Panic attacks can often occur unexpectedly during a calm state or in a state of anxiety. Due to this, individuals may experience panic attacks anytime, anywhere. Symptoms of a panic attack include, but are not limited to: palpitations, sweating, trembling/shaking, sensations of shortness in breath, feelings of choking, chest pain/discomfort, nausea, feeling dizzy or lightheadedness, chills/heat sensations, paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations), derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself), fear of losing control, or fear of dying. However, just because an individual has a panic attack, does not mean that they have to simply endure it.
There are many wonderful strategies that a person can use to get through a panic attack:
Go to a safe, relaxing place. It is important to feel comfortable during a panic attack. Retreat to a nearby restroom, bedroom, or somewhere safe.
Practice breathing. Since panic attacks often involve rapid heart beating, practice breathing in through the nose, and out through the mouth. Counting breaths can help the individual focus on something other than the panic they are experiencing.
Use a piece of ice or splash some chilly water on the face or neck. The coldness of the water should help the person to become grounded and focus more.
Relax as much as possible. There is a form of meditation that is very helpful for this – it’s called the body scan. It begins with the person focusing on tightening their toes, and then relaxing them. From there, the person moves to the entire foot, first tightening for a moment, and then relaxing it. Next the person moves on to the calf of the leg, next the knee, and so on until they have gone through their entire body. By focusing on each part of the body and feeling the muscles tighten and relax, a person can feel more focused and at ease.
Focus in. This is an exercise that also helps with grounding – the person counts 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they can taste.
Do something. Reading a book, going for a walk or run, coloring, making something, watching a funny movie or listening to a positive song can all help the person focus on something more positive.
Call a close friend or family member. Call someone who can calm the individual down – someone that knows the person well and can use positivity to help relax them.
Remember that this is simply anxiety, it’s not reality, and this will pass. Remembering that the panic attack will not last forever helps put things in perspective. Positive self-talk throughout the panic attack can be very beneficial – saying things like, “I can do this” or “I’m going to be okay” are great mantras to use.
Having panic attacks may seem overwhelming, but there are so many tools and resources to help people work through it. Many websites and apps are now offering free tools for individuals to use such as breathing exercises, yoga practices, and mindfulness-based exercises. All it takes is finding out which strategies work best for that particular person.
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