The article is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.
What Is A Panic Attack?
A panic attack is a sudden, crashing feeling of anxiety, fear, and intense emotion. For some individuals that rarely or have never experienced them before, they say it feels like a heart attack. In fact, many common symptoms overlap, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, and a rapid heart rate. You may also experience trembling, sweating, and extreme body temperatures.
While some symptoms may change per person and situation, they’re commonly accompanied by an intense sense of dread and fear. For many people, these attacks come unexpectedly, without any warning or obvious trigger.
While it could be a sign of a panic disorder, it could be heightened anxiety, extreme stress, or even an accumulation of unmonitored negativity. When you feel a panic attack beginning to set in, it’s important to begin taking the necessary steps to help you reduce these feelings of fear and pain.
Step 1: Find A Safe Spot
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s crucial to find a quiet, secluded spot. In certain scenarios, this may be difficult to do immediately – for example, if you’re in the middle of a presentation. If you’re unable to leave for the moment, try to calm yourself for the time being with encouraging affirmations and thoughts or by focusing on a single object in the room.
As soon as you’re able to step away, find a room where you can be alone like a bathroom or office. When experiencing heightened anxiety, being around others can increase the closed-off or suffocating feeling, especially if you also have social anxiety or if a social situation sets off a panic attack.
It’s important to note that going to a safe area isn’t a necessary step but many people may find it easier to work through their panic attacks if they aren’t conscious of other people’s reactions or interruptions.
Step 2: Regulate Breathing
One of the first steps to reducing the effects of a panic attack is to regulate your breathing. By focusing on a methodical and controlled breathing rate, you can reduce hyperventilation, lower your heart rate, and eventually relax enough to focus your thoughts.
It’s important to practice breathing exercises outside of high anxiety moments and panic attacks. This experience not only helps reduce panic but can also help you work through these attacks easier if you’re already used to the exercises.
Concentrate on your breathing rate. For some people, their breathing can become short and erratic, so counting out their breath may not be effective until they can begin controlling how they inhale and exhale. Once you’re able to breathe in deep, try to inhale for 4 seconds, hold, and then exhale for 6 seconds. When you can feel your heart rate begin to slow, you can then focus on calming your mental state.
Step 3: Practice Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Regulating your breathing won’t necessarily be the only thing that will keep your panic under control. Instead, once you’ve reduced your rapid heart rate to a normal level, the next step is to focus on relaxing your mind. This is because your panic is both a physical and mental reaction. So after you’ve reduced your physical stressors, you need to use coping strategies to return your mentality to a calmer state.
Everyone’s coping mechanisms will be different, so it’s important to find a way that works best to reduce your anxiety. For example, using the CBT method (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) can help someone identify the emotional source of their panic in order to reevaluate their response.
However, some individuals may benefit more from grounding their focus on their senses by using the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding method. You can find more healthy coping mechanisms with the help of online mental health resources like BetterHelp in order to discover alternative methods that suit you best.
Step 4: Regain Focus
Yo8ur coping strategies should help you to reduce stress in order to regain focus on the present. This is especially important if you’re in a public place, such as while you’re at work or out with friends or family. By recentering yourself in the present, you can focus on staying calm and regaining control of your feelings and thoughts.
Once you’ve regulated your breathing and heart rate, it’s important to then focus on something, whether it’s just an object in front of you or your next steps. Sometimes when people don’t take time for this step, they may go back into “worry mode”. When they calm down and their mind clears, it can attach back to the situation that started their panic in a negative way – instead, you should focus on staying calm and try to remain relaxed by centering your mind.
Step 5: Identify Trigger
The final step in recovering from a panic attack is to reflect on what caused your anxiety to spike. This is so that you can review the events from a calm standpoint and take any further steps necessary. By acknowledging what event, person, or emotion contributed to your distress, you can begin developing ways to avoid them or reduce the stress it creates.
It’s important to remember that the only step you need to take at the moment is “identifying” the trigger. You don’t necessarily need to begin creating coping strategies right after you identify the stressor. This could potentially increase the anxiety you just overcame. Instead, simply address the problem and make a plan to revisit it, potentially with the help and guidance of your support system.
Finding The Support You Need
A support system is a group of trusted individuals that provide an environment where you can discuss your fears, concerns, and questions without feeling judged. This can consist of close friends, family members, and mental health care professionals. These individuals allow you to vent and express yourself and can provide assistance by either helping you locate the resources you need or offering solutions and advice.
It’s important to have the right support system surrounding you, even when you’re not experiencing anxiety or the symptoms of a panic attack. Being able to talk about your mental health conditions openly and honestly is a significant part of improving your mental and physical wellbeing. It can reduce stress, increase positivity, and give you an opportunity to find new coping mechanisms that work for you.