your anxiety episodes. At the same time, if you’re unsure about their origin, or not confident about your ability to control them, it’s worth consulting an experienced professional to discuss your situation. Even in these socially distanced times, there are plenty of resources available to provide help and advice via voice or video consultations.
There are also some simple steps you can take to help manage your panic attacks.
Numerous studies confirm that practicing mediation regularly leads to reduced activity in the area of the brain responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response (the amygdala), and therefore less anxiety. Another effect of mediation is that it decreases our responsiveness to stressful stimuli, so events that would have previously been anxiety-provoking seem less significant.
There are numerous different meditations for anxiety, so the key is to find one you’ll enjoy practicing.
As little as 5 minutes of exercise daily has been found to have a significant effect on anxiety and depression. Any type of aerobic activity such as walking or running, not only creates a feeling of achievement but can cause your body to release endorphins – the neurotransmitter serotonin is known to help you relax, creating a feeling of well-being and reducing anxiety.
3. Use cognitive-behavioral techniques
Using the idea that thoughts arise before feelings, so if you can change your thoughts, you will control your feelings, there are several simple CBT techniques you can try. One is to repeat to yourself when you feel an attack is imminent: ‘This too shall pass’ or something similar. Focusing on this simple thought can help to calm you until the emotion subsides.
Another surprising tactic is to chew gum. Why? It will cause you to salivate, something that wouldn’t happen in the event of real danger – so your body is likely to accept this as a sign that there’s no imminent threat, and remain calm.
4. Control your breath
By bringing your attention to your breath at the start of a panic attack, you’re giving your mind something else to focus on. Also, slow or diaphragmatic breathing increases the flow of oxygen to the brain, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, and creating a calmer state. There are various patterns you can use as you count your inhalations and exhalations.
Experiment to find one that’s easy and enjoyable, then practice a few minutes daily, so that when your next attack arises, you’ll be prepared to head it off.